When Ramachandra Guha was appointed to the Committee of Administrators, there were sniggers from various quarters. What did a historian living in an imagined utopia know about running Indian cricket, it was asked. Having found the kitchen too hot, it will be said, he has quit. He has quit all right, and arguably without accomplishing the primary objective of seeing the reforms through, but he has left with an important piece of what all his detractors consider him good for: writing.
Not many pieces have said more about the state of Indian cricket administration than Guha’s resignation letter to Vinod Rai, the chairman of the CoA. The superstars of Indian cricket, of the recent past and present, stand exposed as lacking accountability and conscience. The BCCI has been reaffirmed as a manipulative body that allows the excesses of these superstars to keep them on its side. In the case of Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev, their cheerleading of the board comes as a bonus.
Not all of this is new but it is coming from a man who had the mandate from the highest court of the country, a man who spent four months in the system and was clearly frustrated by the inaction.
He saw the BCCI subvert a Supreme Court order, and he saw his colleagues not do much about it. He saw the old guard try to hold a world event hostage, and he saw his colleagues let it happen before swooping in at the last minute. He is seeing a coach being shunted out to supposedly appease a superstar captain, and he sees his colleagues – by the virtue of their silence – complicit in it. Perhaps the CoA can provide a counter-argument because the BCCI old guard will be happy with this chaos and confusion.
Guha would have done well to mention the irony that Kumble himself was appointed coach through the subversion of another process last year. Otherwise, from Dravid to Gavaskar to Dhoni to Kohli to Ganguly, Guha has mentioned them all. In Dravid’s case, allowance could be made that his BCCI contract allows him to work in the IPL for two months a year; and he has also asked the board for clarity on his role in the past. He might be making a fair point, but Guha might also have been better off leaving Dhoni’s contract grade to the men charged with these decisions: the national selectors.
However, in showing no bias in pointing out the conflicts of interest, in naming names, and in the clarity with which it does so, this is a bold and unprecedented letter. It says a lot that such a brave assessment can only be made by someone on the outside and with no designs of gaining materially from Indian cricket.
These are not concerns that have emerged overnight out of love for Kumble, with whom, and Bishan Bedi, Guha had once taken a selfie and tweeted, “two of my greatest heroes”. Guha has quoted emails in his letter to indicate that he has had these concerns ever since he joined the CoA, and that they had not been acted upon. Those who know him say he has been frustrated for a long time.
To be fair to Guha’s colleagues at the CoA, their hands have been tied in certain cases by what is, in parts, an ambiguous order from the Supreme Court. In many instances, the CoA was reduced to going back to the Court for instructions. For example, when the CoA intervened to prevent disqualified members from attending BCCI meetings, the court order put the onus on the members to judge for themselves if they were disqualified or not. Or else. Such “or elses” have clearly not worked because N Srinivasan and Niranjan Shah, to name two of the disqualified members, attended the BCCI SGM in Delhi.
Perhaps, in a hyper-nationalistic age, the CoA didn’t want to come across as the one who lost the BCCI part of what it used to get from the ICC, though the BCCI’s insistence at the cost of globalisation is a bit like the USA pulling out of the climate deal. Perhaps it was also mindful of any disruptions to India’s showcase event, the IPL, which is why it hasn’t yet shown the old guard the full might of its mandate.
The CoA has also been looking at pushing for constitutional changes with minimal controversy as its primary objective. There is nothing stopping the committee from working on the issues Guha mentions – it did take up player contracts – but its bigger concern is the implementation of the Lodha Committee’s reforms, which the BCCI old guard keeps resisting.
Even having made these allowances, the CoA has been slow and cautious, arguably overcautious. Whatever the reasons, it had the mandate to block some of these unfortunate events. For example, it intervened only one day before the BCCI was set to pull out of the Champions Trophy.
Rai and Limaye are practical men from the practical world, who seem to be looking for practical solutions, but they could have done more to take along with them a man with intentions as noble as Guha’s. If a lawyer was changed – as alleged – without taking Guha into confidence, it could say a lot about what the committee thought of him and arguably, by extension, his concerns. If a man within the committee began to doubt the committee, those outside are bound to question whether the committee has forgotten its mandate.
It will be all too easy to say that if Guha cared so much he should have stayed and tried to change the system, but that is also to say that Indian cricket is no place for straightforward men with straightforward intentions, even if they come armed with Supreme Court orders.
Perhaps we are better off looking at the circumstances that led to this. Perhaps this jolt will bring the urgency that Guha wanted to see in the CoA. Perhaps this is, as ESPNcricinfo’s editor-in-chief Sambit Bal put it in the video above, a plea to the Supreme Court to unshackle the CoA a little. If that happens, it might be worth a couple of clinking glasses in the BCCI old guard.