May 31, 2020
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Know Your Offstump

The chairman of selectors is spoiling for a fight. The BCCI might just give him one.

Know Your Offstump
Know Your Offstump
Colonel's Kebabs
  • Writing columns for an agency that also manages players, thereby bringing up conflict of interest issues
  • Defies board's diktat, gives out thinly veiled threats in his signed pieces
  • Miffed with the BCCI for not giving him the same privileges extended to Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri
  • Took liberties with BCCI's code of conduct when he took friends along into the dressing room in England


Was it just the cricket overload of late or did the India-Pak one-day series lack the usual touch of bloodsport that marks any contest between the two brooding South Asian neighbours? What else would explain the fact that more headline noise was logged by BCCI chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar's running battle with his bosses than India's first home odi series win against Pakistan in 24 years. But who could blame the press? The Colonel and his round table were taking on the almighty BCCI, refusing to come to heel even after repeated warnings. Vengsarkar, apparently, was (is) quite cut up with the board after it barred him from writing newspaper columns, but did not act likewise against technical committee chairman Sunil Gavaskar and National Cricket Academy chairman Ravi Shastri.

Sunny and Ravi

So even as he sulked, he was busy darting off a column to Marathi daily Sakal, incidentally owned by BCCI president Sharad Pawar's kin. Vengsarkar apparently feels the pen is mightier so, instead of speaking with the board directly, has been articulating his thoughts on paper —with thinly veiled threats of quitting the selection panel thrown in. An anonymous selector was even quoted as saying, "We are not servants and can't be treated in such a way. If the gag order continues, some of us may step down." Now, we don't know which selector's views were being aired but since it is Vengsarkar's column, the assumption is the views are also his own.

Meanwhile, officials at the aptly named Board of Control for Cricket in India were manning the gates with the sounds of a rebellion in the air. BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty did what officials do best in such situations: nothing. "No selector has come and said anything to us. We can't go by what is coming in the media. If the selectors have a problem, they can call us and the board will look into it. As of now, it's still unclear what the problem is," he said.

As the stalemate continued, there was a breach in the Colonel's ranks. One of the selectors was telling Outlook that the chairman of selectors had to resolve his problems with the BCCI himself. "Unfortunately for Indian cricket, because of this apparent standoff, the practice of a selector being on tour with the team will be discontinued," he said ruefully. He was referring to the pincer move made by the board, which cited constitution provisions in withdrawing the recently introduced practice of having a selector on tour. "The selectors are not required to witness overseas matches when the Indian team is on tour," the board said in a curt statement cutting out the said privileges. "The board's constitution clearly defines that the selection committee—when the Indian team is playing abroad—will comprise the captain, vice-captain and coach, and that the selection meetings will be convened by the manager of the team."

Insiders say Vengsarkar's big grouse was what he perceives as the board's double standards—allowing Gavaskar and Shastri to continue their commentary and writing assignments while restraining him from writing columns. The board's rebuke of Vengsarkar's charge, then, must have left him smarting. "Don't compare yourself with Gavaskar and Shastri. They were in the media before they were drafted into BCCI committees and, in any case, the board has a code of conduct for selectors. Please respect that," he was told by an official. BCCI president Sharad Pawar, the man Vengsarkar turned to in his hour of crisis, offered him similar advice, telling him to quieten down and not fan the flames.

Of course, Vengsarkar himself did not cover himself with glory in the whole sordid affair, having openly associated himself with a syndication agency that also manages many players who are either in the Indian team or on the verge of breaking in. Waking up to the fact that such liaisons can lead to uncomfortable questions of conflict of interest, the board has told selectors that they are not to have any ties with players' agents, including participating in events organised by them or contributing articles to such agencies. "They shall have no contact with organisations that have an interest in the business of cricket, in any form whatsoever," the board has decided.

A BCCI vice-president told Outlook that the board would also look at issuing guidelines to Gavaskar and Shastri, asking them to refrain from writing on cricket issues in which they are part of the decision-making process. "We can surely request Gavaskar not to go public with his views on technical matters and on Team India's coach, and Shastri not to write about the NCA. Both of them are on the panel to choose Team India's coach, and they can be asked to not be critical of the new coach," he said. That's easier said than done. Those familiar with the board's inner workings are willing to wager that it will never issue guidelines restraining Gavaskar or Shastri.

Meanwhile, with the Test series on, it seems a truce has been called. Vengsarkar—fighting shy of the media since his run-in—has decided in consultation with the board secretary Niranjan Shah that he will be the sole selector watching all three Test matches against Pakistan while his colleagues log in the miles at domestic matches. By the way, for the politically correct former India captain Rahul Dravid, life goes on. If you had run into him at Delhi's Ferozshah Kotla on the eve of the opening Test this week, there would have been no way of figuring out if he was pleased at Vengsarkar's anguish.

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