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FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

By Sanjay Jha

On TEHELKA http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ws270911shape.asp

The acronym BCCI has been the subject of several dubious, colorful descriptions, from the Board of Control and Control of India to Bullies of Chaotic Cricket in India. It is an exhaustive laundry-list, encapsulating creative outbursts of angry souls disillusioned by the mandarins or mavericks who run the mammoth and still burgeoning cricket industry . It could also be called the Board of Cartoon Characters of India going by their recent utterances.

N Srinivasan , the recently crowned king of this glittering empire and his redoubtable nemesis Lalit Modi, the erstwhile IPL boss-man, actually have a lot in common. They both have corporate backgrounds, which perhaps accentuates their bitter animosity. They both know smart doublespeak, financial complexities, crafty skullduggery and are artful dodgers behind nebulous laws. That’s how they have engineered their classical enduring conflict over the past year and a half, since the IPL scam became breakfast news. If they are not shadow-boxing using pliant proxies, they are usually landing punches at each other with the professionalism of a true pugilist. In the days and weeks ahead, this fight has the potential of overshadowing Raging Bull. Watch this space with unflagging concentration.

Srinivasan , of course, cannot be blamed for lacking serendipity. Despite the dangling Damocles sword ( A C Muthiah’s Supreme Court case against him) hanging dangerously over his head, Srinivasan has with the intrepidity of a brave-heart taken charge as President of BCCI. If the SC verdict goes against him, BCCI will have no choice but to seek replacement .But Srinivasan’s confidence of a pleasant, palatable outcome from the SC talks of a man who has streaks of sanguine faith in his judicial case. Confidence never hurts. But over-confidence can.

You have to hand it to Srinivasan, although. When asked about the conflict of interest on account of his ownership of IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings ( CSK) Srinivasan’s deadpan straight-bat response was so impeccable that even Sachin Tendulkar would have felt inspired by that charitable tutorial lesson. “I don’t own it,” he said. “ A company does called India Cements. And I only have a stake in it”. Sure, Mr Srinivasan! But he is no ordinary shareholder. His stake along with that of his family is a staggering 25.18% as of March 31st 2011 going by financial reports. Besides being from the promoter-family, he is also the Managing Director for Christ’s sake! I have not heard of a more flimsy fraudulent defense camouflaged as a legal argument before. That is an audacious bluff, like the Greg Chappell inspired underarm.

And incidentally, if this gargantuan indirect stake is even magnanimously accepted for diversionary entertainment, shouldn’t Srinivasan have then taken on Modi when he made such a hullabaloo over Shashi Tharoor’s distant-indirect stake through Sunanda Pushkar in the Kochi IPL franchise that had not even taken off? Is that not blatant double- standards, Mr Srinivasan? Why did he maintain such a magnificent silence then? .

In case of CSK, there was a surreptitious tweak in the form of a constitutional amendment done by the BCCI in September 2008 to facilitate the purchase by India Cements. Ethical??? Did that not have a premeditated objective of a sneaky “ facilitation”? And Kris Srikanth continues to be India’s chief selector cum brand ambassador of CSK. MS Dhoni needs to be careful. At some point, Sourav Ganguly got a swollen head owing to his assumed propinquity to Jagmohan Dalmiya. It led to avoidable , trying circumstances for the Prince. Having a god-father in the BCCI system is pregnant with potholes ; for the essentially level- headed Dhoni, that is a red flag.

Srinivasan’s handling of the ICC awards function in London recently should give cricket lovers sleepless nights. The man has an Amazonian ego. He says the invitation came to him directly, but not to the Indian team. Thus, to ridicule the ICC, Srinivasan was willing to let the Indian cricketers become sacrificial goats, get negative publicity, and even allow his own skipper to miss receiving the Fair- play trophy. Now that tells you a lot about the man at the helm of affairs, when all it probably took to make sure the Indians did not stand out like a sore thumb was one phone call, and a gentle request. Such a balloon -sized halo spells serious trouble.

Rajiv Shukla taking over as IPL commissioner was being speculated fairly early, but it comes with its baggage of anxieties for the Congress-UPA combine. Euphemistically, Shukla is there for his “ resourcefulness”, which in India means he will use his personal “ contacts”, subtle back-door maneuvering, pulling ropes, threads or strings as the case might be, to get the rather circuitous alleged financial irregularities of IPL sorted out. Shukla has the affable, disarming ability of a seasoned campaigner; he is soft-spoken, and an imperturbable trouble-shooter. Shukla possesses the knack of anticipating the direction of the wind even before it originates. But even for the canny Minister of Parliamentary Affairs the IPL might prove more challenging than having breakfast with an anaconda. IPL has grave smudgy accusations facing it, as long a list as the injury-plagued in the Indian cricket team, and the last thing the UPA needs right now is a Minister who seems to be fortifying a stigmatized, scam-scarred institution. Shukla will either pull off a dramatic rescue act like Tarzan of the hapless Jane, or he will ensure that both the IPL and his party is quickly entrenched in quicksand.

For Sports Minister Ajay Maken though this is the perfect time to go lock, stock and two smoking barrels for the courageous act; take the BCCI head-on for its contumacious refusal to come under the RTI Act. BCCI’s reluctance reveals that Srinivasan and Co are apprehensive about any disturbance to their cozy, cocooned club. Outsiders will be prosecuted, imprisoned and whip-lashed for making exasperating intrusions. But that is precisely what the doctor’s ordered.

I have been a bitter critic of Lalit Modi’s whimsical ways of running IPL; he met his predictable Waterloo. In Srinivasan we may have a less flamboyant and fickle chief, but one equally determined to cement his own questionable decisions and create a private club. Like allowing Mumbai Indians to have five overseas players for the Champions League which is against the ‘ rules’. Tricky times ahead indeed. The early signs are ominous.

Expect a busy cricket winter season, and plenty of frosty drama off-it. Harbhajan Singh has a doosra, but the BCCI may have a teesra up its sleeve.

( Sanjay Jha is Founder, CricketNext.com. He can be reached at Sanjay_ Jha@DaleCarnegie.com)

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