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On a day the likes of Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma received massive pay-hikes, on a day Mithali Raj and Co received their dues for a stellar year and still ended up in a bracket less than the least lucrative central contract for a male cricketer, on a day it became clear that being a domestic cricketer in India won’t be a bad career choice after all, it was the decision to leave out Mohammad Shami’s name from the latest round of BCCI contracts that has caught everyone by surprise.
From veteran journalists to the everyday fan, there was plenty of outrage against the BCCI for deciding to keep Shami out of the list after reports emerged earlier in the day that suggested all was not well in the pacer’s personal life.
That is the bit that seems to have angered a lot of observers.
Before we proceed further along, here’s the BCCI’s response to the issue (from an unnamed official, of course):
“The BCCI has taken cognisance of all the reports emerging about Mohammed Shami’s personal life. It is purely a personal matter and the BCCI has nothing to do with it. However, keeping in mind that the woman in question has met the police commissioner of Kolkata, it is only prudent on BCCI’s part to wait for any official inquiry to take place. Hence Mohammed Shami’s name, for the time being, has been withheld from the central contracts that were announced. We would like to reiterate this decision has nothing to do with Shami’s merit as a player but it is a safeguard in the prevailing circumstances.”— Unnamed BCCI official to PTI
Now, there are certain phrases that stand out. “Taken cognisance.” “For the time being.” “Nothing to do with Shami’s merit as a cricketer.” “A safeguard.”
So for those pointing out the fact that Shami had a great Test series in South Africa where he was the leading Indian wicket-taker (numbers never tell the full story, eh?) - and hence nothing else should have mattered - that is an argument that doesn’t hold weight, right off the bat. This was not a cricketing decision. It cannot be.
And then this:
“Haven’t cricketers exhibited questionable behaviour in the past and still had successful careers? What about that blonde-haired Aussies legspinner then, eh?”
Geez, where do we start with this. Yes, adultery is not an illegal offence and what a cricketer decides to do on that front shouldn’t decide if he gets paid or not. But what we are dealing with here is - at best - much more complicated and - at worst - more serious.
Shami’s wife has appeared in front of the camera on television news channel and said, in no uncertain terms that, she has allegedly been tortured emotionally and physically. That there have been threats made against her life. This is not just an allegation of adultery - something that seems to have missed the critics’ attention.
Yes, these are just allegations and the indications are that she has only approached the police so far without actually filing a complaint. Yes, this is not yet a matter sub judice. But even if there is a hint of truth to the allegations, the BCCI, as an employer, is well within their right to adopt the wait-and-watch approach. If they had to take a ad-hoc decision once the reports came out, leaving Shami out was a bold call but taken with the correct intention. It neither incriminates the cricketer nor does it disrespect his wife who has levelled some serious claims against their employee.
Which brings us to the most-repeated line of argument:
“Personal lives shouldn’t affect his contract, BCCI has already judged him.”
Err. No. By adopting this approach, the BCCI has merely acknowledged there is an issue to deal with. For better or worse this is now not an issue in their personal lives anymore, the moment it started playing out on public forums. And the board has merely set a precedent that says the choices cricketers make in their lives do matter. They have clearly stated that this is in no way a binding decision. Should Shami resolve this issue either in courts or outside, there’s every chance he’s going to get the Grade B contract that he was meant to receive. If anything, it puts the onus on the cricketer to act on the issue and clear his name if he believes these are nothing more than blind allegations.
Far too many people have pointed out Shami is not guilty until proven so. Far too many people are taking the side of the 27-year-old based on his unquestionable value to the team. Far too many people believe BCCI, as an employer, cannot expect it’s employee to stay out of controversy under serious legal issues like domestic violence based on the fact that they have let things slide in the past.
But, surely, times change? Surely, in the current climate of what’s going on around the world, this is a more nuanced issue than it is made to seem so? Surely, what the BCCI did was borne out of just basic common sense?
The men running Indian cricket do not often get things right when it comes to taking decisions, but in this case, spare them the rod.