Lodha report sets stage for battle royale

Lodha report sets stage for battle royale
The world of Indian cricket turned upside down with the announcement of Justice R M Lodha committee recommendations recently. The final coup was the changes sought by the high-powered committee on January 4. The body has the backing of the Supreme Court and therefore carries plenty of weight.

One of the vital issues engaging the panel was that of conflict of interest. This had already led to the suspension of two teams, the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals from the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL), and a life ban on Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra.

Also suggested by the committee was a policy of one state one association and one vote. It sought to bar on the same ground ministers and government servants from holding office and such minute changes as a cut-off age of 70 and a series of measures to ensure transparency. The panel also recommend that the five selector policy might be discarded in favour of a three-man committee, all of whom would be former Test players.

While it would take volumes to determine consequences arising from the implementation in toto, we might examine some of the ramifications and indeed, whether these suggestions could or would be implemented. Already, there are voices of protest within the BCCI.

To take the issue of one state one association first. This would bring into question the very existence of Maharashtra’s three associations–Mumbai, Maharashtra and Vidarbha–and Gujarat’s three associations–Gujarat, Baroda and Saurashtra–all of whom carry a long history and tradition. The idea is to streamline the Board composition, but will the BCCI accept this radical change? The jury is out on this.

While the mandarins of the Board were quick to put into effect the suspension of teams and the two high-profile individuals, it may not be so prompt this time. There is also less clarity on conflict of interest, say in the case of Sourav Ganguly, who is on the IPL Governing Council, is president of the Cricket Association of Bengal and is associated with a franchisee that owns an Indian Super League team, which recently bought the Pune IPL team. Once more, this would engage the legal honchos of the Board.

Also, plenty of legal midnight oil will be burnt to determine whether these are mere recommendations or mandatory. While suspensions were immediate, these issues question the very fundamentals of the Board, old timers on the Board might feel. Not all associations will jump with joy at the reduction of the quintet of selectors to three.

The five zones, represented under the current dispensations, might cause a lot of fringe talent to be left unnoticed. Will three selectors be enough to travel around the country, and often the world to follow talent and form.

The age formula will meet with plenty of protest since there is little clarity of whether a man who just turns 70 will resign then and there. Also the subject of ministers might raise questions on what happens to past ministers and those who might be ordained while holding BCCI office. What is the definition of a government servant is a difficult enough question and the Board might seek clarification as well as offer resistance, and not to mention the case of a retired IAS officer.

The Board as well as the public is divided on whether past cricketers make top administrators. The experience thus far has been mixed. In the history of the cricket administration, among the most effective bosses have been N K P Salve, S K Wankhede, Jagmohan Dalmiya, I S Bindra, M A Chidambaram and Raj Singh–the last among them played cricket at the top level, but not at the international arena.

Fruits of patronage

Perhaps the most impressive recommendation of the judicial body has been the call for abolition of the revolving zonal proposing and seconding of the candidate for the highest office, which led to so much heartache during the Srinivasan era. But will the Board let it pass easily? The ramifications of this clause are deeply rooted in the DNA of the Board.

Yet another proposal which will cause chaos with old-timers in the Board is the recommendation that bars office bearers form holding office for no more than three years at a stretch and a total of three terms in all. The sad fact is that it is this very longevity and the magic word re-election that gave almost unlimited powers to bosses to dole out favours and enjoy the fruits of patronage.

The issue of commentators has not been addressed at length, but we have already seen Ganguly being persuaded to give up this plum assignment in favour of his position on the governing council of the IPL—and we have seen, this might also be under threat.

The issue of commentators has other spin offs. Only recently, we saw Ian Chappell opting out of the lucrative appointment because of what he considers unnecessary interference from the Board. This included a ban on comments about team selection, coaching issues or anything that might be seen as being critical of the Board. It is understood that even the touchy issue of Decision Review System was not supposed to be discussed by the commentators closely supervised by the BCCI.

All this sets the stage for a royal battle ahead between the reformers and the entrenched cricket bosses. And it remains to be seen if the forward-looking recommendations of Justice Lodha and his colleagues will be accepted in full, in part or whether there will be opposition to the whole principle and whether this will be legally tenable.

(The writer is a well-known cricket analyst)
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