Can Jumbo & Babu usher in change without Hari?

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: It is said that leading the Indian cricket team is the second hardest job after the Indian prime ministership.

We may add a new truism: being an Indian fast bowler is perhaps the third most difficult job.

Now, that Anil Radhakrishna Kumble and Javagal Chandrashekhar Srinath have won the elections to the Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA) and will be at the helm of cricketing affairs in the State for the next three years, they have, quite possibly, an even more difficult job ahead of them.

Their candidacy excited many reporters and commentators, within and outside Karnataka, who turned into veritable court-poets, often abdicating their day-job as journalists.

Their resounding victory has elicited hyperbole. The Indian Express calls this the “beginning of a new era in the Indian cricket administration“, and Cricinfo’s Sharda Ugra, whose analytical pieces are balanced and insightful, calls Srinath and Kumble as “gamechangers“.

Amidst this rapturous welcoming of M/s Kumble & Co, forgive me, if I sound like a sceptic.

True, Kumble and Srinath have been brilliant performers on the field and, having watched them since their junior cricket days, for over two decades, I have been a great admirer of their skills and accomplishments.

More impressive has been their personal conduct during their playing days, and since then.

It’s on that basis Kumble and Srinath sought the support and trust of KSCA members. These aren’t ordinary cricketers, who demanded that cricketers be put in charge of cricket administration.

Remember Brijesh Patel too had fought an epic battle 12 years ago against the then secretary, C. Nagaraj, against whom Patel had raised a series of corruption charges and promised to clean up cricket administration in Karnataka. In contrast, Kumble and Srinath have staked their character and integrity.

What’s been interesting about the Kumble-Srinath campaign is their message of change.

While they promise to clean up the cricket administration and turn KSCA into a model organization, we haven’t seen any specifics—either on the problems that plague KSCA or on the alternatives they have in mind. In fact, after the elections on Sunday, Kumble promised to study and come up with a blueprint for change.

Given that both Kumble and Srinath, along with their cohorts—B.K. Venkatesh Prasad, Rahul Dravid, Sujith Somasundar, Roger Binny, M.R. Srinivasa Prasad, Vijay Bharadwaj, all of whom have led Karnataka Ranji teams—have been “insiders” in a manner of speaking for decades, holding many official positions within BCCI and KSCA, I find it surprising that they have nothing concrete to say to the press, even after the elections.

What we have seen so far is a ‘campaign for change’ without specifying what that change might look like.

Sadly, our star-struck journalists haven’t asked for specific details.

Here is another interesting thing. Kumble and his team wanted complete control over KSCA. They compelled Brijesh Patel, who controlled KSCA for over a decade, to give up power. They wanted Srikantadatta Wodeyar, the outgoing president, to step aside and accept a new position of patron, which they offered to create for him.

Perhaps it made sense from their perspective to install a new team so that they could do a proper housecleaning.

Yet, troubling questions arise given how they seem to have allowed themselves to become or to be painted as de facto candidates of the Patel camp. We don’t know what promises were made to Patel; any meaningful change in KSCA will actually mean not only changing the policies of the Patel regime but also investigating Patel himself.

Kumble has forcefully asserted that he is his own man but he hasn’t addressed questions of corruption or nepotism that have plagued the Patel regime, too. Moreover, it’s not an entirely new team since there are holdovers from the previous administration like Roger Binny and R. Sudhakar Rao.

For all the paeans to their integrity in the press, I am actually reassured by Kumble & Co’s very competent politicking.

They presented themselves as the agents of change, as cricketers fighting against outsiders. They were brilliant in characterising the Wodeyar team as incumbents, which was entirely inaccurate; in fact, the Kumble team benefited from the support of the incumbents, the Patel faction.

The fact that the Wodeyar team was utterly incompetent in producing a strong response only helped them. I wish A.V. Jayaprakash had said he is no ‘interloping kabaddi player’ seeking the office of KSCA secretary but a former Karnataka captain and a distinguished international umpire.

Moreover, even before the elections, I heard from reliable sources that Srinath had been instructing KSCA staff members, especially on financial matters.

All this is better than being self-righteous because then they are more likely to become saints or martyrs. The virtue and integrity of the righteous aren’t necessarily valuable to run a public institution. Restraint, common sense, humility and a healthy dose of wiliness are.

Kumble and Srinath will need those qualities in abundance if they want to forge partnerships and build KSCA. Otherwise, for all their good intentions, they will accomplish very little.

Are they game changers? Ask me in six months but I suspect not. What ails KSCA, and generally cricket administration in India, is quite complex and is best left for another post.

***

Full disclosure: I must admit a particular bias in writing this article.

My team, the National Cricket Club (NCC), Mysore, which has been part of the Wodeyar group and represented Mysore zone in the managing committee from 2007-10, lost in the KSCA elections.

I have never been an admirer of Wodeyar and I am glad that he lost.

But NCC’s loss saddens me. That’s not just because NCC is my team but its track record in the last three years warrants strong support. I strongly believe Kumble and Srinath should have been proactive in recruiting NCC to be part of their team, especially because they know what NCC has accomplished in the last three years.

NCC’s major accomplishment of course has been organizing six Ranji trophy matches, including a classic finals match in January 2010, and maintaining what has come to be recognized as the best domestic wicket in India. We don’t realize all the work that goes into organizing a Ranji trophy match in a small center.

The members of National Cricket Club and a superb core of volunteers performed wonderfully, from ensuring supply of drinking water to spectators to tea and snacks to KSCA guests and press; erecting stands for the public to arranging internet for the Press, they did it all and in the true spirit of cricket.

All this is well known. Here are some lesser known facts. Nearly 1500 league matches were played. Five new grounds, including in smaller centers like Mandya, Chamarajnagar and Krishnaraja Nagar, were added and league matches are played regularly in all these places. Seventeen new teams were registered in the Mysore zone and al these teams take part in the State league. Distribution of KSCA resources has been equitable and selections to Mysore zone teams were extremely fair, and senior players from all teams were recruited to be part of the selection committees or to accompany the Mysore zone teams as managers. I have followed Mysore zone cricket for over two decades now and I couldn’t have written these two paragraphs about any other administration.

What’s important to recognize is that the core group of NCC are all active, and committed league cricketers: 45-year-old Harikrishna Kumar, who supervised the day to day administration of Mysore zone cricket, was also the leading wicket taker in the 2009-2010 state league.

NCC may have lost this election but Harikrishna Kumar and his friends can be proud of their tenure as KSCA Mysore zone conveners. Congratulations to them on completing a successful three year tenure.

***

Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia.

***

Photograph: Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath on election night, November 21, after the results came out (Karnataka Photo News)

***

Also read: Anil Kumble‘s secret is his un-Kannadiganess

Javagal Srinath: The world’s most famous Mysorean?

A tale of two cities as narrated by a cricket field

Players, patrons and the crowd in the age of IPL

A real workhorse from the land of ‘benne dose

From the Coffee Board end to Hunsur Road end

Finally, it came down to Abhishek Nayar‘s balls