Thursday, November 30, 2023

Not easy to deny Delhi a Test match

By Veturi Srivatsa
Years ago, an official of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) had a wager that a Test match cannot be moved out of Ferozeshah Kotla despite how badly the association is run!

Twenty years on, the official reminded this writer that the fourth and final Test against South Africa will also be played in Delhi come what may. Lo and behold the High Court intervened and the match will be played as scheduled. The helpless state government watched, unable to bring the association to account.

How can that happen? Simple, Delhi is the seat of central government and the stakeholders are far too many. A look at the list of complimentaries will reveal a lot more.

Even a majestic venue like Eden Gardens was denied India’s key World Cup match in 2011 for not getting the facilities ready in time, but Kotla somehow manages to get its matches. The only time it was disgraced was in 2009 when the One-Day International (ODI) against Sri Lanka was called off after 20-odd overs because the pitch was too dangerous to bat on.

The match referee stated in his report that the “pitch did not meet the requirements for an ODI match” and categorised it “unfit”.

The association has a stadium which is an eyesore and the construction is unending. Every time it holds an international match it shows expenditure on construction/renovation/repairs. It is conducting matches with all its structural defects and without a completion certificate whereas the Chennai Municipal Corporation has not allowed the state association to use parts of the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium as they do not conform to regulations and public safety.

Even the Supreme Court came down heavily on the association decreeing that the stands I, J, K in the stadium will not be used for seating spectators during cricket matches and the unauthorised parts need to be demolished. “Your starting point was wrong, you are not an average citizen constructing one room or so, you are TNCA (Tamil Nadu Cricket Association). Everything smells and everything stinks.”

Even the most powerful cricket official in the world till recently, Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the TNCA president, could not do a thing to move the government and the venue is now in danger of losing the World Twenty20 match early next year unless the issue is resolved.

How does the DDCA get away with murder? Simple, it has political patronage and before an international match, it gets all permissions required from the local self government agencies.

A majority of the state associations are run in more or less the same way. The board never had the courage to pull up the errant associations as their careerist officials had the votes. Imagine each association gets around Rs.35 crore for the development of the game. They get a one-time subsidy of Rs.75 crore to build stadiums. Yet, most of the associations say they are in the red.

Every association has its own matchless story. For instance, the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) pays Rs.12 lakh per annum to some 100 secretaries of the 200 clubs on its rolls to hold on to its flock. All the clubs get paid some vague development charges and some of them get assignment fee from Rs.25,000 to Rs.50,000 when they go on state or national duty whatever that means.

In most cases it is paid to the support staff that a team carries with it. Yet, the standard of the team is on the downslide, this year the team has not gained first-innings lead, leave alone winning a match.

The difference between the DDCA and HCA is in the national capital it is non-cricketers who are fleecing the association whereas in Hyderabad it is cricketers who are siphoning off from the coffers. Then the usual inflated estimates and bills. In the process, the business and trade people convert a fair amount into white and the officials generate black money. In some associations the officials have a mafiosi-like grip.

Then there is another state association whose officials reportedly went to England to study spectator management, kit printing and ticket printing. The others bought vehicles with amount doled out to them.

Then there is an association which constructed a stadium with board’s subsidy in an official’s backyard when it had excellent facilities in two industrial towns and at least in one stadium international matches were conducted for years. The association cannot hold international matches in the new stadium because the town doesn’t have required facilities like five-star hotels and air link.

In some states, the chief minister, a powerful colleague of his or a bureaucrat is roped in as president or patron as cover for the shady deals of the officials. This nexus has thwarted the Telangana state vigilance department from submitting its report after completing the investigation a year ago into the Rs.200-crore misappropriation in the construction of the stadium at Uppal by the HCA.

One of the issues probed was lighting of the stadium which turned out to be ineffective and the association had to cough up some more money to repair the damage. It has also spent huge sums in relocating the offices of the officials from ground floor to the first floor!

The other end of the spectrum has a handful of associations which spend the money judiciously in developing infrastructure and cricket. The best model is the Andhra Cricket Association (ACA), which in five years has done wonders, developing 30 grounds and stadiums in 13 districts of the state. It also has a top class stadium in Visakhapatnam, added recently as one of the new Test venues.

It has a state-of-the-art academy for women cricketers in Guntur and another ultra modern international stadium is coming up in a year’s time near Mangalagiri as part of the new state capital Amaravati development plan. Nagpur, Raipur and Ranchi have all put up international standard stadiums.

Board president Shashank Manohar has announced a structured plan to plug the leaks. The board-appointed chartered accountants will henceforth okay the balance-sheets of the state associations for them to be eligible for board’s subvention. Though they all nodded their approval at the board’s Annual General Meeting, in private they expressed their unhappiness with the move. Some of them are already working overtime to find new ways to line their pockets!

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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