The full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) President Ranbir Singh Mahendra.
Nagendar Sharma: In which direction is Indian Cricket headed, given the turmoil it is facing, especially considering what the world has seen during the recent weeks ?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : I admit that Indian Cricket is at a critical juncture, and presently many people are viewing Indian Cricket with suspicion, due to these recent developments, but we all know that Cricket is a game of ups and downs. Indian Cricket Board is fully competent to overcome these, and the glorious days would be back again soon.
BBC listener from Agra: We have legendary names in Indian Cricket -- Bishen Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev to name a few. Despite such people being available, we still prefer foreign coaches. What was that John Wright gave to Indian Cricket in his long stint as coach of the team that former Indian greats could not have given? And what has Greg Chappell given to Indian Cricket except tension and division in the team so far?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : In today’s world, we should not keep this strict compartmentalisation of Indian and foreign. We should judge an individual by his work. Earlier, the coach of the team was John Wright and he did a good job. I think nobody would dispute that. After Wright's tenure came to an end, we decided to appoint the new coach through a process of interviews. The committee to appoint the coach had three former Indian Cricketers – Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Venkatraghavan. Mohinder Amarnath was one of the candidates who was considered for the job, and the decision was made on the basis of presentations by all the candidates, and that is how Greg Chappell was appointed.
Now you are saying that Greg has given only tension to the team. I think that an opinion should not be formed about an individual in haste. We would be doing grave injustice to him by passing such a judgement so soon. We would have to give reasonable time to Greg and then I think such an opinion would not remain. At times, when the team performance is not up to the mark, and it is passing through a critical phase, such thoughts do come to mind. But my view is that jumping to conclusions so soon about the coach would not be fair.
BBC listener from Allahabad : There is no doubt that Sourav has been a successful captain for the team, but his present form and his habitually being regularly embroiled in controversies are a dangerous sign for the country’s cricketing future. Why has the Board turned a blind eye to it?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : What you are saying could also be the feeling of many other Cricket fans in the country, but let us all not forget that recently Sourav Ganguly has scored a test hundred in Zimbabwe. Sourav also might be seriously thinking about his form. So to say that we are not concerned or bothered is not right, we very much are.
You should give some time to the selection committee and the players, particularly Sourav himself. If in the coming days, the performance does not improve, the selection committee would, keeping in mind the feelings of crores of Cricket fans, take an appropriate decision.
BBC listener from Delhi : Cricket is so popular in the country that despite not being the national game of the country, it has a crazed and crazy following. BCCI is perhaps the richest Board in the world, but is a puppet of Jagmohan Dalmiya, and the state of affairs is that Sourav Ganguly who does not deserve to be in the team, given his dismal performance, is still the captain. This is because the Board does not have time due to politicking. You are yourself a politician, then why are you heading the BCCI ?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : So far as your question about Jagmohan Dalmiya’s hold over the Board is concerned, let me tell you that the Board in India is composed of five different zones, and there are thirty members from these zones, who after consultation in their respective regions, come for the election of the Board at the national level.
Whether Sourav Ganguly should be the captain or not, it is for the selection committee to decide. The Board does not interfere in the matters of the selection committee, nor do we intend to do on this issue. However, I agree that Sourav Ganguly is not in a good form these days, but it cannot also be ignored that he did score a century in the first test against Zimbabwe recently. Being the BCCI President I hope and wish that, keeping in mind the hopes of crores of Cricket lovers from the team, his return to form would happen soon and he would fulfill the expectations - but the final decision about his future would be of the selection committee.
So far as your question about my political affiliations is concerned, yes I am an MLA presently, but remember I have been elected to Haryana assembly for the first time just six months back, and I have been associated with Cricket for decades. I am against politicisation of the Board and also against those individuals who enter the Board just for some gains and publicity. If someone has been associated with the game for a long time, there is no harm if he is political as well, as long as he is not in the Board merely for the sake of a high profile.
Nagendar Sharma: What are your priorities as BCCI President?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra: My first priority is to shift the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) headquarters from Mumbai to Delhi, since the latter is our capital. The proposal for this regard is already with the Board and is being seriously discussed. Second is to appoint a CEO for the Board, this is to done to bring in professionalism in the Board's functioning. Another important priority is to direct the focus of the Board and all efforts towards the Indian team’s preparation for 2007 World Cup. I consider this crucial for the future of the game in the country.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Mahendra, the 2007 World Cup is not far. Other teams have set their sights on that event. England stunned the world by beating world champions Australia in the Ashes, and both the teams are talking about the World Cup and Indian Board officials are busy fighting each other in courts, what about 2007 World Cup?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : Well, so far as the World Cup of 2007 is concerned, we are very clear. When Greg Chappell was appointed the coach, we told him that our aim is 2007 World Cup. We are also taking into account the fact that during last eighteen months, our team has done well in reaching the finals of One-day tournaments, but we have faltered in the finals. Thar is what the Board is now focussed on. The upcoming Challenger Trophy beginning in Mohali on 10th October would see all main Indian players participating in it, including Sachin.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Mahendra you have yourself admitted just now that Sourav is not in a good form, Sachin’s fitness is a big worry, Anil Kumble is ageing, where is the attention towards building a team for 2007? Isn't something lacking there?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : There is no lack of attention towards team building for 2007 World Cup. The selection committee has been asked to give primary attention towards this, and I think we should leave it to the selectors. I would not like to comment publicly on the selection issue and would appeal to the countrymen to repose faith in our selectors and show a bit of patience. I can say with confidence that when the selection committee meets to select the teams for upcoming series against Sri Lanka and South Africa, the main focus would be on this aspect. However, I must say that we need to give pace to our efforts in preparing for 2007 World Cup.
BBC listener from Oman : You have twice mentioned Sourav’s hundred against Zimbabwe. This was his first hundred in three years, so should we think that on the basis of this hundred he would play the next ten series?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : It is not a question of whether we would allow him to play for ten innings on the basis of a single century, but after his hundred in Zimbabwe, Sourav has just played one innings, and before he goes out to play next time, the selection committee is going to review his performance and decide on what they think would be right. I do not want to comment on the issue before the selection committee meeting.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Mahendra, why does the BCCI have a zonal criterion for the selection committee? Why doesn’t the Board have well known former cricketers as selectors, rather than having it on the zonal basis?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : Well, this matter has come up for internal discussions many times in the Board. For a long time, the thinking in the Board has been that having selectors from all zones in the country helps in search of talent from all parts of the country. However, this thinking seems to be changing now, and there have been suggestions that instead of the zonal selection committee, we should go in for other methods, like choosing selectors at the national level. Personally I favour that we should change the zonal selectors system, but I cannot say today that this is certain, and maybe in the coming days, the Board has a proper discussion on this issue. But, certainly, a change in thinking is taking place.
BBC listener from Mathura : Indian Cricket Board is perhaps the richest in the world, but pays no attention to domestic Cricket. The plight of domestic cricketers is bad. Why is the domestic Cricket being badly ignored?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : On the contrary, I think it has been due to the efforts of the Board towards domestic Cricket that the game is alive and kicking in the country. Our Board is perhaps the only one in the world which spends 26% of its income on domestic Cricket. To strengthen domestic Cricket in the country, the Board has set-up a National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and the results would be visible in the near future. The Board is paying all possible attention towards the domestic Cricket, whether it is Under-19, India A and B teams. Therefore it is not correct to say that we believe in mere promises, which are not fulfilled.
BBC listener from Pakistan : Recently UN General Secretary Kofi Annan’s sports envoy has said that Indo-Pak Cricket has helped a great deal in defusing tension in the region. When the Indian team visits Pakistan in January, you would be meeting Shahrayar Khan. Would you take the Cricket ties further, and would the Indian team have overcome Greg-Sourav controversy by then?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : My friend, I keep on talking to Mr Shahrayar Khan on a regular basis. You are absolutely right that Indo-Pak Cricket is a milestone in normalisation of relations between the two countries. When the two teams play, it is a unique example of fierce competitiveness and harmony at the same time. Why, it is not just when I visit Pakistan, but let me tell you that I would be meeting Mr Khan in the ICC meeting being held on 10-11 October.
Nagendar Sharma: What is the present status of India’s tour to Pakistan? Foreign Minister Natwar Singh is in Pakistan now, and Pakistan Board would be discussing this tour...
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : BCCI has already finalised the tour, and there is no doubt whatsoever that January would see the best of Cricket in the region. Both governments have provided all possible support for Cricket and we hope this would continue. Indian cricket team’s tour to Pakistan is definitely on.
BBC listener from Bihar : Cricket is popular in India due to support from crores of fans in the country. Still BCCI says players play for the Board and not India, therefore no audit of accounts is allowed, and there is no transparency in Board’s functioning. When the game is there because of fan following, why is the Board against the control of the government? And what we witness are dressing room fights and tussle for control of the Board in the courts now. What else is left for Cricket lovers to see?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra: Let me assure you and the countrymen that interest of Cricket is uppermost for the BCCI. Regular audits of the Board’s accounts are done and displayed as welll. What you are saying regarding the team playing for BCCI, well, that was said in a particular context, during litigation in the court. I admit that during the past one or two years, the Board has faced a number of cases in the courts regarding elections and other related things. I will only say that former Board Presidents, who have run the Board, know fully well that today also the Board is being run in the same manner as was done when they were in control. I agree that the public of the country is confused due to regular litigation, but for this, more than anyone else, it is the frustrated individuals spreading canards who are responsible. I assure the countrymen that the Board is being fully run in a transparent manner and I appeal to the public not to pay heed to misinformation campaign of frustrated individuals.
Some former Presidents of the Board, out of frustration, are making unwanted statements, which are not helping anyone. They want the issue to remain alive through the media and otherwise, but we are working in a fully transparent manner.
BBC listener from Jaipur : Sir, why is the Board afraid in trying fresh talented youngsters, when our present team has badly out of form players, leading the country to regular losses?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : We have been regularly trying fresh talent -- look at Venugopal and Suresh Raina very recently. If you go a little back, look at youngsters like Dhoni, Yadav, and, a little further back, look at Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh. I have told the selection committee in very clear terms that youngsters performing well should not be ignored at all. More upcoming youngsters would replace those not performing well in the national team.We have to keep in mind that at the moment the Indian team is passing through a bad phase and in such a time all of us should be patient with the team and provide confidence to the players.
Nagendar Sharma: But, Mr Mahendra, despite having being beaten on fast tracks, Indian Cricket establishment wants spinning tracks for all the home series. The 2007 World Cup is to be played in West Indies, and, despite knowing this fully well, India still prefers spinning tracks. Indian players want to play on slow tracks in India, and there have been reports that the Indian skipper refused to play on a fast rack in Nagpur when Australia toured India in October last year...
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : Never has the Indian Board or any of our captains instructed the wicket and ground committees to prepare slow tracks for home series. We are fully aware of the fact that our team would have to play on good fast tracks in West Indies, and, keeping this in mind, the wicket and ground committees have been asked to prepare accordingly, and our experts are also working in the direction of preparing the team for such tracks. Let me also put the record straight, no Indian player had refused to play in Nagpur because it was a fast track, seamers from both sides performed well on that track and a good game was played.
BBC listener from Chattisgarh : At a time when all the major countries are busy in planning for 2007, we are trying to fool ourselves by looking at past mirror images. The recent ICC nominations should have opened our eyes, where Dinesh Kartik is the sole Indian nominee. Why do the star names matter more than their performance for us? Why is it that in India the impact of personalities is more important than performance? Can you say today that the present Greg-Sourav controversy has come to an end finally and we can concentrate on the game now?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : Well, it is a fact that personalities have an impact, but so far as the Indian Board is concerned, the personality is not the sole criterion, the performance is also seriously taken into account. So far as I can see, the controversy has ended, issues have been amicably resolved and now we have set our eyes on the future goals -- that is the 2007 World Cup. I feel that unnecessary attention is now being given to the Greg-Sourav issue, and so far as the Board is concerned, we have moved on.
Nagendar Sharma: But, Mr Mahendra,, who is giving unnecessary attention? The e-mail was leaked either by the Board or the coach, nobody else. What happened between the coach and the captain in Zimbabwe also came out when they chose to speak in the media, so why blame anyone else for the problems, which arose from within? What is the guarantee these won’t be repeated?
Ranbir Singh Mahendra : You are right -- had the e-mail not been leaked, such a situation would not have arisen, and the same is correct for the developments which took place in Zimbabwe. As you are aware, the Board is probing the e-mail leak. At the same time we have taken corrective measures to ensure that such things do not happen in the future. Many players have also said and they feel that whatever happened in the dressing room should not have come out in the open. Form here, all of us have realised that we need to avoid such situations, and work for the betterment of the game and its fans.
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