Whether Shashank Manohar plays chess or not, he has manoeuvred to position himself to be at the right place at the right time on the board of cricketing squares. He is always a move ahead and has an uncanny knack of steering clear of getting checkmated.
Hailing from a family of legal luminaries, he has a created a halo of a simpleton who has no use for a cellphone or a passport unless he is pitchforked into a situation to have one.
Some of his colleagues in the board have always suspected his cultivated good boy image. They questioned his motives and say that had it not been for the patronage of the wily Sharad Pawar and moving into Arun Jaitley’s camp at an opportune time, he would not have survived in the board politics. That’s some ingenuity for someone whose family members served as top legal officers in the Congress governments.
Manohar is no less a politician. When he realised that Lalit Modi was growing too big for his boots, he gave the impression of even defying his mentor Pawar to join hands with Narayanaswamy Srinivasan to get rid of the man who conceived the most popular cricket product, the Indian Premier League (IPL), from the Indian board.
The same monk-like Manohar went along with Jagmohan Dalmiya when some of his so-called comrades were fighting him inside the board room before getting into the forefront when Pawar seized power in the board.
His elevation as the first independent chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) is a cause for celebration, but most board members feel he has let them down when they needed him the most.
One senior member was upset with his statement after his unanimous election. At a time when he should be worrying about the structure of the Indian board, he talked of the exciting times for international cricket and carrying out a comprehensive review of the 2014 constitutional amendments aimed at improving governance structures.
To be fair to Manohar, he did try to implement some of the recommendations of the Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee even before the board and its associates challenged a few of them before the Supreme Court.
He quickly dealt with the conflict of interest issue, appointed an ombudsman and a CEO and importantly, showed some transparency by putting the constitution and all the tenders on the board’s website.
While some of the affiliates of the board are fighting on the age cap of 70 for board officials, restrictions on ads during matches, one state one vote, Manohar at 58 apparently is not unconcerned about them and is more interested in distributing the ICC revenues equally to all the stakeholders, even though 80 percent of it is generated by India.
Quite a few associations are unhappy with Manohar for snatching away huge sums of money accruing to the Indian board under Srinivasan’s 2014 revenue-sharing agreement with the Australian and English boards. The amount varies from Rs.1,000 crore to Rs.4,000 crore.
Former treasurer and a name being bandied about as a possible person to head the board, Ajay Shirkey, spoke for all of them, though he says he would not know the feelings of the others, when he said Shshank left it at a critical juncture when his presence was most needed.
Manohar’s departure was abrupt, he felt, and said he should have called a meeting of the board to explain his move before thanking them all.
Shirkey is also disappointed with the new ICC distribution system worked out by Manohar. It will lead huge revenue loss for the Indian board, hitting its cricket badly, he said.
Shirkey made it clear that he is not aspiring to become the board president, though what he did not say is that he spends much of his time these days in England with his big business. Thus the field is left for two politicians, Anurag Thakur and Rajeev Shukla, though some board members are not averse to backing vice president Gokaraju Gangaraju, a BJP MP from Andhra.
Manohar is seen as a messiah by international cricket chiefs whereas the Indian board members see him as promoting himself by running a Sarvodaya movement. He is liked by the international boards that were also not unhappy with the earlier revenue-sharing arrangement, though they hated Srinivasan’s high-handedness.
A man who has portrayed himself as a saint, will he now strike down some of the decisions taken in the post-IPL era and revert to the Future Tours Programme, insisting on every country playing every other member of the ICC?
Also of curiosity is how he will take on the Indian board. Will he insist on it accepting the Umpires Decision Review System? He might persuade the Indian board to fall in line, failing which forcing it down. If he can bring the Indian board down from its high pedestal, his stock will go up in the committee of cricket nations.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])