AR Hemant

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Somewhat of a contrarion.

The curious case of Sunil Gavaskar

Just how does one understand Sunil Gavaskar? As a cricketer, he’s a giant among giants, deserving of reverence. But in everything else, he confounds.

The ex-player slash administrator slash pundit slash commentator slash media personality slash statesman has his fingers in so many cricketing pies, that not for the first time he’s at war with the cause he represents. And this probably won’t be the last time, going by his track record.

His ongoing payment dispute is an off-shoot of the larger problem of criss-crossing interests inside the BCCI. But for now, let’s dwell on Gavaskar.

Normally, it’s through his newspaper columns that Gavaskar makes his views, sometimes partisan, known. He’s no fan of one-on-ones; hence when he goes to NDTV to clear the air, you know he has a lot on his mind.

Long story short, Gavaskar recently stepped down (or was sacked, depending on whose version you believe) from the IPL governing council. It then emerged that while functioning as a member of the Council, he had — conflict of interest be damned -- been advising the Kochi franchise on how to win the team bid. Gavaskar and the Kochi mandarins have however denied that he wore both hats at once, thus negating the conflict charge.

Bedi says of Gavaskar: "I can’t forget the time he once told a team meeting 'The day I stop thinking of money, I will stagnate'.”

Net net, however, Kochi’s win was unexpected considering the corporations in the fray, and more particularly considering the heavyweights who were backing the likes of Videocon. It followed that someone with savvy had to be advising them on navigating those extremely tricky waters. Gavaskar however says his advice was limited to “make the highest bid to win”.

Then it gets curioser. Gavaskar says he chose not to keep the IPL job since it was no longer a paid gig. In his words:

"The IPL is a commercial enterprise and non-BCCI members, former cricketers included, should be remunerated for the expertise, experience and time that they bring to the table. Let me tell you, for Indian cricket I am always there, but the IPL is a commercial enterprise."

Makes sense — no one wants to lose the chance of making good money. Problem is, this latest stance is philosophically antithetical to something Gavaskar had said last year:

"Today, parents are encouraging their children to take up cricket as a career option because of the IPL and the amount of money it provides. But the worrying factor is far too many youngsters see IPL as the be all and end all."

To rephrase Gordon Gekko, greed is a good thing, but first, go play Ranji Trophy.

Three years back, Bishan Singh Bedi launched a stinging attack on his former team-mate. "I can't forget the time he once told a team meeting 'The day I stop thinking of money, I will stagnate'," Bedi said of Gavaskar in Outlook.

Apparently nothing has changed. Being a member of the IPL governing council was all fine as long as there was money [Gavaskar is tight-lipped about the amount; the industry buzz is the remuneration was Rs 5 crore per IPL season — which is not a bad payday for performing rubber-stamp duties]; once the paycheck stopped, Gavaskar got out.

So here’s the thing: Gavaskar is involved with the BCCI at multiple levels. He’s on several cricketing committees, has at various times headed the NCA, been roped in for the BCCI’s various quixotic schemes [remember the search for India’s next openers?], and worked in the IPL Governing Council. He is also on the BCCI's "commentators’ panel", which means the broadcasting firm has to mandatorily have him on its panel for all India’s home international games, and also the IPL.

In other words, he is the commentator/critic of a team and a game administered by the BCCI, of which he is at various levels a paid employee; he is a commentator on the IPL while also being on its governing council — a situation that erodes credibility, and is one baby step away from "paid news".

More from Bedi: "[Gavaskar] wants the glamour, the position and if there are any financial gains so much the better...but he does not want any accountability."

N Srinivasan

Gavaskar is at loggerheads with N Srinivasan, the man who wrote the book on conflicting interests.

Remember, these words were said three years ago — and they sounded prescient when, at the height of the BCCI versus Modi spat earlier this year, when the "IPL Commissioner-Suspended" pointed out that the governing council was in the know of all his decisions, Gavaskar pushed back, arguing that his brief was confined to cricket, that he did not understand the monetary aspects of the league, and had not dwelt on that in any detail. In other words, he was saying that as governing council member of a commercial enterprise, he had no expertise in or interest in the commercial aspects of that enterprise.

Bedi, interestingly, had made his critical comments at a time when Gavaskar had been openly critical of Greg Chappell, despite having initially backed his selection as India’s coach.

Less than a year later, during the Sydney Test fiasco, Gavaskar wrote in his newspaper column: "Millions of Indians want to know if it was a white man (match referee Mike Proctor) taking the white man's (Australian cricketers) word against that of the 'brown man' (Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh)."

This was a fierce patriot speaking, not an ICC office holder, which Gavaskar was at the time. Asked to choose between writing anti-ICC columns and keeping his ICC job, Gavaskar went with the former. An all-heart decision, it made sense at the time, but his dealings with the IPL don't.

Gavaskar is at loggerheads with N Srinivasan, the man who wrote the book on conflicting interests; one who can be complainant, judge and jury at once in Lalit Modi’s case; he who can be a BCCI official and an IPL team owner by rewriting, then pre-dating, the Board rules.

It is to Chennai Super Kings' benefit that the BCCI has culled the playing field from 10 teams to eight, for obscure reasons understood best by them. It would be seven, if Kochi don’t clean up their house. Softer competition guarantees greater winnings in future IPLs and Champions Leagues.

In passing, remember those threatening SMSs sent to various team owners from Srinivasan’s phone? When Yahoo first wrote that story, Srinivasan, and BCCI VP Niranjan Shah, denied the messages; the former said his cell phone had been hacked; the latter said FIRs had been registered with the police, and a complaint lodged with the cell phone company in question.

Did you hear anything further about that? No? That is exactly what Srinivasan and Shetty hoped for. When caught out, they issue a denial, accompanied by vague words about police complaints; they bank on your memory being shorter-term than Ghajini’s.

Also in passing, remember how the BCCI signalled its intent to clean up the IPL house by appointing Chirayu Amin as Modi’s replacement? So, in recent times, there has been lots of action on the IPL front: you’ve had two franchises sacked; another one put on notice; a brewing controversy about an IPL governing council member, and so on. Do you recall hearing from Amin about any of these issues?

No? Right, then — so who runs the IPL? Amin, the officially designated individual, or Srinivasan, the president-in-waiting who is increasingly prone to playing dictator-de-facto?

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