Amarnath, Srinivasan & the art of talking straight

And why self-serving sound-bytes are not going to help Indian cricket.

Facing Imran, Roberts and Holding was easy compared to fighting political battles. There’s a memorable passage in the cult 1976 film Network. In it, the chairman of a large American broadcast company gets angry with his deranged news anchor whose on-air rant has jeopardised the company’s impending sale to a Saudi conglomerate.

The chairman vents his anger thus: “There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion — of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet.”

So it is in Indian cricket. There are players and administrators, selectors and presidents, friends and foes. But the centre of their universe is the green-coloured bill. Dollars above all else. Cricketers are brands which need to be fully milked for the cash and interest they generate. There's so much money riding on them, you see them playing on and on regardless of form, fitness or even age.

Mohinder Amarnath, former cricketer and former selector, was earlier this year removed from the national selection committee. This week he told us why he was sacked. He said that after India’s 0-4 defeat to Australia, the selection committee had unanimously agreed to remove MS Dhoni as captain. But the BCCI president N. Srinivasan didn’t approve of it.

Srinivasan, it is learnt, used his discretionary powers afforded by the BCCI constitution to over-rule the selectors. Amarnath chose to remain silent about it until now. This begs some questions.

***

Firstly — sure, Srinivasan may have these powers. But shouldn’t he then explain why he found it necessary to save Dhoni despite his poor performances lately?

In the absence of an explanation, one can assume that Srinivasan saw Dhoni’s sacking as the devaluation of Brand Dhoni. And if Brand Dhoni loses face, it also devalues the Chennai Super Kings brand, of which Dhoni and Srinivasan are stakeholders. Personal interests of commerce have prevailed over the best interests of a cricket-loving nation.

Srinivasan’s staying of Dhoni’s sacking has adversely impacted Indian cricket’s fortunes in the last year and he owes the game’s biggest stakeholders – the fans – an explanation for his actions.

Instead, what we’ve been hearing from the BCCI are more empty words. Practised answers that fill up airtime and news reams — like “Dhoni has done a good job in the past” and “all cricketers have ups and downs” — fail to answer pointed questions.

***

Then there's Amarnath.

When asked why he didn’t resign as the selector after being overruled for doing his job, Amarnath said he “didn’t want to create a fuss.” He also said he had Indian cricket’s “best interest at heart”.

On the TV debates being aired this moment about this controversy, we also hear mentions of Amarnath’s braveries with the bat against the world’s fiercest fast bowlers, and of his trademark frankness that has earned him friends and foes.

But what this doesn’t adequately answer is why Amarnath, despite having Indian cricket’s “best interest at heart” chose to sit on this explosive bit of information for nearly a year. How has hiding this information helped Indian cricket?

Over the last two days, we’ve seen a wishy-washy Amarnath. He’s not “straight-talking”. He is merely alluding to a problem but making no effort to make full disclosure. He takes the position of a man hanged for doing his job, but does not expose those who wronged him.

He has Indian cricket’s “best interest” at heart, but he will wait for “when the time is right” before telling all — by which time more damage would have been done. He is “fearless” and “frank” but does not want to “create a fuss.” 

These self-serving quotes, and their equally self-serving counter-quotes from the BCCI will only fill airtime while the cricket team itself continues to plumb new depths. Maybe deep down, Amarnath means well. But his actions don't back up his intentions.

This frustrating state of things leaves us, the lovers of the game, to do what that deranged news anchor wanted his audience to do.

“I want all of you to get up out of your chairs,” he said.

“I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

What else is left to do now?

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