Monday, April 9, 2007

Desperate Measures….BCCI Adds The Ads Angle

Its around 2 weeks since the Indian cricket team landed in India amidst talks of a major overhauling by BCCI, but signs of a serious overhaul were visible from the day India lost to Bangladesh and finally was sent home packing as soon as Bangladesh defeated Bermuda in the 2007 edition of the World Cup.

As we all watch Australia so effortlessly cruising towards probably their third successive World Cup victory, back home it was time to dig deep and get rid of any malaise that might be infecting the very roots of Indian Cricket. It was a time when serious introspection was required by both the board officials as well as the players themselves. But as we have seen time and again, the changes that were being termed as path breaking, turned out to be just an eyewash. Despite the need of the hour being that Indian Cricket finds the very root of the problem all that was done was a mere 'pruning' which effectively is a temporary thing and these changes mainly catered to the general masses in India and not the true well wishers of Indian Cricket.

Before i start analyzing each proposed change by the BCCI, i think the sheer urgency shown by the board in implementing these changes was not because they were really concerned about the grand failure at the World Cup. Rather they had to show to the 'Common Indian Cricket Fan' that they are concerned and were taking the loss in the World Cup seriously. The best way forward for the BCCI in trying to determine what was wrong and what can be done, was to establish a committee with professional approach to analyse the reasons for the loss and their remedies in coordination with all concerned parties. I think the time they gave themselves to come out in the open with the proposed changes was too short. As is the case with so many things in India the approach always is far-away from 'Think and Do', rather its a 'Do and Think' approach. When the so called path-breaking changes were proposed nobody knew when half of these will be implemented and how they will be implemented. A few statements by the board in the press doesn't mean they will be implemented in all seriousness as has been proposed. Nobody knows who will be accountable if after the time-lines for these changes expire, things still are not in place. I don't know what stopped BCCI in taking some more amount of time and come back with a more specific plan along with people accountable for them. All they have come up with, seems to be big on the outside but with less matter or weight in them to rid the Indian Cricket of its diseases.

Lets begin with the change that caught the attention of most of us, the restriction on ads that a cricketer can do. This is like a 'Hara-Kiri' being performed in the most unmindful of ways by the BCCI. By restricting the players from having contracts with more than three outfits, they have actually struck a blow at the one single thing, that made this board the most powerful in terms of money that it generates. Though BCCI's income isn't directly affected by the players contract but in the long run it will definitely have an impact. They have failed to understand the one simple fact that the ads are a by-product of what happens on the field and not vice-versa. They have failed to realise that if the team performed badly at the World Cup no corporate house would have gone to these players with a hefty pay check. In-fact they might even scrap a few contracts that they currently have with the players. Ravi Shastri who also proposed this change explained later on TV that this was implemented to attract more sponsorship for the Team India rather than an individual player. The thought was definitely a great one but how practical? Did the BCCI sought any opinion from the players association? Was there any representation from the industry during the decision making? How can BCCI act like a dictator and just put a limit to the ads a player can do? How did they arrive at the number 3? These questions smell of the authoritarian way of functioning that the board officials are used to. Why then, when they realised that this was a reason for the player's non-performance, they choose not to have a look at whats happening in other team sports like soccer. Can anyone deny a Ronaldinho an advertising contract? If no then why a Sachin should be denied his right to earn. This restriction would have been a great move if the board would have put more money at stake for the cricketers on wins, rather they have reduced the money they get per match which a pittance compared to what the companies pay them for their ad deals. The BCCI should have increased the money each player gets for every win and made it comparable to the money they get by doing ads and that would have been the best remedy, and that too if at at all these ads were in any way responsible for a player's non-performance. The number of days the players spend shooting is negligible compared to the time they spend practising and the reason given by BCCI for India's dismal performance at the World Cup, that they were spending more time on shooting for these ads is ridiculous.

Another change that was proposed was that there would be better sporting wickets in India. We have heard that before, but without any real implementation and this time it will be no different as there isn't any specific plan yet or under whom the initiative will be implemented. Why isn't the BCCI acting like a professional and getting things done in a professional way? Why don't they spend money in this matter and assign an expert to monitor every test venue at-least to improve the quality of the wickets there? Why can't every Indian ground have a very basic thing like grass on the ground. I fail to understand, is it so difficult to have the very best grass on these cricket grounds which are like places of worship for a true Indian cricket fan, that we see hapless fielders succumbing to injuries while trying to field in a athletic manner, a norm with international teams. When a place like Sharjah can have a stadium with a green outfield i don't know why the same cant be done here. Talking of pitches, we all know that Kapil Dev was given the responsibility of ensuring sporting wickets long back when India got white washed 3-0 down under in year 1999. This did not materialize into anything significant apart from a few visits by experts from New Zealand.
Another significant move which they have come up with is to name Ravi Shastri as the interim cricket manager for team India. The fact that they have come up with this position called Cricket Manager is in fact good, but if they think of prolonging Ravi Shastri's stint in this position then its going to be a not so smart move. In the present circumstances when the players and the Indian Team as a whole is going through such a turmoil, Ravi Shastri's presence at the top would definitely have a calming effect on the players. Ravi has himself said that all he will do at the moment is get the team together to play as a unit, what with reports of a drift in the team (i will probably deal with this in my next post) and players being selfish, protecting their places rather than playing as a unit. This will be a difficult task but i think Ravi would prove right for the job. Mind you this is not a position similar to a coach which is a specialized job and requires someone who has had some experience in coaching. I think this time when BCCI hunts for a coach, probably after the Bangladesh series, they should find someone who is a true professional coach. Look at someone like John Buchanan or a Dave Whatmore who pride themselves in getting the team to play as fearless unit not intimidated by the reputations and clearing any mental blocks that a player might have. Its amazing how these two have propelled teams like Australia, Sri Lanka and recently Bangladesh.
In the end all i can say is what Greg Chappell recently said. "If you want to beat Australia, you cannot run you Cricket like Zimbabwe". I think to beat Australia the BCCI needs to think out of the box and not simply follow what probably Cricket Australia is doing. BCCI should learn from other sports as well and try to implement new and better strategies to be one step ahead of Australia rather than just being a follower. No one is stopping the BCCI towards experimenting with new ideas to make India into a World Beater. All that's required is a will and passion which seems to be absent from the power hungry office bearers of the BCCI. Its time for a serious introspection and hope that the remedies and solutions that come out after a thorough introspection, serves Indian Cricket in the best possible way.