"The number of two-Test series are becoming more common, which I would rather not happen at all because they are a nothingness of a nothing"- Rahul Dravid, August 2013.
The third ranked Test team in the world, yes the same one Dravid played for with distinction for sixteen years is about to embark on a schedule that features not one, not two but three such series! The visiting West Indians will be here as support cast to ensure the farewell party of a colossus goes smoothly. Two tests were all that were needed for a nice round number to cap off a mountain of statistical achievements. And then the boys hit the road for two against the World's top ranked team and another two against a team scraping at the bottom of the barrel.
Six Tests across three "A nothingness of a nothings". And the one sandwiched in the middle of these three is now on only as a gesture of generosity- meant to be a marquee contest but reduced to the rubble of the bare minimum mandated by the game's keepers. I am told a powerful BCCI member was overheard saying recently, 'An odd tour here and there isn't as important as Indian cricket'. True story!
This tour to South Africa started to implode from the moment Haroon Lorgat applied for the position of Chief Executive of his home board. On the record, the BCCI president insisted his organisation had no interest in interfering in the 'internal affairs' of another body. However, as far back as February, a director in Cricket South Africa was saying the BCCI has expressed 'concerns' about Lorgat 'should he be appointed' in the job. Lorgat though was found suitable and appointed after following a 'due process'.
Publicly though, matters only came to a head when Cricket South Africa announced an itinerary in July that included seven one-dayers, three Tests and a couple of T20s. BCCI Secretary Sanjay Patel objected to the schedule saying it had been obtained without taking their 'consent'. There was an unusually long gap between the second and third Tests and there were perhaps a couple of one-dayers too many. To us regular folk these sound like prickly issues that one conference call between senior officials could resolve. No phone calls were presumably made because on the other end of the line was a man who was so abhorrent to BCCI officials that even his offer of an 'apology if needed' was of little relevance.
Now let us examine this business of seeking 'consent' before announcing a schedule. Look carefully at this document: the Future Tours Programme of the ICC- agreed to by all full members: Let us spend a minute on this. This document outlines the playing schedule of each of the 10 full members of the ICC from 2011 to 2020. In June 2013, just one month before Cricket South Africa announced the 'objectionable schedule' of the Indian tour; it was presented to Chief Executives Committee. It would be logical to assume that only after each of these 10 members 'consented' was this document accepted.
Now scroll down along India's column and stop when you reach Nov-13. What does it say? Away- South Africa- 3 Tests, 7 ODI's & 2 T20's. Exactly the number of games Cricket South Africa announced in its original programme! Chew on this for a moment- the BCCI participated in at least two meetings where this schedule was 'updated' but did not tinker with it. Has 'consent' then not been granted already? Was an additional game beyond what was agreed to added to the schedule? If the issues were only about the 'length of the gap between the last two Tests' as then interim chief Jagmohan Dalmiya said, why did the tour go from twelve international games to just five?
Amusingly, while swatting away questions on shortening the tour to South Africa the BCCI President constructed another compelling line of argument. 'We realised', he said, 'that there wasn't enough cricket in the home season and fans want to see the team play here'. Yet again, one can only refer to the FTP that the BCCI agreed to. With all the smarts at its command and men on dollar incomes, did a light bulb not go off when this period was drawn up on the chart? Right- in 2013 we only have seven one-day games and a T20 at home- maybe that won't satisfy the broadcast partner? Maybe the fans will feel short-changed? Not a whiff in 2011. Not even a feeble attempt to repair the imbalance in 2012. Suddenly, with a foe to pummel and a lesson to teach, the interest of the home fan became the over-riding concern!
As unsubtle as this project to demolish Haroon Lorgat was, it only became publicly acknowledged after former ICC legal head and former Cricket South Africa advisor David Becker described Srinivasan as 'manipulative' and responsible for 'degrading governance' within the ICC. Lorgat's 'role' into the 'content and distribution of the media comments' and 'subsequent attempts to have them withdrawn' is now the subject of an 'investigation by an independent third party'.
Let us assume the investigation establishes Becker issued the statement on Lorgat's behest. Lorgat will earn a censure and perhaps lose his job too- but what of the issues Becker raises? Are those null and void too? For instance Becker says, "There is a formal, unequivocal and unanimous ICC Board resolution approving the current FTP schedule (including 3 Test matches, 7 ODIs and 2 T20 internationals between India and South Africa). When the ICC allows one of its directors to blatantly disregard an ICC Board resolution it becomes more than questionable governance - it becomes improper". Let the BCCI deny the substance of Becker's charge: Is there a 'formal, unequivocal and unanimous ICC Board resolution approving the current FTP schedule'? If so, why did the BCCI renege on that agreement?
The successful assertion of power can be intoxicating. India's cricket bosses are surely cock-a-hoop as another nation has been forced to grovel at its feet. But it's a shallow victory because it compromises the ambitions of Indian cricket's most valuable constituents- the players. Speaking to me in August, Virat Kohli had a glint in his eye when asked about the impending tour to South Africa. He described it as a 'milestone moment' for him and the team. He recognised what value success in that series would hold as his young career flowers.
After two brutal Test series walloping's overseas, India's cricket followers too were sure to relish the prospect of a team brimming with fresh blood encountering the best outfit in the world on its home patch. A board that placed the interests of the game it guards as its paramount task would have pushed for more Test cricket not less. Would have flexed its muscle to include more practice games on the tour. Would have used its influence to ensure those games were against decent opposition in testing conditions. Would have hired local expertise to guide its emerging players.
Instead, we have a nothingness of a nothing.