Can cricket board chief Manohar walk the talk? (Column: Just Sport)

Indian cricket is going through a difficult period both on and, more, off the field and Shashank Manohar may not have bargained for this when he agreed to return as president of the Indian board.

Manohar has apparently told the board members that he will carry out the badly required administrative reforms come what may. All those who know him have little doubt that he would do what he has promised and restore board’s credibility.

He has already announced some far-reaching steps like not using his president’s vote or casting vote till the constitution is amended — he doesn’t think the chair should have a vote – and doing away with the age old practice of India team needing president’s clearance.

In other words, he will not exercise his veto in matters of captaincy change or selection of a player like three of his predecessors did. He promised to implement the changes in two months and would go to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) with these proposals next month.

Will he also be able to amend the archaic statute giving the so-called five permanent Test centres – Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Kanpur – the privilege of being Working Committee members as proposed by some of his colleagues?

The privilege makes little sense when the Tests are allotted by rotation. Along with it the appeasement of making centres which have held a Test in two years, adding up to another five members, must also go.

Will Manohar rock the entire boat and change the administrative functioning and the mindset of people in the board in one fell swoop? The Lodha Committee left him with little choice but to carry out the reforms before the Supreme-Court-appointed Committee puts everything in writing.

It is quite possible the board got the wind of the Lodha Committee’s likely recommendations as most senior board members and former India captains suggested some of these across-the-board reforms.

Manohar must end the obnoxious system of pleasing every board member by accommodating him in a plethora of sub-committees most of which have little work. Imagine, in a board with an effective strength of 30 members, the Working Committee has 23!

Some committees don’t even meet as Sunil Gavaskar once pointed out as chairman of board’s the technical committee that no meeting was convened God knows for how long.

The board may not have the courage to take up the issue of one state one vote, but it would be interesting to see how the Lodha Committee looks at it. Officials from big states like UP, when it had Uttarkhand as its part, and Bihar, with Jharkhand in it, questioned the wisdom of allowing three teams from Gujarat and Maharashtra just because they were part of erstwhile princely states and thus became founder members. The players from these two states felt cheated.

Manohar’s idea of transparency is to have online the board’s constitution, its balance-sheet and also those of its affiliated units. Add to the list ending of corruption. It all sounds utopian and makes him out a messiah. If only we care to go back into board’s history, these are the things promised by Team Pawar when it overpowered the hitherto unshakable Jagmohan Dalmiya a decade ago.

Manohar also promises to undo his successor Narayanaswamy Srinivasan’s selfish step of removing the cap on the tenure of the board president, though he himself is a beneficiary of the changed law originally moved by Dalmiya but could not muster enough strength to get it through. It is a dangerous statute and that has to go, it is a different matter that some former board presidents continue to wield enormous clout in the board as representatives of their state associations.

He reiterated yet again to end the on-field corruption by educating the players. It begs the question whatever has happened to Anil Kumble’s plan to enlightening players at junior levels on not only nefarious off-field activities but also etiquette and decency.

Then how would he address the vexed conflict of interest issue involving administrators, players and the ever burgeoning staff. The board has so many sacred cows in its barn. He will have to get tough to deal with the issue and if he can do it, he would have saved the board.

Manohar faced his first big test when he was gheraoed by the Shiv Sainiks in his own office at Cricket Centre in Mumbai. The very fact he did not condemn it publicly shows his helplessness to deal with the subject.

To say Manohar, a Pawar acolyte, and his secretary Anurag Thakur, BJP parliamentarian, should have known the mischief potential of Shiv Sena before scheduling the talks with Pakistan board chief Shahryar Khan in Mumbai makes little sense, even in the light of what had happened to Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face and Ghulam Ali concert.

Asking the highly respected Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar not to officiate and the equally pusillanimous International Cricket Conference (ICC) to withdraw him are dangerous signs for a sport considered a religion in this country.

Stretching the argument, what if the board or any international team decides to pick and choose venues and skip Mumbai fearing the very forces that forced Monday’s meeting at Cricket Centre to be abandoned?

The question is how long the civil society and the elected governments in the mega polis allow themselves to be bullied by some miscreants wanting to score narrow political points. The board cannot also be a silent spectator.

Can Manohar walk the talk?

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at v.srivatsa@ians.in)

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