Politicians, and their need of cricket


Bishan Bedi did not expect to win the DDCA elections, but he did make a point. With Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party beginning to make a difference in Delhi, Bedi told a friend that he decided to “bowl into the wind from the Ram Lila grounds” and look for the bite and turn that might dismiss the corruption-soaked, favour-ladling, anti-cricket association that the DDCA had become. Bedi and his supporters were defeated by the ‘proxy’ rule which has elected more politicians than cricketers into the DDCA.

It says something for the passion of a man like Bedi that at 67, with his place in the pantheon of greats assured as a left-arm spinner and with his reputation as the man who put North Zone on the map secure, he still finds it important to contest an election he knows he cannot win. Arun Jaitley withdrew from the fray because he was “sick and tired” of the infighting in the DDCA or because he did not want to go up against Bedi – take your pick. That Kirti Azad, Jaitley’s colleague in the BJP, threw in his lot with Bedi suggests that occasionally, cricket triumphs over party politics even in Delhi.

It is simplistic to conclude that only cricketers must be involved in running cricket associations – even if many have done so professionally and with dignity. Years ago, Bedi himself led a players’ revolution in Delhi; his contemporary S Venkataraghavan was the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, in Karnataka, Brijesh Patel and a group of players brought to an end the reign of the late C Nagaraj before more recently, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath were elected president and secretary respectively. And now Patel is back as secretary. But there have also been players who have embarrassed their community. Cricket in Hyderabad, for example, has suffered as it has in some other states where players have been in charge. This is ironic because one of the early players in administration was the highly respected Ghulam Ahmed from Hyderabad.

The real choice is not between players and non-players but between those with integrity and those lacking this quality. There are bad player-administrators just as there are excellent non-players who have been a credit to their office.

For long, there was a practical reason to have successful politicians at the helm of affairs. It meant that government clearances, administrative irritants and foreign exchange problems (a major bugbear in the past) could be smoothened out easily. But in the recent past, especially after economic liberalisation and India’s pre-eminent role in world cricket, politicians have needed cricket more than the game has needed them. How else do you explain Sharad Pawar, a former president of the ICC, contesting and winning the election as the president of the Mumbai Cricket Association?

Pawar was the minister of agriculture when, as the BCCI president, he expressed his joy at Yuvraj Singh hitting six sixes in an over in the World T20 by awarding him one crore rupees. That was one crore rupees more than he paid the desperate farmers who were committing suicide on his watch.

Such well-known ‘cricketers’ as Narendra Modi and Lalu Prasad Yadav have been presidents of their cricket associations; the media box in the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai is named after Bal Thackeray, another well-known cricketer. It pays to be associated with cricket. It ensures oodles of free publicity, a chance to rub shoulders with the icons of the youth around the world, and affords a lifestyle that is envied by your average garden variety politician.

Yet, when a player loses an election to his governing body – whether it is Ajit Wadekar or Dilip Vengsarkar in Mumbai or Gundappa Vishwanath in Karnataka – it is difficult to shake off the feeling that somehow, there has been a blip in the natural progression. And they lose for the strangest of reasons. The proxy rule, for one. Or because members are upset that former players did not wish them “good morning” on some occasion. Or because when a player with strong views comes in, the little rackets organised by small men have no place.

Power, money, influence – office-bearers in cricket associations in India are guaranteed all this. Which politician or power-monger can resist that combination?


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