Sticky Wickets, Heavy Ball
- Kumble is KSCA president, RCB chief mentor and NCA chairman
- His company, Tenvic, has signed up Karnataka team players to ‘mentor’ them. It looks after their commercial interests.
- A clear conflict of interest. And one that is simply unbecoming of a player of his immense stature.
With the pedigree of being the greatest matchwinning bowler in the history of Indian cricket to fall back on, not one eyelid was batted when Anil Kumble was made president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA). Nor did they blink when he was designated the chief mentor of the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Or even when he was given the chairmanship of the National Cricket Academy (NCA). After all, a man who had for so very long been a tireless workhorse for team and country could never be given too many feathers in his cap. What would come as a surprise to most people, though, is the lesser-known hat that he sports, that of a player-manager at Tenvic, the company which ‘mentors’ and represents young players. Two players, Vinay Kumar and S. Aravind, both from his state team Karnataka, have been selected to play for India in their ‘grudge’ home series against England.
“In essence, as president of the KSCA, he is in a position to appoint selectors, who (in turn) would be in a position to choose players who have signed up with Kumble,” says a KSCA source. “As RCB chief mentor, he is in a position to make decisions that could benefit his boys. And, of course, his company Tenvic would charge players fees for services provided, including getting them endorsement contracts,” the source adds.
Kumble is, without any qualification, a man to be admired: a peerless fighter as a player, an articulate man who holds a special appeal to the English-speaking city-dweller; he conducted himself with dignity during the Sydney Test controversy in Australia in 2008. Post-retirement, he stoked the hopes of cricket lovers when he and his supporters swept the KSCA elections last year. We all want top cricketers to run the sport, do we not? But do we really want them to have a free run of the whole farm too?
Syed Kirmani, the celebrated former India wicketkeeper, who was a KSCA selector till this year, asks, “How is he able to perform all those different jobs? Well, that’s a question you’ve got to ask him.” And that’s just what Outlook did.
Doesn’t he think that his position—or positions, rather—involves a conflict of interests? “No, I do not think so,” Kumble responded. “I do not see any conflict of interest here. I am very clear in my mind about this. The important thing is to focus on what you are trying to achieve, and I am trying to do that.” But apart from being above board, is it not important to be seen to be above board, too? “I focus on what has to be done, not on what people might be thinking,” he replied. “The positions with the KSCA and NCA are honorary jobs, and I have to look after myself. At this stage of my career, I have to do that. Otherwise, you would have to become like Gandhi and give up everything.”
Tenvic, named after Kumble’s incredible 10-wicket haul in the second innings of that magical Test match in Delhi during Pakistan’s 1999 tour, was launched in January this year to promote sports at the grassroots level. Its directors: Kumble, his brother Dinesh and former table tennis player Vasanth Bharadwaj. It claims a strong non-profit slant, but there is a commercial aspect too. Bharadwaj told Outlook: “What we are trying is to bring in an intervention which creates a certain maturity in the ecosystem. These sportspersons don’t have the necessary background or training to deal with the sudden bursts of attention.” He confirmed that Tenvic also looks after the commercial interests of the players, because “it doesn’t make any sense for someone to do the mentoring and someone else to do the commercial handling”. Outlook talked with a Tenvic player, who said the agency works to get them “contracts and all”, but added that he hadn’t received any advice on dealing with the media.
KSCA sources say several young players are worried that if they get a call from Tenvic to sign up with them, they would be hard pressed to say no to the company floated by the president of their state association. Such a situation allegedly came to pass earlier this year when Manish Pandey, a Karnataka player, was being pressured by both the RCB and Rajasthan Royals to join their respective squads. Outlook has it on good authority that Pandey had submitted a complaint about this to the then bcci president Shashank Manohar.
However, the news about Kumble’s conflict of interest is greeted with disbelief by past stalwarts. Former Test player Bishan Singh Bedi told Outlook, “I can’t believe it, I don’t want to believe it. I don’t want to sully the image I have of him.” Australian cricket writer Peter Roebuck, another Kumble admirer, told Outlook, “(The) conflict is clear, and conflict of interest is unacceptable. It happens in England in cricket and soccer and compromises those involved. The Arsenal chairman’s son is an agent for several players. It does not matter whether it is Anil Kumble or a lesser figure. The principle is the same.”
Multiple roles and business interests may have prevented Kumble from focusing on his KSCA responsibilities. Veteran sports journalist Vedam Jaishankar, who has known Kumble for years, says: “They have done a lot of talk, but they have not walked their talk. So far we have not seen any progress. If anything, there has been a regression.”
Adds another source, “In principle, the idea of sportspersons running sports is fantastic. But it requires experience and they are learning on the job, but things are at a low ebb now.” He lists some of the controversies that’ve arisen:
- During the ICC World Cup this year, after the venue for the England-India match had been shifted from Calcutta to Bangalore, there was a furore over the number of tickets made available for sale to the general public. KSCA officials said the ICC had held back about 10,000 tickets, but ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat said the number was less than 1,000.
- Karnataka MLAs alleged that Kumble was awarding KSCA contracts to friends.
- Syed Kirmani and another former India player, Raghuram Bhatt, were sacked as selectors and were not even informed. “It showed what sort of respect they had for us, but I do not want to rake this up now,” Kirmani says.
- The KSCA press box was converted into an air-conditioned box and its seating capacity was brought down from 250 to 120. The frame for the glass front mars the view. Bangalore journalists exchanged words with Kumble over this issue.
- The Shafi Darashah tournament used to be an important one that helped identify local talent, pitting Ranji level players against upcoming Karnataka players. The format has since been changed to include teams from outside the state. And, incredibly, the final this year was a 50-over contest, though the group matches were four-day games!
Sources, therefore, say Kumble and his team need to devote more time and consideration to their KSCA responsibilities. Kumble laughs this off, saying he’s completely focused on the job. And though Kumble still has two years left to implement his schemes, it’s fair to say that Kumble’s reign has, so far, matched up to neither the hype nor the fans’ hopes.