What are we to make of the Indian cricket board’s job offers to three recently retired batting greats?

Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman have been asked to become “advisors” to the world’s richest and most powerful cricket body.

The initial statement put out by the Board of Control for Cricket In India said that the three players’ “areas of immediate focus will be to provide guidance to our national team as we set out to enhance our performance in overseas engagements, provide direction to improve our talent pathway and take steps to strengthen domestic cricket to better prepare our players to handle the rigours of international cricket”.

That is about as vague as it can get.

Strangely, Ganguly said after the announcement was made that he had no idea what his role was going to be. Meaning that the players had not even been consulted and no thinking had gone into the exercise, except the desire that these three men should be attached to the BCCI.

So what’s going on?

Keep possible critics closer

And what are we to make of Rahul Dravid’s reported refusal to join this same advisory committee? One story with unnamed sources speculated that Dravid didn’t want to be part of anything that had Sourav Ganguly because they had an ancient rivalry. I did not believe that.

Another story speculated that Dravid would be handed responsibility of the under-16, under-19 and India A teams, as a “mentor”. But if it was this concrete, why was the announcement about him also not made immediately? That was left unsaid.

The outspoken Bishan Singh Bedi said he had not understood the nature of the new committee. If people like him do not know, then who does?

The fact is that the BCCI likes keeping former players on its side. Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri secretly accepted multi-crore annual contracts with the BCCI for vague work, while also being commentators. When this was discovered by newspapers, they offered mumbled explanations that did not convince many.

Shastri is today an unofficial but paid BCCI spokesman, an allegedly neutral commentator and now also the team director (a fancy new title that did not exist till now).

Mercenary and political

The BCCI is totally incestuous in such things. A small group of people control everything, some of whom are businessmen and politicians and some of whom are former cricketers. But why is the group so small and secretive? The reason is that it is full of scandal. The Indian Premier League founder is absconding, the International Cricket Council chairman’s son-in-law was in jail for betting, many of the IPL teams face grave charges on ownership and other matters, and cricketers have been caught and banned for fixing matches.

Who is going to clean this up? Nobody. I am deeply sceptical of anything the BCCI, which claims to regulate itself, does when it says it is doing something to improve the game. It is a money-making machine and all politicians, including Narendra Modi who was Gujarat cricket’s head, want a part of the action.

The BCCI’s record at regulation and transparency is particularly poor when it comes to the IPL, which is the cash cow.

One newspaper report said “it was unlikely this new panel will be asked for views on the IPL”. So what is it for, and why have Sachin, Sourav and Laxman been invited and why did Dravid choose to stay away?

My speculation is that the BCCI believes that it is dangerous for credible insiders to stay outside its area of influence. It wants people like these three cricketers inside the tent rather than outside it.

Driven by self-preservation

The BCCI is not motivated in this instance by any thoughts of improving the team, whether senior or junior. What it is reaching for is self-preservation.

If it were keen on giving more work to former players who know the game, why would Syed Kirmani complain that he was being ignored?

Probably because few remember him today. It is the view of former players like Tendulkar that the BCCI fears. If he speaks out against the corruption and nepotism inside the Indian board, they could be in serious trouble with the spectators. That is why they want him in.

Dravid, I think, has refused because he understands the true nature of the assignment which is to ultimately defend the BCCI, no matter what mischief it is up to. This “advisory board” of the BCCI must be viewed in that fashion, because given their history the onus of demonstrating good faith lies entirely on them.