Column: No sympathy for the devil

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Updated: Sep 7 2013, 07:55am hrs
But what's puzzling you

Is the nature of my game

I was young, 12 years old, when I saw my very first Test match. It was in Bombay, on December 2, 1960India vs Pakistanand I took leave from school (with my fathers permission) to watch what would turn out to be one of the most boring Test matches the world has seen and possibly one of Test crickets most boring series. But I enjoyed it all; all my idols were therePolly Umrigar, Ramakant Desai, Subhash Gupte, and I saw Hanif Mohammed and Saeed Ahmed score centuries.

There was pride at stake in the series, India and Pakistan had just separated little over a decade earlier, and for the Indian cricket board, BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), 'not losing' was all that mattered, to the hell with the cricket, and therefore they prepared pitches to make sure every match was a draw.

It was 22 years later, almost to the day, when I saw my second Test match, this time at Bangalore. There was much anticipation because India had defeated England in the first test at Bombay. But that was a clueBCCI, having gotten lucky in the first Test on a turning pitch, decided it was time to close shop, and decided to dis-entertain the cricketing world with the second most boring series of all time.

It still didnt matter, for as attributed to former Australian PM John Howard (by James Astill in his book The Great Tamasha), I remained a cricket tragic. And cricket tragics enjoy any match (almost!). A few years later in 1987, so obsessed by this "most beautiful game", I wrote my first book, Between the Wickets, a book that I will say most immodestly, anticipated Moneyball which came some 20 years later.

I shouted out,

Who killed (Test cricket)

When after all

It was you and me

But then the fun stopped, and I began to recover from my tragedy. In 1998, I found out about the realities of Indian cricket administration. There was match-fixing, a far more dangerous invention than pitch-fixing of an earlier era. Indian and Pakistani players were allegedly at the centre of cricket corruption. And as part of Rahul Mehras legal suit against the BCCI, I helped discover that this non-profit NGO had via its important subsidiary, the Delhi District Cricket Association, received more revenue from sale of used liquor bottles , than it had spent in coaching expenses. This was more than a decade before Kalmadi, and just a decade after Bofors. Relevance of liquor consumption and no coaching A society is granted no-tax status on the grounds that it is doing a public good and that its income or wealth is ploughed back into the work of the society. And what was/is the work of the BCCI

Just as every cop is a criminal

And all the sinners saints

In 2007-08, the tax exemption for BCCI was withdrawn by the union government. But this may have been no more than a token victory for honourable taxpayers. BCCI allegedly only paid tax amounting to R41.91 crore against its tax liability of R413 crore in FY 10 (New Indian Express, February 20, 2012).

Lately, it appears that the BCCI has successfully protected itself, and its revenue-expenditure mix, from any public scrutiny via the RTI act. The excuse widely (and wildly) offered by BCCI representatives: we cannot afford to allow the aam aadmi to select the cricket team. Arre bhai, kahan se kahan pahunch gaye

Over the last few years, as revenue from cricket has grown, so has the BCCIs unaccountability. The Competition Commission has no effect on its arrogance, and public opinion in India is spurned out of its way like a cur. Worse, cricket is affected. India has been the only country not supporting the DRS system in Test cricket. One explanationthe richest cricket body in the world cannot afford to spend $30,000 per Test match. And despite the International Cricket Council mandating its use, the BCCI has rejected all attempts to introduce it in India.

As heads is tails

Just call me Lucifer

Cause I'm in need of some restraint

So if (Lorgat) you meet me

Have some courtesy

Have some sympathy, and some taste

Use all your well-learned politesse

Or I'll lay your soul (cricket) to waste

And now, this. Indias tour of South Africa is being called off. Why Because the BCCI cannot come to terms with the fact that Cricket South Africa (CSA) has chosen as its head Haroon Lorgat. Why should that matter Not clear, but when the Big Boss speaks... This is what one commentator had to say: Firdoose Moonda, ESPN Cricinfo (September 3, 2013): It's clear to even the casual observer that CSA are being pushed around and that it is not right but given India's clout through cash, it is also perhaps unavoidable. Being unavoidable makes it okay

The manner in which the grudge match between BCCI (N Srinivasan) and CSA(Lorgat) is being played out is nothing short of embarrassing for both, and humiliating to Lorgat, and at a minimum, humiliating to all the cricket tragics of the world. If cricket is played to be enjoyed, surely everybody, including the Indians and Tendulkar, would rather play against South Africa than virtually any other team in the worldimagine, Dale Steyn, among the best bowlers in the world today and Kallis, possibly the best all-rounder ever,

versus Tendulkar, possibly the greatest batsman India has produced, and one who the greatest batsman, (appropriately named Don), considered to be the closest to his own style and temperament.

One tragic outcome of the BCCI decision is that Tendulkars 200th Test match will not be against Steyn on the fast pitch at Johannesburg (or Cape Town) but very likely against the weakest West Indian bowling attack in history. And obviously there is much anticipation of this historic event (Tendulkar's 200th). As Sarang Bhalerao writes in, the decision to cancel the SA tour sounds a tad bizarre but it just highlights the impact of Tendulkar for whom this special treatment has been meted out. The people are ecstatic; every single cricket aficionado would want to be part of the special occasion. Count me outI was a cricket tragic, I no longer am.

Because of the feudal and political nature of the BCCI, we, the cricket citizens of the world, will be denied this greatest of career endings. Are there no checks and balances against the monopolist BCCI Is there no shame left Why is BCCI so powerful that it has reached the status of being untouchable Could it be the presence of several leading politicians in the country as head of the various cricket associations

There is something that can be done. We have 'development politicians' who are heads of cricket associations. Narendra Modi is the most likely PM candidate from the BJP. He can make a difference by resigning from the chief's post in the Gujarat Cricket Association. He will reaffirm his non-corrupt status, and he will reaffirm his dedication to economic development. And who knows, this might just be the beginning of revival of fair cricketand born-again cricket tragics.

(All citings from Sympathy for the Devil, written by one of the greatest cricket tragic in the world, Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones. Minor modifications in parentheses).

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company.

Twitter: @surjitbhalla