Anurag Thakur steadily gaining control of cricket board
The winds of change continue to blow across the Indian cricket board. Its secretary Anurag Thakur is in a hurry to dismantle the old order and prove that he is in complete command of the situation.
Seldom has one seen a board secretary take control of its affairs as Thakur has done. The Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, seems to have acquired enormous clout with the backing of his mentor Arun Jaitley and is freely expressing about everything, even sensitive issues like Indo-Pak cricket ties.
In the past, the board had always left it to the government to decide on Indo-Pak series and that it came into picture only after the clearance from the Centre. Even heavyweight politicians like Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad, Seshrao Wankhede, Narendra Kumar Salve and Madahvrao Scindia did not take a stand publicly on cricket ties with the neighbours when they were board presidents.
The only politician secretary the board had before Thakur was Congressman Ranbir Singh Mahendra, the son of former Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal, and he hardly opened his mouth even to talk on routine cricket matters.
Within hours of the terror strike in Gurdaspur in Punjab, the board secretary like a good politician condemned the attack and went on to say that there cannot be any cricket with Pakistan when terror attacks are on. He was firm in putting the lid on the series: "As an Indian, I don't see the possibility of a cricket series, so no series now." Wonder whether he had the sanction of his president Jagmohan Dalmiya or the government to take a unilateral decision, though few will quarrel with it.
With a president unable to discharge his duties effectively because of health issues, Thakur has started asserting and is finding ways to meet the media at regular intervals. He is using the media briefings after the team selection to discuss controversial issues than the chief selector!
Thakur wanted to be board president but his party apparently advised him not to be over ambitious and so he had to settle for the secretary's post. Now, happily he is acting as the de facto president.
The board secretary started talking of "they and us" and now holds certain decisions taken by the "previous regime" responsible for undermining the board's reputation, giving the impression that he had nothing to do with those decisions, though he was a joint secretary and part of the deposed president Narayanaswami Srinivasan's coterie till the BJP catapulted into power at the Centre.
Thakur is right, a modicum of transparency has come into board's functioning, but to say that all members today are on the same page is stretching it too far. Even till the last Annual General Meeting the same members were on Srinivasan's page!
There has been some talk of Srinivasan making up with the present regime so that he could complete his two-year term as chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC). And it is not difficult to surmise who could have been behind the reconciliation.
Thakur has also firmly stated that there is no question of revoking the life ban on Test cricketer Shantakumaran Sreesanth and Ankeet Chavan, holding them guilty of corrupt practices. What came as a surprise is the alacrity with which its disciplinary committee banned the two players on the basis of the Delhi Police filing a charge-sheet, ignoring equally serious charges against two men closely connected with the franchises of the Indian Premier League, inviting the wrath of the Supreme Court appointed Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee.
Of course, the board has also gone by the report of the chief of its Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), Ravi Sawani, seen as deposed board president Narayanswami Srinivasan man. He has quit after the 2015 IPL after the board has appointed Neeraj Kumar, under whose direction as commissioner the Delhi Police registered the case against Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila, as the ACU adviser.
The members of the disciplinary committee that recommended the life ban on Sreesanth and Chavan and to keep the decision on Ajit Chandila in abeyance pending hearing are none other than Srinivasan and two vice-presidents, the powerful Arun Jaitley, now Union Finance Minister, and that man for all seasons Niranjan Shah.
Delhi's Patiala House Court exactly to the day on Saturday last week discharged Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila along with 33 others in the IPL spot fixing case, raising hopes of the three cricketers of an honourable return to the game. But, more than once in the week, the board secretary sought to make a distinction between the disciplinary action and the criminal proceedings in a court of law.
Judge Neena Bansal Krishna while exonerating the three cricketers and 33 others came down heavily on Delhi Police for not being able to prove any of the main charges for lack of evidence. The joke doing the rounds, while the police probe was on, is that Kumar would carry on with the inquiry to be in the news till his impending retirement!
Both Sreesanth and Chavan acted quickly by approaching their state associations to allow them to play cricket, at the club level to start with. The Kerala Cricket Association, whose president is a board vice-president, wants the ban lifted and Sharad Pawar-headed Mumbai Cricket Association, whose president is former board and ICC chief Sharad Pawar, will take up Chavan's plea on Sunday.
Sreesanth's native Kochi MP K.V. Thomas has already called Thakur, IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla and Pawar to plead his case. Can Thakur resist political pressure if Pawar and MCA also decide to jump into the situation?
Interesting days are ahead not only for cricketers but for the board, too, when political considerations come into play!
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)