Duck this bouncer

Daily newspapers, television channels and bloggers have had a field day over the past few days, arguing for and against former India captains Bishen Singh Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar, after I took a close look at the latter’s role in Indian cricket. Ever since Outlook hit the stands with its story Too Many Dot Balls, many have tried to reach a number of BCCI officials and former cricketers for their reactions, but—sure enough—mum’s the word.

Strangest of all is the silence from Gavaskar himself.

Coming closest to being critical of Gavaskar for his role in the selection of the coach for Team India is Navjot Singh Sidhu. “There was barely a week left for the team to leave on the tour of Ireland and England, but they (BCCI) were still busy hunting for a coach. They got Chandu Borde in a hurry. And, who asked Gavaskar to propose John Emburey’s name?” asks the outspoken ex-India batsman. “And there is bound to be some public scrutiny if anyone within the board has been seen as slack.”

Not too many others are ready to go on record, though privately telling us that it was a story that should have been done some years ago. Chairman of Selectors Dilip Vengsarkar told a TV channel that he was ready to talk on the Indian team and Indian cricket, but did not want to answer any questions on Gavaskar’s role in Indian cricket.

The silence of Board officials on this matter is indeed deafening. Then again, none of them has said anything in favour of Gavaskar’s contribution.BCCI Chief Administrative Officer Ratnakar Shetty said the Board preferred not to comment. But a BCCI vice-president, embracing anonymity, said that the piece had hit the nail on the head. “We are aware of the public response against Gavaskar in the wake of the piece,” he said, pointing out how as many as 89 per cent of people polling in The Times of India concurred with the view that Gavaskar has been a negative influence on Indian cricket. “I am not sure how we would raise these issues within the board…but we can’t ignore the popular view.”

A former India fast bowler said ex-players should not get into positions of power within BCCI and “then allow its officials to say that these men haven’t made the time or had suggestions that can make a difference to Indian cricket”. He feared that Board officials would shift the blame on the inertia exhibited by former players in the various committees. Former India all-rounder Madan Lal echoed this. “The Board needs to find people of quality and those who are prepared to spend time for Indian cricket,” he said. Bedi, whose comments were picked up by newspapers and TV channels and made to look like it was a personal attack that he had launched, said, “It is a given, the ultimate, that anyone serving a position within BCCI has to be accountable.”

Gavaskar’s ex-India opening partner Chetan Chauhan was among those who missed the woods for the trees.”We can go on and on with these accusations and counter-accusations but it’s not going to take the game forward,” he was quoted as saying. “I would suggest they (Bedi and Gavaskar) resolve their differences and work together towards the common aim of improving our cricket. All this bad blood will not help.”

Another ex-India batsman, Sandeep Patil, would not be drawn into looking at the larger question of accountability for former cricketers within the BCCI “They have both contributed much to Indian cricket…. I am too small to make a comment,” he said on Star News. “Theirs is a 30-year-old rivalry but when they meet face to face, they have no problems. They are seniors and must work together for Indian cricket. This does look like a personal attack. Only time will tell if and how Gavaskar will respond.”

Bedi, meanwhile, was surprised by how sections of the media shifted the focus from the issue of Indian cricket and portrayed it as a Bedi-vs-Gavaskar story. “It’s unfortunate that it has been taken out of perspective and splashed as if it were a sensational story,” he said. “I just responded to your questions. It was an innocuous and simple comment. I haven’t liked it being portrayed as a Bishen-vs-Sunil story, but now I am wiser that the media is looking to sell. All this came to the fore because of the BCCI’s ineptitude in finding a coach at the right time. It also shows how hollow the board really is. My comments meant to highlight the weaknesses in its functioning and the gaping holes in the system. I have had positive reactions from people. Many said this should have been said a lot earlier.”

A former India batsman said that he was awaiting Sunny’s “return shot”, having “heard about the tizzy after your story”. He isn’t the only one. Talking of a response from Gavaskar, over the past week, I heard a couple of times from his Mumbai office. On June 15, after my first piece had gone to press with the last issue, they wanted to know if I was trying to get in touch with him. Of course I was. Then, on June 18, they sought to know the deadline for this week, conveying the impression that Gavaskar would respond to our questions. Now, I still don’t know if Gavaskar would respond—or if he prefers to shoulder arms one more time. And that, in the hope that this too shall pass.