S. Sivadas 
Opinion

Shirtless, facing the Lord

The greatness of cricket is that there is always a record that is being broken whenever a match takes place. In the long run up of the fast bowler there is enough time to squeeze in an anecdote or two. During the even more sedate times when the All India Radio was the only window open to the game celebrity commentator Vizzy used to regale listeners with his yarn so much so one could guess from the roar in the background that a boundary had been hit. Vizzy would get to the fact after another two minutes. Now during the run up you advertise a dehumidifier and two deodorants.

The recent international match at Thiruvananthapuram between West Indies and India has also predictably set a record. This is the first time an international match is being played in this historic southern city. (Two days later both teams played at Lucknow and that also was a record, an international was being played in city of the nawabs after 25 years). The victorious Indian team also visited the famous Padmanabhaswamy temple in the Kerala capital and pictures of the rugged, bearded Indian players, led by Ravi Shastri, shirtless and covering the torsos with tattoos and gold chains, talismans and with white towels coyly wrapped around, appeared in the sports pages. This is also in tune with the times. Action pictures of players no longer appear in these pages, these have been replaced by their warming up which look more like a walk in the park.

No wonder that this beautiful game lends to more analysis and interpretation and historical details, though mercifully pitch doctors no longer analyse the turf. It is thus no wonder that the sports pages are full of cricket news as the game is played round the year. How the players cope with all this pressure and exertion is a miracle. What was once a leisurely game played during the summers in England and in the winters in the tropical colonies is now played round the year. Even if the game is played only in less than a dozen countries the importance it gets in our news pages and people’s consciousness is surely surprising.

The game is so embedded in our subconscious that even the venerable economist Raghuram Rajan, explaining the contentious issue of the Reserve Bank of India’s autonomy, brought in the analogy of Rahul Dravid and Navjyot Singh Sidhu to explain how the controversy could be tackled.

It is thus no wonder that the other talking point of the day, the MeToo campaign, that has taken a toll of many celebrities has not left the hallowed precincts of the Board of Cricket Control of India(BCCI). One of the persons to throw a googly on this score has been Saurav Ganguly, no stranger himself to taking off his shirt, as he did at another sacred ground, the Lords.  Ganguly has blasted the Committee of Administrators (CoA) over its handling of sexual harassment allegations against Rahul Johri, CEO of BCCI, and said he was worried at the way the CoA has handled the case.

In a letter addressed to the BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary, treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry and acting president CK Khanna, Ganguly said he had a ‘deep sense of fear as to where Indian cricket administration is going.’

Johri, who has been with the BCCI since April 2016, had been accused of inappropriate behaviour by a woman during his stint at the Discovery TV channel. She had posted an account of the alleged harassment on Twitter but said the victim did not wish to be named. She had uploaded the posts online and also requested for privacy and tweeted that her posts should not be linked or embedded by any media house. Johri thus became the first personality associated with Indian cricket to be named in the #MeToo firestorm, and that too is a record.

But Ganguly is more concerned over the way the BCCI has handled the issue and thinks that this has shown the Indian cricket board in poor light. ‘I don't know how far it is true, but recent reports of harassment have really made the BCCI look very poorly. The Committee of Administrators from four has come down to two and now the two seem to be divided.’

Earlier it was reported that while Diana Edulji, a CoA member, was in favour of sacking Johri, its chief Vinod Rai, wanted the allegations to be investigated further as he did not want to deny Johri ‘natural justice’.

Ganguly has not stopped at that. He touched upon his disappointment with the way the Indian coach was selected (‘the less said the better’) - along with Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, Ganguly was part of the Cricket Advisory Committee which first selected Anil Kumble as coach in 2016. After a bitter fall-out between Kumble and Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri was named coach in 2017.

Ganguly, president of Cricket Association of Bengal, is not the first high-profile figure to question the CoA's handling of the Johri issue. The BCCI acting secretary had also slammed it for dealing with the charge against Johri in the ‘most cavalier manner’.

Indeed, the CoA did set up a three-member independent panel of former Allahabad high court judge Justice Rakesh Sharma, former Delhi Commission of Women (DCW) chairperson Barkha Singh and former CBI director PC Sharma, to probe the allegations  against  Johri.

By the way, the BCCI has been setting up enquiry commissions it looks like retired judges would never have time to enjoy their well earned rest. When the late Dr. Ashok Mitra was asked, long distance, 30 years ago what he thought of the BCCI he said that it was a fraudulent organisation and needs to be liquidated. The Leftist economist was referring to the Bank of Credit and Commerce International in United Arab Emirates that was indeed liquidated 22 years ago. When the reporter said he was referring to the cricket body, Dr. Mitra said that this applied equally to the cricket control board.

- S. Sivadas, Senior Journalist.