Sunil Gavaskar pursued the craft of batsmanship with single-minded devotion and, in the process, injected steel into Indian cricket’s spine and won them respect for the first time in Test cricket. He pursued money with equal devotion, say those who’ve observed him for years. Obviously, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the pursuit of money, but it does appear indecorous when people we thought of as gods do it, publicly, acrimoniously, and with great gusto. Superhero to everyone who loves cricket, and a personal hero to Sachin Tendulkar, Gavaskar has finally reached a breaking point with the Board of Control for Cricket in India—over money.
For three years, Gavaskar was part of the IPL governing council (GC). When the BCCI made it an honorary, unpaid job in late October, Gavaskar opted out. The BCCI also reduced the term of the GC members from five years to one; in effect, Gavaskar was on the GC for three years before he decided to quit. But he now claims that the BCCI/IPL owe him several crore rupees—at the rate of $1 million per year, for the original term of five years. The BCCI vehemently refutes this. It says that in keeping with the contract Gavaskar signed with the IPL, the board has paid Gavaskar until the third financial quarter of this year.
The disagreement has turned into a bitter slanging match between Gavaskar and senior board officials, and people who are familiar with Gavaskar’s ways say it’s no surprise that the quarrel revolves around money. For instance, veteran journalist K.R. Wadhwaney wrote an entire book on controversies surrounding Gavaskar, and many of these involved money. He recounts how, in the early ’80s, a dispute erupted between Gavaskar and Kapil Dev over money from an exhibition match in Varanasi. The story goes that Kapil believed Gavaskar to have collected a very big sum from the organisers, and disbursed only a part of it to the players. And Bishen Singh Bedi still marvels at what Gavaskar once declared at a team meeting in the ’70s: “The day I stop thinking of money, I will stagnate.”
Of course, you’re not likely to find too many people who don’t love money. The problem with Gavaskar, say BCCI officials, is that he’s asking far too much of it. “Before the BCCI Annual General Meeting in late October, Gavaskar had asked that the fees of the GC members be raised to $1 million per year,” says an official. “That was rejected outright at the AGM. It was clear to us that the decision to make it an honorary post meant that Gavaskar wouldn’t be part of the GC after that, though he did say in a TV interview that very night that he was willing to work for free.”
The bigger issue, says a BCCI insider, was that Gavaskar seemed to be in some sort of talks with Rendezvous Sports World, IPL’s Kochi franchise holders, when he was still on the GC. “Satyajit Gaikwad of Rendezvous Sports World has admitted they were under Gavaskar’s guidance,” he says, adding that Gavaskar should have been forthright about this. There had been speculation about a “mystery former captain” who had a stake in the Kochi franchisee; Gavaskar has denied that he had any stake in it, but IPL insiders say he had been “batting” for Kochi.
There are more obvious conflicts of interest. Gavaskar, a paid member of the GC, was also a highly-paid commentator at the IPL. As Peter Roebuck wrote in this magazine, “in other words, Gavaskar (and Ravi Shastri) were both the bowler and the umpire. Viewers could not expect to hear any criticisms of the IPL or Lalit Modi from these quarters”. Gavaskar also heads the BCCI’s technical committee—an unpaid job—which hasn’t met for well over one year. “Dates suitable to all members haven’t been available for quite some time,” says a BCCI official. It doesn’t help that Gavaskar travels for work round the year and has to spend over 180 days out of India every year to maintain his NRI status, which qualifies him for tax exemptions in India.
Gavaskar has mounted a spirited, persuasive defence regarding money from the IPL. “The IPL is a commercial enterprise, and I do believe that cricketers should be compensated for the expertise, the experience and the time they bring to the table,” he told NDTV, whichpays him big money for exclusive comments.
There’s, though, merit in Gavaskar’s claim. After all, the IPL was launched in a hurry to crush the icl, which was signing up retired and active players. And the IPL, as Gavaskar says, is a commercial entity, serving not Indian cricket, but team owners, who are in it solely for commercial reasons. “The IPL needed someone of the stature of Gavaskar,” says a source in Professional Marketing Group, Gavaskar’s sports management firm. “Kapil had been signed up by the icl, apart from many others. IPL needed a big name too, so they got Gavaskar.”
But a BCCI official counters: “The problem is with the figure Gavaskar is quoting. His contract says he’d be paid Rs 1 crore each year. Where’s this figure of Rs 20 crore coming from?” The PMG source answers: “This promise was made to him by Lalit Modi and then BCCI president Sharad Pawar in 2007.” But then, why did Gavaskar sign a contract for Rs 1 crore? “Well, he was promised the higher figure by the BCCI president and the IPL commissioner—he thought their word was enough, and that he didn’t really need to commit them in writing,” explains the PMG source.
Legally, thus, Gavaskar doesn’t have a case. “Therefore, he’s using the media, and his syndicated column, to push his case. That’s ill-advised and mean-spirited,” says another board official.
In fact, observers believe, rather than putting on an injured air, Gavaskar should be under scrutiny for his role in not detecting wrongdoing in the IPL. “He’s demanding Rs 20 crore when he probably should have been explaining why no wrongdoing was detected by him in the IPL,” says a former cricketer. “If you’ve watched his batting against the best fast bowlers in the world, you’d expect a heroic Gavaskar to cleanse the IPL—not keep his eyes off and then demand a massive sum of money. Was it because Modi had promised him Rs 20 crore?”
Gavaskar’s PMG colleague, however, says it was a “collective failure”. Actually, in a BCCI bereft of moral uprightness, perhaps expecting Gavaskar to be above board is asking for too much. “Isn’t N. Srinivasan’s India Cements owner of Chennai Superkings? Isn’t K. Srikkanth a brand ambassador for Chennai Superkings and also the chief selector for India?” asks a Gavaskar loyalist. On Wednesday, Gavaskar received a strong commendation for honesty from Lalit Modi, who told CNN-IBN that “in all my dealings with Sunny, I’ve never known him to be a liar or anything.” It’s uncertain if the endorsement would help Gavaskar’s case, or be welcomed by him.
Cricket writer David Frith, who remembers Gavaskar’s generosity in gifting him his India blazer in 1986 when he asked for a souvenir, says philosophically: “The keenness of cricketers and ex-cricketers to make as much money as possible is so widespread that probably only a fool would not chase the heaviest dollar. I believe it’s a built-in state of insecurity in the chaotic modern world which is affecting most of us.”
Clearly, possessing the best batting technique in the world doesn’t make you immune to avarice—especially if you happen to be Gavaskar.