Former Indian captains Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar arrive at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai for a meeting (AFP)
New Delhi: Former star cricketers and now star commentators Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri's dual role as the official voice of the BCCI and contracted commentators continues to invite flak. A staggering annual fee of Rs. 3.6 crore paid to them by the board forces them to toe BCCI's line, an accusation levied by experts as well as former players, who term it as 'unethical' to be biased.
The row erupted after a verbal spat between Shastri and former England skipper Nasser Hussain in their commentary stint during the second Test between England and India at Nottingham.
Shastri strongly reacted to Hussain's comments about BCCI's stand on the DRS, telling the Englishman that he has no right to speak on issues related to the BCCI.
The issue didn't die there and opened up a can of worms for Shastri and Gavaskar, who are now being accused of 'conflict of interest' and bias towards the BCCI while commentating since they are being paid by the Indian board.
"There is no business for such people to be in the commentary box. But the scenario is hardly surprising, considering the BCCI works like a banana republic for which conflict of interest has never been an issue; in fact, it actively creates them," renowned media commentator Santosh Desai was quoted as saying to a leading Indian daily.
"I see this as a larger nexus between the Board, the commentators and the TV broadcasters. The onus has to be on individuals, especially if they are iconic sportsmen, to set an example and not become part of this co-option for personal gain," Desai added.
Gavaskar's former teammate Bishan Singh Bedi was also critical about BCCI's approach and termed it as 'unethical' to hire mouthpieces.
"We are not surprised. Anyone familiar with this board knows there is no question of ethics with them. There is conflict of interest everywhere. There is brazen disregard for norms. It's run like a fiefdom and no opposition is tolerated."
Ex-India spinner Maninder Singh, however, said Gavaskar and Shastri are victims of deep-rooted corruption in the country and cricket is not immune to the menace.
"It's symptomatic of what the nation is going through. There are scams, corruption in every sphere of life and cricket is not immune. Any ex-player given that kind of money will succumb to temptation. It is the board's fault," said Maninder.
"If the board was seriously interested in improving the game, such ex-players with deep knowledge of the game should have been paid to be on a cricket affairs committee to streamline scheduling or player fatigue or other niggling issues. Why commentary?" he added.
But Gavaskar said the matter is being blown out of proportion.
"The matter is being overblown. The contract is only for matches played in India and tournaments like the IPL. So it doesn't cover the current (England) tour where I have a contract with ESPN-Star. If someone points a finger at me, I will point it right back. Even when I am commentating in India, I'm free to speak out against the team or against the board if I choose," the former Indian opener said.
However, Gavaskar's former opening partner Chetan Chauhan said it was difficult for 'Sunny' to stay unbiased and do justice to so many roles at one time.
"If you are hired by the board, how can you speak against your employers? It is difficult to stay unbiased. These former cricketers have taken on so many roles - like in the IPL and on BCCI cricket committees. They cannot do them any justice."
The BCCI did come out with a clarification, saying what Gavaskar and Shastri speak while commentating is their own opinion and not dictated by the Indian board.
"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," said the BCCI Vice-President Rajiv Shukla.
"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," Shukla further said.
The huge sum of Rs 3.6 crore, which Shastri and Gavaskar receive as remuneration from the Board, is other than their earnings from independent contracts when India tours abroad. The BCCI pays them for the entire BCCI-owned cricket played in India, which includes the Indian Premier League (IPL), Champions Trophy and all international matches.