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A Buffoon Called Lele

Denials come so easily to this official; he could have been a monk

A Buffoon Called Lele
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WHAT entered the Almighty’s mind when he put the serpent into Eden he alone knows, and by now he may well have forgotten. All that can be said is, so far as writers of fiction are concerned, the serpent’s presence was an unmixed blessing," is how John Mortimer introduces The Oxford Book of Villains. The difference between God and Jagmohan Dalmiya is ‘Jaggu Dada’ knows precisely why he installed Jaywant Yeshwant Lele to be his successor as BCCI secretary. And, true to his part, Mr Lele ensures cricket scribes, whom he considers fiction-writers anyway, never have a dull moment chronicling the tragi-comedy that’s Indian cricket.

Foot-in-the-mouth-itis is an ailment that’s long afflicted the man, but denial comes so easily to Mr Lele at 61, that in some previous innings in The Great Stadium, he could have been a Buddhist monk. So he now denies having told an internet magazine that India will lose 0-3 to Australia, having said that Tendulkar & Co won’t be able to bat on bouncy Aussie wickets. He denies having wondered why Azhar’s out of the side. He denies having said there were 50 bowlers in India like Srinath. He denies saying Jadeja was just a utility player who shouldn’t be in the Test squad. And he denies having said that Indian cricketers are so stingy that they accept dinner invitations for a price to pay their laundry bills.

Look closely, though, and you’ll see there’s more than a grain of truth in each of his yorkers. But Lele’s comic genius is such that on the odd occasion he utters the truth, he’s quickly forced to slip into his denial robes as it doesn’t gel with his general ability to be economical with it. So he denies his newest faux pas not because he’s wrong, but because of his rather weak ‘locus standi’ as BCCI secretary. And because, despite two years in the job, he’s seen, like the canine in the Gramophone Company of India logo, as His Master’s Voice. Anyone who can stay as Baroda Cricket Association secretary for 27 years in a row without playing a single Ranji match and get to be the BCCI topdog without playing a single Test, must have his uses. Surely, ability to speak one’s mind can’t be one of them.

The obvious next question is how does he manage to take on Kapil one day, Tendulkar the next, and the whole team the third and still survive? How does he promote the Baroda Brigade (the Nayan Mongias, Jacob Martins, Sitanshu Kotaks) while wearing his other hat as convenor of the selection committee and still go unquestioned? How does he irritate the media (he once called a press meet at a Delhi hotel and checked out three hours before the scribes arrived) and still call the shots in the BCCI? Easy: indiscretion is one of the perks of pliancy. When the country’s richest sports body is run like the neighbourhood pawn shop without any accountability, professionalism or transparency, an ability to do the master’s bidding is a virtue and Lele is not to be found wanting. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that "opposition" in the BCCI has been successfully emasculated.)

So, when the players don’t share Dalmiya’s globalisation dream and want to play less cricket, Lele suggests they stop playing ‘masala’ stuff. When the coach and captain complain they weren’t consulted on the schedules, Lele says the previous coach and captain were consulted (which he later denies). So, when senior players express reluctance to play Pakistan, Lele warns they won’t be picked for the World Cup (which he later denies). So, when Justice Y.V. Chandrachud submits his match-fixing report, Lele promises to make it public (which he later denies). And so on till the internet goof-up.

As a senior citizen, Mr Lele is entitled to his views on the team and its chances Down Under. "J.Y. Lele can’t talk on anything other than cricket," is one of his more quotable quotes. But the question is: a) Can the BCCI secretary air his views before a crucial tour without demoralising the team, and b) Shouldn’t some action be taken against him? If a coach can be crucified for speaking out of turn, if players can be fined for bringing cricket into disrepute, surely there must be some rule that applies to the board secretary, too?

IN a way, Lele is a godsend for those who’d like more transparency in Indian cricket. Because while inserting both his feet into his mouth at the same time, he unwittingly drops those little pearls that are dead giveaways to the goings-on in the corridors of the BCCI in Eden Gardens. Like, when he said conditions like viewership were "peripheral" in deciding which channel would get the TV rights to Indian cricket. The gall! In a country where cricket is a religion, how many people watch a channel is just a "peripheral" issue for the BCCI in awarding the TV rights!

Why Lele has emerged as the BCCI’s public face is not difficult to see: a) Despite his best protestations, Indian cricket is run by a guy who claims he has no interest in the BCCI but who has anything but. A stronger secretary, like Polly Umrigar, would have undermined Dalmiya’s clout in a manner Lele isn’t equipped to. And b) because former president Raj Singh Dungarpur was out for the count all through his term, and current chief A.C. Muthaiah is too busy with his industrial empire to have a hands-on role (an interview request has been on hold for 45 days). So it falls upon Lele to carry the can, meet the media and deny, deny, deny.

Still, it isn’t Mr Lele’s fault that he comes across as a buffoon every time he opens his mouth. Remember, he’s only doing an "honorary" job. He isn’t paid for it, except the ta/da. Nobody asked him to show how he is qualified to take up the job - although his last fully-paid job was as a public relations officer - and so he’s not showing any of it either. The fault lies with a board, which earns Rs 40 crore every year in TV rights alone, Rs 25 lakh or more per Test, but which can’t afford a full-time, professional media manager who can present a more palatable face of the board and the game and the team to the outside world.

Provided one exists, that is.

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