Thursday, Dec 02, 2021

'BCCI Will Have To Eat Humble Pie'

The inimitable Jaywant Lele on l'affaire Abhijit Kale, on Nayan Mongia, on the past 'disgusting affair' involving the current manager of the touring Indian cricket team, the selection process and much more.

'BCCI Will Have To Eat Humble Pie'
'BCCI Will Have To Eat Humble Pie'

BCCI secretaries come and go without being noticed, but not Jaywant Yashwant Lele, who continues to remain in news even in retirement. Loquacious but lively, and always outspoken, he maintains, "I always speak the truth or I don’t at all. Why should you be afraid of saying what’s right and what’s wrong? But it requires courage of convictions to do so and I’m afraid not too many people have it in India cricket". In an exclusive interview to Haresh Pandya at his simple but tastefully decorated home in Baroda, a cheerful Lele fired many a salvo in his inimitable style. Enjoy.

Q. The one-man inquiry commission instituted by the BCCI to look into the recent bribery scandal rocking Indian cricket has pronounced Abhijit Kale guilty, prima facie… Your comments?

A. There’s no truth in the allegations on Kale. He isn’t guilty. He met me in Pune the other day. I asked him about the whole affair and he categorically denied his involvement. He told me: "There’s no question of my offering money to anybody. I don’t have that much money. Neither have I offered money to the selectors nor have they demanded it. It’s surprising that D.V. Subba Rao has jumped to conclusions that since I’ve talked to the selectors concerned, I’m guilty. Yes, I did talk to Kiran More and Pranab Roy. Six times, in fact. Five times with More and only once with Roy. Let me tell you the fact. I was in the Indian team that toured Bangladesh. There was no cricket for a long time after we returned. When the next season started, they selected 36 players for the Challenger Trophy. I thought I’d get a berth in the 14-man Indian squad. But my name wasn’t there among the 36 players. So I just wanted to ask More what’s wrong with me. How come from figuring in the15-man Indian team, I wasn’t picked even among the 36 probables?

"They say it’s on record that I’ve telephoned More five times. But you go through the recording again. Subba Rao has forgotten that of the five conversations that I had with More, three times it was for 20 seconds, one time for 60 seconds and one time for 70 seconds. So, I’ve talked to him only twice because three times he wasn’t available. When he finally talked, I simply asked him why I was not being included. He told me that the selection committee members believed my shoulder was giving me problems and that’s why I wasn’t considered. I immediately got myself checked by Dr Anant Joshi and a shoulder specialist from Pune. I got certificates from them saying nothing was wrong with my shoulder.

"When my mother was going to Ahmedabad for some work, I told her to get down at Baroda for a couple of hours and hand over the medical certificates to More because I wasn’t getting him on the phone. When she went there, More was reported to be out of station. So she left the documents at his home. Where is the question of my trying to offer bribe to him through my mother as has been alleged?"

It’s absolutely nonsense. I’ve seen Kale, known him well, since his under-15 playing days. I’ve had interactions with him over the years and I’m convinced he’s perfectly innocent. Just look at his staggering record in Ranji Trophy. How many batsmen in India have such high credentials? Now, if you don’t find a place even in India A, naturally you’re surprised, even shocked. You begin to suspect there’s something fishy going on. 

Q. Rumour mills are busy in the wake of  l’affaire Kale that in some cases players try to bribe selectors and in others selectors themselves demand money. Is it possible to believe such talk?

A. I was the BCCI secretary for four years. Before that I was joint secretary for four years. And I used to convene the selection committee meetings in the absence of Jagmohan Dalmiya. I must have attended nearly 100 such meetings. But I’ve never found reason for even an iota of doubt that selectors take money from players. No, never.

Q. Supposing that Kale is not guilty of the charges levelled against him, as you say, why is More doing all this?

A. I don’t know. But More has no answers to Kale’s questions. After making so many runs at a healthy average, and scoring so many hundreds, why is Kale not in the India A side?

Q. Do you suspect that More may have some old grievance against Kale or he may be trying to settle an old score?

A. Could be. I suspect that since Yajurvindrasinh Bilkha of the Maharashtra Cricket Association had been contesting for a West Zone selector in the last elections for the national selection committee, More might be trying to take revenge against the MCA. Let him do it. But why single out a particular player, who had nothing to do with those elections, and make him a victim? It’s unfortunate. I’m not saying More is doing this deliberately. But it’s clear that Kale is being victimised. There’s no question about it.

Q. What’s your opinion on the stand taken by the BCCI on the whole issue?

A. I’ve very high regard for Dalmiya. He’s an absolutely brilliant administrator. But I’m sorry to say he hasn’t acted in a proper way in this particular case. It’s somebody’s words versus somebody’s words. There can’t be any proof whether Kale offered the bribe or whether he was asked for it by the two selectors concerned. You just can’t prove this. We’ve so many lawyer friends within the BCCI, like Shashank Manohar and others, and they’re certain this matter couldn’t be proved in a court of law.

I’ve inside information that some of the BCCI bigwigs are convinced that even if you sling mud on Kale or others, it’s impossible to prove in any court of law anywhere in the world. I just fail to understand why they are going through all this nonsense. They should have cut the matter short; or sorted it out amicably without making it public. This is too much of washing your dirty linen in public. But I can tell you that nothing will come out of it. Nothing is going to happen. The BCCI will have to eat humble pie. Kale is bound to win the legal battle in the end.

Q. Don’t you think the BCCI should have appointed a neutral person to conduct the inquiry as Subba Rao was manager of the Indian team that toured the West Indies in 1996-97 and has attended many BCCI meetings as president of the Andhra Pradesh Cricket Association?

A. I fully agree with you that the BCCI should have appointed someone else. At the same time, I must say I’ve known Subba Rao very well over the years. He’s a thorough gentleman and a man of integrity. But you’re right. Why give people a chance to cast aspersions on somebody, howsoever honest that person may be? The BCCI should have appointed a neutral person.

Q. Vanka Pratap, the former Hyderabad and India A all-rounder, has named Shivlal Yadav as the selector who demanded money from him to buy him a place in the national side. Yadav’s name has figured prominently in several other revelations since. Keeping this in mind and also considering Yadav’s overall reputation, don’t you feel the BCCI should have immediately called him back from Australia where he is currently managing the team?

A. No, I don’t think so because it’s his personal matter. There may still be many people in the BCCI who may be doing something nonsense in their personal life, but that has nothing to do with cricket. As far as cricket is concerned, Yadav is a good person. I’m sure he’ll do well as a manager also. Whatever he did off the field, whatever has been reported about him in the media, true or false, is his personal matter. It isn’t that the BCCI didn’t know about Yadav, but it’s nothing to do with cricket. He’s been made the manager because his cricketing credentials are so good.

Q. Wasn’t Yadav caught, red-handed, along with his so-selector Sambaran Banerjee, with call girls when they were trying to enter the Garware Club House at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai?

A.Yes. Of course, I wasn’t a witness to the disgusting episode. But a young Mumbai player who was present there told me everything. What happened was that Yadav and Banerjee were either taking the girls or coming out of their rooms with them in the Garware Club House at about 11 p.m. They were absolutely drunk with the girls in tow. Then something happened and they began to fight with the receptionist and beat him up. In retaliation, Yadav and Banerjee also took a couple of blows in the presence of several people.

They were eventually thrown out of the premises. The receptionist complained to the GCH manager who, in turn, reported the incident to the Mumbai Cricket Association. Since I was in Mumbai at the time, the MCA asked me to intervene. It was not in a good taste --  the conduct of the two selectors. So I met the GCH manager and requested him to put an end to the whole incident because, after all, at stake was the reputation of the BCCI. He said he was helpless because the receptionist had given a written complaint and was determined to teach the two gentlemen a lesson. Eventually, in connivance with the MCA secretary, I approached the receptionist and asked him to withdraw his complaint.

Q. Who was that Mumbai cricketer who briefed you about the Yadav-Banerjee escapades?

A. Amol Muzumdar.

Q. And poor Muzumdar has never represented India for all his talent and performances…

A. It has nothing to do with what he saw or told me.

Q. Did you say anything to Yadav and Banerjee or reproach them afterwards?

A. I didn’t think it necessary. In fact, I wonder if they know that I had saved them from further humiliation. But, former BCCI treasurer Kishore Rungta knows about it.

Q. Do you support the existing five-man selection committee representing the five zones?

A. No. We’ve actually borrowed this five-man selection committee concept from other countries. Most of them have now reverted to the old system of three or four selectors. Australia has only four men on the selection panel. All of them are interviewed. And it doesn’t matter even if all of them are from the same state. They’re paid as handsomely as the Australian cricketers.

India, too, should have only three but dignified cricketers heading the selection committee. I’d recommend Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri. They are men of total integrity. If they are appointed and also paid well, just like the players, say, Rs 50 or 75 lakhs a year, I’m sure they’ll do a fantastic job. Nobody will doubt their decisions or speak against them. In the event of these three being unavailable, the BCCI should interview other former cricketers and select the three best candidates.

In Australia, someone like Allan Border also had to go through the entire selection process. There’s nothing wrong in testing or interviewing former cricketers for these responsible positions. But I feel they should have played at least 10 Tests and also toured some major cricket countries like Australia, England, South Africa or the West Indies, with the Indian team. You may have played a couple of Tests in India but unless you are part of the team on a foreign tour and have a firsthand experience of playing a Test at Lord’s or Melbourne or Kingston, you won’t realise what kind of players should be selected. The point is there must be a certain criterion for the selection of selectors also.

Q. Your suggestions appear good. Hasn’t the BCCI ever thought on these lines?

A. During my tenure as BCCI secretary, we had constituted a four-man committee, along with office bearers, to review the constitution on this particular matter. Presently, it is during the AGM that the selectors are elected, which isn’t a proper way. The four-man panel was headed by Subba Rao, Shashank Manohar, Ranbir Singh and Sudhir Nanavati. They suggested many changes in the constitution and the foremost was on the procedure of the selection committee. They suggested the selectors should have played a minimum 10 Tests and also visited a foreign country with the Indian team. But somehow, we didn’t approve of those suggestions at that time.

Q. Haven’t the national selectors been unfair to Nayan Mongia for the last few years despite the fact that he is the best wicketkeeper in Asia today?

A. He should have been the first choice wicketkeeper for the current tour of Australia. He has been very unfairly treated by the selectors over the last few years. I was a witness to the disgusting drama on the morning of the third Test against Australia in Chennai in 2001. Mongia, who was hurt on his nose in the second Test in Kolkata, was in the Indian team for the series decider at Chepauk. According to Mongia and captain Saurav Ganguly, he was 100 per cent fit. But a few selectors, including the chairman, Chandu Borde, thought otherwise. Mongia was trying to convince everyone, on the first morning of the Test, that he was perfectly fit. I remember Ganguly asking Mongia twice, and in my presence, whether he was completely fit to play. "Yes, sir, I’m completely fit," assured Mongia.

His name was included in the playing XI. But later Borde told Mongia: "Why are you taking chances? You may not be100 per cent fit. You may still have some problem related to your injury." To which Mongia said: "No, sir, I’m absolutely fit. I’ve no problem whatsoever. You can hit me on my nose to know for yourself. Nothing will happen because there’s no crack, no fracture, no pain at all. I can assure you that this injury won’t affect my performance as a wicketkeeper."

Ganguly, too, supported Mongia and told Borde: "Ok, sir, since he assures us of his fitness, we should play him. After discussing the matter with the other selectors, Borde said: "We can’t, we shouldn’t take chances. This is a very important Test. Mongia is only 75 per cent fit and we must replace him." Ganguly’s reply was a glowing tribute to Mongia’s class. "Well, sir, even an only 50 per cent fit Mongia is a better wicketkeeper than any other gloveman in India." You can understand how much faith Ganguly had in Mongia and his ability.

Q. But they still didn’t allow Mongia to play in the Chennai Test, did they?

A. They didn’t. It was unfortunate. This is what happens in Indian cricket. The selection committee is supreme. The captain and the coach have no say in the final XI. Mongia hasn’t played for India after the Kolkata Test versus the Aussies.

Q. It may have something to do with Mongia’s alleged involvement in the match-fixing scandal…

A. Not at all. Even the Central Bureau of Investigation has exonerated him because they couldn’t record a single telephone call (to bookmakers) against him. I’ve seen the CBI report and Mongia has been given a clean chit.

Q. What’s your opinion of the Indian selectors?

A. I’m afraid they don’t perform their duties well enough. I strongly believe they should govern themselves, before they attend the selection committee meeting, by only one fact that they won’t bring their likes and dislikes while picking the national team.

If Mongia has played the same number of Tests as one of the present selectors, he shouldn’t say: "How can Mongia play one Test more than me? I’ll see to it that he never represents the country again." This is a fact. You can take it from me. This is exactly what’s happening. There’s no question about Mongia’s class or attitude as a player. He’s done everything that he’s been asked to do for the sake of the country -- he’s opened the innings, he’s played the role of a pinch-hitter, he has sacrificed his wicket while trying to make quick runs -- without ever saying "No" or uttering a word of complaint. He’s played many important innings against the world’s fastest bowlers in a hour of crisis.

You just can’t point a finger against Mongia. He is totally innocent. But it’s a fact that today he isn’t liked by certain cricketers and selectors. I don’t understand why. But something is wrong somewhere. There’re some people who aren’t go-getters. If Mongia prefers to go to his room after the match or the day’s play and reads or watches television and doesn’t mix with the other players, it doesn’t mean he is a bad person.

Q. While the selectors have been overlooking Mongia, they are picking and playing players regardless of their poor form. How do you view this?

A. Sentiments. Players should be judged on merit. Likes, dislikes and sentiments should have no place in such matters. The selectors seem to wonder: "Why should we drop player X after he has played so much for India? How can we drop him?"It’s very simple. If he isn’t performing, he shouldn’t be there.

Q. Why do you think they select injured players like Harbhajan Singh in the first place?

A. It’s a tragedy that in-form players like Murali Kartik are ignored while injured and non-performers like Harbhajan Singh are given five-star treatment. Harbhajan has erred. I remember when he came back from the World Cup, there was a suggestion that he should get his injured finger operated. But someone warned him, in the guise of a suggestion, that he might never be able to bowl well and consequently never play for India again. This scared Harbhajan and he didn’t go for the operation. He continued playing and the injury forced him out of the current tour.

Indian cricketers in general suffer from the fear syndrome. Let me give an example but please don’t get me wrong. Suppose I’m a Rahul Dravid or a Zaheer Khan, I’ll be a certainty in the team. Suddenly I injure my finger and I’m not 100 per cent fit. I can bat, bowl and field with a little discomfiture. So, I hide my injury. Why? Because I’m afraid that if I disclose it, I’ll be dropped. But my worst fear is that if the player replacing me cements his place in the side, I won’t be recalled. This isn’t the case with players from other countries. Brian Lara, Glenn McGrath and others aren’t known to hide their injuries. If they’re unfit, they themselves ask the selectors not to pick them.


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