Misgivings about Ranji Trophy put at rest (Column: Just Sport)
There have been serious misgivings about the Ranji Trophy this season in view of the serious differences that have cropped up between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Supreme Court-appointed Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee on how to run the sport.
The BCCI dropped hints/threats of domestic cricket getting disrupted after the Supreme Court not only approved the committee’s recommendations but also told the board in no uncertain terms that “season or no season” it along with its affiliate units must fall in line and adopt the new governance model.
The board and the Lodha Panel members kept sparring on technicalities egotistically while the apex court kept looking for a solution agreeable to all concerned. Things came to a head when the Lodha Committee recommended the appointment of former Home Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai as observer to replace the board’s top brass.
Pillai has differed with the BCCI’s interpretation of his role, stating that he was there only to lay down transparent guidelines for the cricket administrators and monitor their execution.
Be that as it may, the Ranji Trophy has reached its business end with eight teams from three groups qualifying for the knockout quarter-finals, three each from Group A and B with two joining them from Group C.
When the protagonists pointed out that the Indian board is not only the best run sports organisation in the country — despite all perceived and real grievances against it, the antagonists have a lot of complaints about the way domestic cricket is played.
Neutral observers feel the state of domestic cricket is pathetic and it is run on a template prepared decades ago by serious-minded cricket administrators when there was little money in the coffers.
The Ranji Trophy got into serious problems this season with matches being played at neutral venues. Smog and fog have reduced playing hours in northern parts of the country.
Unacceptable levels of pollution and smog forced the cancellation of two matches in Delhi — Gujarat vs Bengal in Group A and Hyderabad vs Tripura in Group C.
The games were to be replayed, as decided by the technical committee of the board headed by Sourav Ganguly, but the senior tournament committee rejected the recommendation.
Hyderabad and Gujarat are in the quarter-finals along with Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Mumbai, Haryana, Karnataka and Mumbai while Bengal are unhappy that they were done in by the ruling.
One of the associations in serious trouble over its poor governance and accounting is Hyderabad. There have been serious charges against its office-bearers. They have accepted the Lodha Committee recommendations under duress, but that may not save them.
Today, the board doles out huge amounts as infrastructure and cricket development funds and some of the associations, in turn, hand out funds to their cronies running the clubs and district associations.
Some of the state associations pay the money to individuals who run their clubs without any accountability. No utility certificate is asked for and none furnished.
The board-appointed chartered accounting firm has found enormous misappropriation of funds in some of the state associations and their report is startling.
The accounting firm, Deloitte, appointed by the BCCI when Shashank Manohar, now independent chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC), was its president, pointed to a number of irregularities in disbursement of grants like television subvention, Indian Premier Lague (IPL) money and their use by the state units.
The Lodha Committee has asked for the firm’s reports and that will vindicate its conclusions about the board’s misgovernance and mismanagement of funds by some of its affiliates, specifically pointing to the reports on Hyderabad, Odisha, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir associations.
The Supreme Court order clearly bars any release of funds for these offending state units.
Interestingly, the board has also commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton to plan the reformation of the processes of governance and the three are broadly carrying out the Lodha Committee’s reform measures.
Ironically, with an Indian as its head, ICC is seriously trying to undermine its pre-eminence.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)