Cash for comment: the moral crisis in our cricket
"Frivolous and trivial" and that was it. The BCCI's self - appointed spokesman and now a honourable minister Rajiv Shukla had done what he does best. Waved off another stink emerging from the stable of his board with disdain. "There is no conflict of interest. BCCI does not dictate them on what they should speak. They are independent commentators and what they speak is purely their opinion. BCCI pays them for their professional qualities. They are outstanding commentators and respected at the international level. What they have achieved is because of their personal talent."
Hmmm, so the revelations in the Mumbai Mirror and Outlook are just humbug. The outrage of Indian cricket followers is manufactured. There is as Shukla argues, 'no conflict of interest' if Mr Gavaskar and Shastri receive fat cheques as employees of an organization. And are placed in a position of privilege in the commentary box where issues involving that very organisation crop up with alarming regularity. On those occasions the deal between employer and employee is off. Intellect takes over. Objectivity remains uncompromised. And we are to believe the largesse is for 'professional qualities and talent'. Damn us cynical rabble-rousers with our blinkered vision.
Let us transfer Shukla's defense for a minute to my own organisation. Imagine a senior reporter is discovered to be on the pay roll of the Congress Party. When confronted by the editor in chief the reporter argues he is under no compulsion to toe the official party line. A Congress party spokesperson concedes the contract exists but says when this reporter speaks it is "purely his opinion". With that knowledge in the public domain can the reporter continue to hold the trust of the viewer? Does his position in the organisation not become untenable? Why else was he on the pay roll unless it was to make the Congress Party's case? Where is the return on investment if what he spoke was "purely his opinion"?
These are turbulent times for cricket. On a range of issues opinion is deeply divided. Scheduling, DRS, developing weaker teams, protecting Test cricket, injuries, fatigue, the impact of T20, mushrooming domestic leagues; the list is endless. It is precisely why the men who administer it must not influence the game's most respected voices. Their objectivity will shape the form this game takes. It is imperative they argue ferociously for what they believe will make cricket healthier. And even the perception that those arguments are being made for considerations outside their own experience, intellect and will is extremely dangerous.
I have to admit to a grudging admiration for the BCCI's tactic of contracting Mr Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri. Well aware that their public perception is at a nadir, the strategy was faultless. Seduce the two men this country's cricket followers have become accustomed to hearing from. A gullible fan is much likelier to fall in line if Sunil Gavaskar takes a position on an issue rather than the gruff men who occupy positions of power in the Board. And when Ravi Shastri grandstands about "jealousy" because of India's success, it does create a heightened sense of nationhood. Which plays right into the hands of the BCCI.
In fact Shastri's patriotic posturing of late has been amusing. Since when did a contrarian view to the BCCI's become "anti-national"? Has jingoism replaced sensible discourse? In the course of his childish rant against Naseer Hussain should the bravado not have extended to the issue at hand? Should Shastri not have said it was a massive mistake by the BCCI to insist LBWs off the inside edge or to balls pitching outside leg be kept out of the purview of the DRS? This is a confident young nation able to make arguments on merit, not spurious indignation. For instance, I believe it is anti-national on the part of the BCCI to not send teams for the Asian Games. But since the BCCI disagrees, am I unpatriotic?
Instead why doesn't Shastri explain how he can be on a committee that 'unanimously' recommends DRS one day and does a complete about turn in the commentary box the next? Should he not have written a dissent note on the recommendation if he felt DRS tools were untrustworthy? Instead he launches into a tirade that wins him some admirers but largely reduces our maturity as a cricketing nation to a mockery.
I end with one final hope. That the great Sunil Gavaskar sees the dissonance in this debate and opts out of this BCCI deal voluntarily. While Shastri is a footnote in our cricketing history, Gavaskar is a doyen. A man we admire and revere. For he stood up against the world's most fierce bowlers and never backed down. For he injected a confidence into this country's cricket that still endures. For he enlightens us with his acumen and floors us with his wit. To even imagine a scenario where Gavaskar takes direction from Mr Srinivasan and his cronies is debilitating. He is my hero. My childhood's most cherished memory. Please sir, don't make the argument about a stomach to feed. Your legacy isn't yours alone to protect. It is ours too.
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More about Gaurav KalraGaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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