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What Sharad Pawar needs to do

By Prem Panicker
Last updated on: November 30, 2005 15:33 IST
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Sourav backers fired hours after Pawar's takeover', was the banner headline in a national newspaper announcing the defeat of the Jagmohan Dalmiya-Ranbir Singh Mahendra group in the BCCI annual election of November 29.

If that is correct, would the corollary be equally true -- that the previous regime had packed the selection committee with 'Sourav backers'? No? I didn't think so.

Is the defeat of the Dalmiya faction to be framed then as a vote by the majority of member associations against Sourav Ganguly?

If West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya suffers an election reverse, can it be interpreted as a people's verdict against the former Indian captain? If Rupa Ganguly's next film bombs at the box office, is that because people were protesting her public backing of Sourav?

If one factor, more than any other, has vitiated the Indian cricket atmosphere in recent times, it is the framing of contemporary happenings on pro- and anti- Sourav Ganguly lines.

So where does this stop? When do we get to the point where we see the team, first, and individual components later, if at all?

When do we get to where we see Sourav, and V V S Laxman, and Anil Kumble (who, arguably, has won us more games in both the Test and ODI varieties than any other contemporary player up to and including Sachin Tendulkar, and whose exclusion from the current one-day team has been accepted without any grass growing on the Bangalore pitch) as components of Team India?

When do we understand, and accept, that each of them has a necessary, even vital, role to play in Indian cricket, and that the 11 players picked for a particular game or a series are not necessarily a reflection on those who have been left out, even less so on the regions they hail from?

What does all this have to do with Sharad Pawar winning the BCCI elections? Simple: Pawar hasn't 'won' an election so much as he has inherited a tremendous responsibility.

Rewind a bit, to the Ganguly-Greg Chappell spat in Zimbabwe, to see why: The BCCI had appointed a coach, and given him a brief to shape a team for the future, as defined by World Cup 2007.

The coach and the captain did not see eye to eye on how this should be done; on the methods to be used, on the personnel to be picked, or omitted, on the standards to be set and on the means by which those standards should be enforced.

It was, plain and simple, a disagreement on procedure. And the logical solution was equally plain, and no less simple -- since both parties had made certain allegations, what was needed was a full-scale inquiry.

The inquiry committee at the time needed to call everyone concerned -- the captain, the coach, the manager, the various players whose names cropped up (for instance, Sourav Ganguly in his response repeatedly referenced his deputy Rahul Dravid as being able to witness his statements; V V S Laxman was a key figure in the controversy; Harbhajan Singh had spoken of divisiveness and needed to be heard on the subject), the physio and other members of the back up team.

It needed to ask hard questions, compel frank answers -- and at the end of the exercise, make a determination, one way or the other.

Either the coach had lied throughout -- and worse, by distorting facts had deliberately undermined the credibility, and authority, of the man picked to lead this country's national team -- or he had not.

If the coach lied, that is clearly unacceptable, and the solution was immediate dismissal from the post. If he hadn't lied, that in turn meant that his central premise -- that the then captain was not fit for the role, stood true, and that in turn suggested its own solution.

The preferred solution, by a body whose emblem by rights ought to be the ostrich, was to conduct a little sham; to, at the end of it, talk of rapprochement where, clearly, none was possible; and to craft a devil's bargain with both parties (on the lines of Chappell takes a hit on his veracity, allows the board to state officially that there was no truth to his charge that Ganguly feigned injury; in return, Ganguly is dropped from the one-day squad).

Clearly, that bargain was entered into as a stop-gap measure; the masterminds who dreamt that up obviously reckoned the BCCI elections would take place sooner rather than later, and once the office bearers were in place with a year-long mandate, final decisions could be taken.

In all of this, one factor was not taken into account: the fact that the Indian public has a tremendous emotional investment in the game, and the players who represent their country. A back room compromise was not going to wash, not with the public -- they, rightly, needed to know what was going on, who was in the right and who was in the wrong; in a word, they needed closure.

Once the BCCI in its wisdom denied us fans that basic requirement, the rest was bound to follow. The fans have been divided into two camps, where none should have existed (would there be all this heartburn had the BCCI and its selection committee had the good sense to state, clearly and for the record, exactly why Ganguly was dropped -- and if the reason given stood the test of logic?).

The two camps have parsed the statistics, pro and con, ad nauseum -- and there is just so many times one camp can reference 'the last Test innings was a century' and the other camp can go 'yeah, right, against the terrifying Zimbabwe attack'. Once saturation point was reached, the debate naturally had to descend into attacks on parochial lines.

At this point, enter the politician, that class of animal that makes a career out of wallowing in muck. Here, politicians got into the act, put out 'spirited' statements ('Let's see how the player will not be in the team!'), and -- with support from that other class of creature that will do anything for 15 minutes of media fame, the actor) -- framed the debate on us versus them lines and, in doing so, poured needless fuel on already high-burning parochial flames.

Ergo, the situation is now totally out of hand -- you have a situation where one player will be booed in Bangalore and another in Kolkata, both groups of protestors forgetting that they are booing one of their own (if we don't respect ourselves, what right do we have to complain when a foreigner doesn't respect us?); you have groups going around conducting funeral rites of those they dislike. And you have the man at the centre of the storm flipping off his perceived 'enemies' -- an act as indefensible as all that preceded it.

Was there ever anything less edifying? And for why? Not, no matter how many statistics you dredge up, because Ganguly merits or does not merit a place in the team. Not, no matter how many ad hominem statements of the kind anyone makes to mask the real issues, because of a 'white' fixation or a north-south, Aryan-Dravidian divide.

But because the BCCI forgot one simple tenet of public life -- when a problem surfaces, sticking your head in the sand and your rear end in the clouds is not the way to deal with it.

This is what Pawar inherits – a vitiated atmosphere; a polarization within the team, and among the public; and the very real risk of the situation getting worse as more ill-informed and, worse, intemperate comment (on the lines of the headline referenced above) makes a bad situation infinitely worse.

And that in turn suggests his immediate agenda -- the reversal of previous policy; the introduction of transparency in all that the BCCI does, and is.

Why Pawar's win is significant

The Pawar administration cannot afford to rule on the I Am The Be All mindset; it needs to act (in cleaning up the heartburn within the team, in cleaning up the factionalism in the selection process, in cleaning up the mess the television rights issue is in, in cleaning up the financial mismanagement that pervades the administration), and it needs to explain its actions, in clear and forthright terms.

And, as a first item on its agenda, it needs to empower the selection committee, and its chairman, to speak frankly on the subject of Sourav Ganguly. To discuss the reasons for his omission from the one-day squad, to discuss his role in the Test squad, to discuss his future role in Indian cricket as they perceive it.

A great player who in his pomp has contributed immensely to the development of the current team deserves no less; what he does not deserve is for his name to be the focal point of all that is narrow-minded and coarse.

If Pawar and his team can, as a first step, accomplish this, they will do much to restore to Indian cricket an atmosphere of calm; that done, the rest of their agenda for the one-year term will pretty much suggest itself automatically.

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Prem Panicker

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