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Gaurav Kalra
Thursday , November 08, 2012 at 12 : 53

Hello Mr De Mello, where have you been?


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The battle for the Anthony De Mello Trophy is about to begin. It should be fascinating. England hasn't won the Anthony De Mello Trophy for nearly three decades now. They have brought over a pretty good squad this time, but will it be adequate to return home with the Anthony De Mello Trophy? India are threatening to prepare raging turners to ensure the Anthony De Mello Trophy stays in their possession. In case you need reminding, India are the current holders.

What's that? Weren't India walloped 0-4 last year by England? So how are they holders of the series trophy between the two teams? That was for the Pataudi Trophy, silly. This one is for the Anthony De Mello Trophy. You know, the one that's been in existence since 1951 as a tribute to the BCCI's first ever secretary. No? Tsk, tsk...you must really brush up on your cricket history.

Having succeeded in saying Anthony De Mello more times in the previous two paragraphs than the BCCI perhaps has in the last seven decades, let me make an attempt to understand this absurdity. Since Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi passed on last year, his wife Sharmila Tagore has been in a one-way dialogue with the BCCI. On the initiative of the MCC, the Pataudi Trophy was instituted in 2007 to "celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first England v All-India Test series in 1932". Its purpose was to recognise "the immense contribution to Anglo-Indian cricket" of Mansoor Ali Khan and his father Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, the only cricketer to have played for both England and India.

Tagore had hoped the board would whole-heartedly embrace the opportunity to honour these legends of the Indian game- the historical connect of a trophy named after the Nawab and his much-admired father for Test series between India and England wouldn't be lost on the supporters. Why even the usually stuffy English thought so and had come up with the idea in the first place! All the BCCI had to do was say yes and a ready-made tribute was theirs for times to come. Simple.

Instead, as has now become standard practice, yet another shoddy spectacle played out in the media space. In an e-mail to the BCCI President, written with the poise and grace one has come to associate with the Pataudi family, Tagore said: "I am given to understand ECB has already written to BCCI requesting to make the trophy official. You will recall my previous mail to you where I had mentioned our disappointment at the close of the test series at the Oval and had urged you to take the matter forward and formalise the trophy. You had assured me that you have told the people concerned to take it forward. Please note that this correspondence is almost a year old. Now, since there is very little time before the start of the series, I am hoping you will act on this matter soon and inform me about your decision at your earliest."

There is no confrontation in the tone, no rancour in the tenor. These are the words of an individual perplexed at the reluctance of India's cricket board to engage with the family of one of its leading lights. If the BCCI president had made her an assurance to "take it forward", why hadn't it been done with days to go for another series between the sides to begin? If there had been a change of heart, was it too much to ask for a communication to that effect? Surely, over a the course of the year there was time to construct a two-line e-mail or make a short phone call apologising for the board's inability to name the trophy after the Nawab? This isn't a family that was likely to mope, kick or scream in retaliation!

Not only did the BCCI vacillate, it chose to be gruff, arrogant and dismissive. Rajiv Shukla, the self-appointed spokesperson on all board related matters, first said he had received "two calls from Saif Ali Khan to look into the issue". Once that thinly veiled attempt to exaggerate his importance in the world at large was out of the way, Shukla went on to claim the "president was aware of the matter and it was now in the domain of the BCCI's working committee".

A couple of hours later that mythical working committee meeting had already taken place and a graceless statement was issued: "In response to recent media reports, the BCCI would like to clarify the following. India - England Test Series in India is played for the Anthony De Mello Trophy instituted in 1951 in the name of the first Secretary of the BCCI, recognizing his contribution to Indian Cricket. In 2007, when MCC proposed the institution of Pataudi Trophy for England - India series, the BCCI had clarified that the trophy is already named after Anthony De Mello. India are the current holders of the Anthony De Mello Trophy."

If this weren't about a dead man and his legacy, it would be hard to keep a lid on the chuckles. As Bishan Singh Bedi pointedly observed on Twitter, he played six series against England over his career and had never known it was for the Anthony De Mello Trophy! Is it not odd for a marquee Test series to played for two different trophies, depending on the host nation? India vs Australia is for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy- In India OR in Australia. West Indies vs Australia is for the Frank WorrellTtrophy- In Australia OR in the West Indies. South Africa and West Indies used to battle for the Sir Viv Richards Trophy- In South Africa OR in the West Indies. But India vs England IN India is for the Anthony De Mello Trophy and IN England is for the Pataudi Trophy! Ironically, it takes the name of a pioneering Indian captain ONLY when it is played in England!

Now that the headlines have faded, this episode will melt into insignificance very quickly. But with a sour taste in the mouth one is left wondering what prompts this cricket board to operate with such disdain for sentiment. Not merely of the family involved but of the fans that retain an intense emotional investment in the game.

Pataudi doesn't need a trophy to validate his iconic status in Indian cricket. But the brazen manner in which this has been handled is extraordinary. Some, including this writer, thought that perhaps the BCCI was turning a corner when it recently announced a one-time benefit scheme for former cricketers and their widows. But that hope now appears misplaced. The message is clear: Legacy is just a fancy word. Honour is a footnote. Achievements are mere scorecards. Go away once you are done, only to be revived and dusted off if there is a pressing concern. Just like Anthony De Mello.


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More about Gaurav Kalra

Gaurav 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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