Indian cricket January 2, 2017

No one is bigger than the game

At their core, the Lodha recommendations were about establishing best practices in the BCCI. The office-bearers' persistent defiance in the matter seemed only like a bid to self-preserve

The BCCI dug itself into a hole by not engaging in constructive conversation with the Lodha Committee when its recommendations were just that - mere recommendations © AFP

The removal of the highest office-bearers of the BCCI by the Supreme Court should come as no surprise, but it feels as though the ground is shifting nevertheless. Anurag Thakur isn't the first BCCI president to be dismissed by the court - ironically he was a strong adversary of N Srinivasan when he had met the same fate in 2014 - but this judgement is beyond personalities: it puts the stamp of finality on a radical administrative reform plan for the BCCI. An organisation that, by virtue of the size of India's cricket audience and the resultant wealth, holds the reins to the global governance of cricket, the BCCI has retained, despite the enterprise and dynamism of many of its office-bearers, the contours of an archaic oligarchy.

Regardless of whether the BCCI office-bearers have cause to feel aggrieved about some of the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha committee, it is hard to argue against the point that the removal of the president and the secretary - both of whom could have kept their posts in the short-term - had become inevitable because of their intransigence, a word used repeatedly in the judgement, and overt obstructionism. It's one thing to disagree with the judge, but to openly defy the highest court amounted to challenging the rule of law.

I have argued here why it was possible to have some sympathy for the BCCI's case, but its top officials wasted the window they had, while the recommendations were merely that, by sparring rather than engaging with the Lodha Committee. That they pursued that course of action was staggering given that the Supreme Court then made the recommendations mandatory through an order.

It's tough to speculate whether it was part of a grander narrative of an ongoing struggle between the executive (Thakur is part of the BJP, the political party that rules the government) and the judiciary, or whether they received terrible legal advice, because their public posturing reeked of hubris, exaggerated self-importance and sarcasm, or whether indeed it was a desperate gamble from people who had not much to lose: adopting the Lodha report would have meant the end of their BCCI careers anyway.

At its cockiest, the strategy seemed oblivious to the distinction between the recommendation of a judicial commission and the writ of law, and, at its most desperate, it felt like BCCI was blackmailing the judiciary with a gun pointed at its own head. Whichever it was, it always felt from the outside to be a spectacular miscalculation. The argument against judicial overreach would have never influenced the judges; the outcome was inevitable.

But keeping personalities aside, the broad theme of the Lodha recommendations is about professionalisation and governance, and about management. Because the BCCI has always been an amateur organisation, the lines between administration and the board have been non-existent. Depending on the nature and influence of the person involved, either the president or the secretary of the board has been de facto CEO, and the treasurer the CFO. In a professional world, professionals ought to administer under the care of the board.

In such a scenario, the tenure of board members would have little bearing on the administration of cricket as long as there is continuity in professional management. Indian cricket owes a lot to a band of well-meaning, passionate and hard-working board members who have given time and service, sometimes for love, sometimes for recognition and sometimes to build their profiles. But the system is also personality-oriented; it has encouraged vote-banks, politicking and deal-making, and opaqueness and lack of accountability.

The incident that brought the BCCI under the judicial scanner in the first place was a direct consequence of the cosy-club culture that pervades the current administrative culture: the BCCI constitution was amended to accommodate Srinivasan's desire to own an IPL franchise and, such was his clout, he encountered little opposition when he chose to stay on as the president even while his franchise and his son-in-law, who ran it, had to be investigated for betting.

Thakur can make the case that under him the BCCI had tried hard to clean up its stables. The cynical view would be that the clean up was prompted by circumstances and that the process was initiated by his immediate predecessor Shashank Manohar, against whom the current administration nurtures a deep sense of betrayal after he jumped ship to become the first independent chairman of the ICC.

The bigger point, though, is that reform should be structural and not dependent on individuals. Best practices should be enshrined and not held hostage to the good intentions of those having to depend on an electoral college.

In the end, the essence of the opposition to the Lodha recommendations had no moral, intellectual or logical force. It was based, pure and simple, on self-preservation. When it came to giving up powers, Srinivasan's successors painted themselves into the same corner. They have now met the same fate. It's a pity because there was promise.

Of course there will be questions and concerns. Can a whole ecosystem be replaced overnight? Will a professional structure be able to recreate the amateur enthusiasm for cricket at the grassroots level? Will the salaried be invested enough to go that extra mile? And, overriding all this, will the deeply-entrenched allow a smooth transfer of power?

No doubt there will disruptions, but fear of chaos is exaggerated. Indian cricket survived and, in fact, continued to flourish after losing Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag in a span of a few years. No one is indispensable, and to resort to a cliché, no one is bigger than the game.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sunil on January 4, 2017, 6:54 GMT say..

    ''Gone are those days when players depended on administrators to get opportunities. Those who devote themselves and work hard, get opportunities.''

    That proves that the administration was very good and not the other way round.... what you say in fact is that bcci was doing GOOD.....

  • Nathan on January 4, 2017, 0:46 GMT

    BCCI and the current management brought this punishment themselves as a New Year gift. As Bal points out, BCCI had enough time to have a meaningful dialog with Lodha Committee to discuss on the recommendations and any implementation hurdles. It was stupid to argue that State Associations were not willing to accept the Lodha recommendations and hence not feasible. BCCI lost its plot and argument, when N Srinivasan was able to tweak its own constitution to own an IPL franchise and continued to be president. BCCI may be wealthy and have done a lot for the sport of Cricket, but it does not absolve them from not addressing the IPL fiasco and not willing to reform themselves. If the players involved in betting are banned for life, I'd like to see the so called office bearers are also banned for life in the administrations of Cricket in India.

  • Hemant on January 3, 2017, 22:32 GMT

    Nice article Sambit. The right thing to do, once BCCI became powerful because of money, was to establish a professional management to run the operations and administration. Unfortunately it became the 'kissa kursi ka', where from Dalmia till now, the power changed hand with politics. I pity those fans who say this is bad. No, this is not bad. In fact, this is the best news of the year. Indian cricket thrives because of players and fans, and not because of administrators. Gone are those days when players depended on administrators to get opportunities. Those who devote themselves and work hard, get opportunities. First part was to kill the 'convenient establishment'. Now that it has been done, BCCI should hire the best sports management available out there. Indian cricket will continue to thrive.

  • krishn8764180 on January 3, 2017, 10:37 GMT

    There is always room for improvement in any setup. Unfortunate that things unfolded the way they did. One should not undermine the good work done by these folks at the helm. Hope New year possibly brings better news for Indian cricket on the field.

  • sunil on January 3, 2017, 8:20 GMT

    A sad day in the history of bcci and sc...a bad precedent...nobody will feel like being a administrator again...

  • laksvi5642713 on January 3, 2017, 8:18 GMT

    they thought they were bigger than the game...oh for the day and time we sort out our adminstration and pitches....our sucesses are not because of the system, but despite....some day we shall sort both - our admin and our ot then...cricinfo plz publish

  • rey on January 3, 2017, 7:27 GMT

    @sabhas 4:40gmt.with respect buddy, what judicial expertise or advice from senior cricketers is the basis for the 70 yr age restriction imposed by Lodha's committee??

  • Balasundaram on January 3, 2017, 7:26 GMT

    Hai! Hai! Soon we are going to see great cricket from the sons and nephews and relatives of these mystery administrators. I don't mean to disgrace this really great judicial intervention but I can't hope for seeing corrupt free administration be it in cricket or elsewhere. One state-one vote is a welcome move to avo

  • abhijit on January 3, 2017, 7:02 GMT

    Now on, if we have problem with cricket administration, whom should we demand justice from ?

    Aren't we forced to assume that everything done by court appointed organizers would be error free ? I alao fail to understand how can every state have same voting power. states were formed for social and political administrative purpose, not cricketting. Even indian democracy does not give equal voting power to states. It is dependent on population.

  • incogn3678149 on January 3, 2017, 6:31 GMT

    Like most clichés, the cliché no one is bigger than the game is not quite correct. The Supreme Court is bigger than the game!!!

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