Too Many Dot Balls

It may be an apocryphal story, but it has been said that Sunil Gavaskar’s own shadow is now scared of him. The players who led the Indian team to swear during the 2003 World Cup that it would boycott Gavaskar (for his scathing comments after the league game defeat to Australia) don’t want to revisit that incident. The whisper campaigners who let it out that he was enjoying a siesta defying dressing room norms when he was batting consultant in 2004-05 now clam up. Not a few BCCI officials worry about a possible backlash in case they speak up against the uncrowned emperor of Indian cricket.

Yet, when BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty let it be known that the former India captain had proposed John Emburey as a candidate for Indian team coach, there were more than a few sniggers. At least a few were asking later what exactly Sunil Gavaskar’s role was in the grand scheme of Indian cricket. The echo found roots in a CNN-IBN poll too: as many as 85 per cent of respondents believed it is Gavaskar who is running Indian cricket. It isn’t to his benefit– among other things, Gavaskar is now being held responsible for erstwhile Bangladesh coach Dav Whatmore’s exit as a candidate for the job.

Former India batsman, selector and coach Ashok Malhotra says Gavaskar held up one mistake Whatmore made in the recent Test series to clip his case– his not stopping Bangla captain Habibul Bashar from sending India in to bat in the second Test which they lost. “Gavaskar has the knack of doing the unexpected all the time,” Malhotra said. “John Emburey for coach? Why, and how? Just to make life miserable for everyone around? A coach’s role is in helping the team prepare, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of players and teams. Didn’t he remember one Indian name?”

Gavaskar’s bete noire Bishan Singh Bedi says the 58-year-old wants to be the ultimate god of Indian cricket, thinks of himself as bigger than the game. “Cricket circles had immense and blind respect for him (as a cricketer) and he successfully used this to ensure that board officials remained in awe of him,” he says. “He wants the glamour, the position and if there are any financial gains so much the better…but he does not want any accountability. He’s always liked power without accountability.” Back in 1996-97, team manager Sunil Dev’s report to the board after the tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe included a telling paragraph about Gavaskar’s role in discussing changes in playing conditions. He’s said to have not taken the team management into confidence in agreeing to South Africa’s proposal to allow play in Test matches to continue under floodlights in the event of bad light.

“He has a huge ego,” veteran columnist S.K.Sham says from Mumbai. “He quit the NCA in a huff when Raj Singh Dungarpur criticised him for a column he wrote against the NCA team being given a match against Zimbabwe. He was also upset with BCCI for not having invited him to be a part of the panel that interviewed John Wright, Greg Chappell and Geoff Marsh back in 2000. The board then had to set up a meeting for him with Wright on the eve of the New Zealander’s maiden Test as Team India coach…and he didn’t turn up for that.”

Few have forgotten how, after having been part of the selection process that chose Greg Chappell in 2005, Gavaskar encouraged players to talk against the coach in Zimbabwe the same year. Earlier, when he was brought in as batting consultant at then skipper Sourav Ganguly’s behest, he turned a blind eye to the differences between the players and coach John Wright. Instead, he chose to write about it in his column many months later, after Wright had indicated he would not be seeking an extension.

There’s no doubt he’s been caught between two stools many a time but it’s only recently that people have started asking. Writer Mukul Kesavan raised it in a recent show on NDTV 24×7. “I wonder whether Gavaskar recognises that there’s a conflict of interests given the various hats he wears: as media man and as member of the committee to pick the next coach,” he said. CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai concurs: “I don’t think you can be a batting coach of a team and be a media person. I don’t think you can head a technical committee and reveal details in your media columns…. He has to decide how he uses his wealth of experience�through his engaging media columns or channelise it into administration, which he was always a little reluctant to get involved in. In expecting him to wear these other hats, you are being unfair to him.”

Bedi guffaws when you ask him how Gavaskar has contributed to Indian cricket. “I had a lot of time for his batting but never as a thought leader. You tell me what his contribution has been. He is destructive, there is nothing positive,” Bedi says. “I remember the time I was called by the then NCA director Brijesh Patel, along with Erapalli Prasanna and V.V. Kumar, to train spinners there. We did not hear at all from NCA chairman Gavaskar before, during or after the camp. I also recall his presiding over a captains and coaches meeting where he gave me the impression that he was not even listening.” Malhotra is another who believes the Little Master has done little. “Gavaskar, as well as the other two ex-captains on the panel that chose the coach, don’t know Indian cricket…they know only the Indian team. He’s so far removed from Indian cricket,” he says.

Sardesai believes the problem lies in the fact that Gavaskar never saw his roles in cricket administration as a commitment. “Cricket administration hasn’t been a full-time job for him and it is natural that he is not fully involved in the process. It has been more a distraction for him than a commitment and that is perhaps where the problem lies. He has not been able to devote the kind of time or show the sense of discipline and commitment that he shows for commentary and when he played the game. It’s partly because the BCCI hasn’t given him the kind of hands-on role that people expect him to have. He has got into these committees because of his stature and that is not enough. Cricket administration�whether you are a Pawar or a Gavaskar– is a full-time responsibility now. Either you accept it as such, or stay away.”

There have been suggestions that Gavaskar would have and delivered more to Indian cricket had he been compensated for his time. “I can’t forget the time he once told a team meeting ‘The day I stop thinking of money, I will stagnate’,” recalls Bedi.Sham echoes that and says the seeds were sown many years ago when Gavaskar walked out of an advertisement deal with Boroline when he discovered Kapil Dev was being paid more. “Sharad Pawar is trying to humour him just as Dalmiya did before him,” he says. “I blame the BCCI for giving him so much importance when there are so many others who have done something good for the game and have stayed in touch with grassroots cricket in India.”

A Negative Influence On Indian Cricket?
Member, Coach Selection Committee
  • Encouraged players to vent grievances against coaches when on tour as a TV commentator
  • Was a constant critic of Greg Chappell after being party to his selection
  • Ensured Dav Whatmore would not even be a candidate, and
  • Suggested John Emburey’s name at the Bangalore meeting

Chairman, Technical Committee

  • Has spent little time and thought on improving quality of first-class cricket
  • Far removed from grassroots cricket in India

Chairman, National Cricket Academy

  • Had little time for it, didn’t attend many sessions
  • NCA still nowhere near being a cricket finishing school
  • Eventually quit, citing media commitments

Batting consultant, Indian Team, 2004-05

  • Reportedly napped in the dressing room, against team norms
  • Wrote about how John Wright was abused months later instead of ticking off players and reporting them to the board