The Supreme Court has axed Ajay Shirke and Anurag Thakur from their respective posts in BCCI © AFP

The Supreme Court has axed Ajay Shirke and Anurag Thakur from their respective posts in BCCI © AFP

In the days and months to come, Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke, the two leading Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials sacked by the Supreme Court, may ponder a centuries-old proverb that speaks of the horseshoe nail that caused a kingdom to be lost.

It was on July 18, 2016, nearly six months ago, that a two-judge bench of the apex court comprising TS Thakur, the Chief Justice of India, and Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla issued an order asking the BCCI to implement the majority of the recommendations made by a committee headed by RM Lodha, himself a former Chief Justice. The board was given between four and six months to put its house in order, with Lodha tasked with overseeing the transition.

The board’s initial response bordered on the indifferent. Instead of trying to engage with the committee to put forth its objections to some of the more contentious recommendations, the BCCI seemed to merely wish them away. Stunned by the lack of any genuine action, the court issued one warning. Then, another. In December, with patience having come to an end over what they saw as the BCCI’s stalling tactics, the court said that a final decision would be made when it reopened in the new year.

And so it has come to this – the two most powerful administrators in the game shunted aside, with no recourse to appeal. In the past, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has taken a dim view of government interference in the affairs of cricket boards. But in this case, they too are powerless. The decision handed down on January 2 has nothing to do with the Narendra Modi government in power in New Delhi, and everything to do with the court wanting to follow due process.

The BCCI has done some outstanding work behind the scenes, whether that is to do with player pensions, or arranging the seamless conduct of a domestic season that spans seven months and takes in more than 900 matches across various age groups. But all those efforts have been undone by hubris that it has never been able to shake off since the days when Jagmohan Dalmiya made it the pre-eminent power in the sport.

Even more damaging is the possibility of the court initiating contempt proceedings against the outgoing president over written communication with the ICC on whether the appointment of a member of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office on the BCCI’s apex council would amount to government interference. Thakur and his lawyers have maintained that he merely sought a clarification. Documents that the ICC has subsequently shared with the court are apparently at ‘variance’ with that view.

There was a time when there could have been a debate about whether the Lodha Committee recommendations represented judicial overreach. That time has long gone. The BCCI’s inability to get its members to fall in line and implement the changes asked for has painted it in poor light, and has lost it whatever little sympathy might have existed in the public domain. The judiciary, like the army, remains an institution that commands respect across sections of society. Contempt of court, or actions bordering on that, does not go down well.

“There were obstructions, there were impediments … obviously this had to happen, and it has happened,” said Justice Lodha reacting to the verdict. “The Supreme Court itself has ensured that its order of 18 July is now enforced.

“It’s a victory for the game of cricket and it will flourish. Administrators come and go, ultimately it is for the game.”

What the BCCI now faces is a leadership purge on the lines of what China faced when Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in May 1966. When the Lodha Committee recommendations are implemented, most of those who have been the faces of Indian cricket administration over the past several decades will be banished, never to return.

“There were obstructions, there were impediments … obviously this had to happen, and it has happened,” said Justice Lodha © Getty Images

If you’re over 70, you’re out. If you’ve served more than three terms with either your state association or the national board, you forfeit the right to continue in that job. If you have just finished a three-year term, a cooling-off period of three years awaits. For some, who have run their state associations like personal fiefdoms, with the best interests of the game a secondary or tertiary concern, this order really is the end of the road.

For years now, the concept of conflict of interest has been a hazy one for the BCCI, with administrators continuing to cultivate their local support even as they took on national roles. When the itinerary for the World Twenty20 was drawn up in late 2015, Dharamsala [home to Thakur] and Nagpur [Shashank Manohar’s backyard, before he left the BCCI for the ICC’s top job] got the most matches.

In February-March this year, Pune, where Shirke has his support base, and Dharamsala will host high-profile Test matches against Australia. Coincidence, did you say?

The timing could not be more ironic. Indian cricket has just enjoyed one of its finest years. The Test team leads the ICC rankings by a distance and is unbeaten in 18 matches stretching back to August 2015. They have reached at least the semifinal of the last four ICC events, the only side to do so. On the field, these are the best of times.

The BCCI has done some outstanding work behind the scenes, whether that is to do with player pensions, or arranging the seamless conduct of a domestic season that spans seven months and takes in more than 900 matches across various age groups. But all those efforts have been undone by hubris that it has never been able to shake off since the days when Jagmohan Dalmiya made it the pre-eminent power in the sport.

With a bit of humility and some constructive dialogue, things would not have reached such a sorry pass. Now, as Indian cricket administration faces a new dawn, the old guard is left to ponder actions as foolhardy as the cross-batted swipe on a pitch that’s turning square.

For want of a nail …