Let the voices of Indian fans be heard

Written by Boria Majumdar | Updated: Sep 11 2011, 07:36am hrs
It was pouring in Southampton on September 6, at about 4 pm local time when the ESPN cameras cut to Gautam Bhimani who had with him a few Indian fans. One of them, originally from Bangalore, and a resident of the UK for the last five years, said on camera that he had driven for more than six hours to watch the game. This is despite India not winning a single game on the tour so far. He had done the same for the first game at Chester-le-street and had booked his tickets months in advance. These are the kind of men who book tours to India to come and watch their team play at home and wish that they are witness to something historic. Many will be doing the same during Englands tour of India come October 2012, a series that is already being touted as the revenge series.

These men are the real arbiters of Indian cricket. Cricket is in health because they are there to support the game, idolise the players and make superheroes of them. They are the ones who watch the game on television and are the real funders of the game. It is for them that the BCCI exists and earns wealth by the minute. They have made Indian cricket a global brand and one that has little competition in India. Yet they are the most neglected constituency of Indian cricket. Their voices are never heard and they continue to be ignored by the BCCI top brass. It is as if their existence is a given, only to be taken for granted by the powers driving Indian cricket.

As the BCCI annual general meeting (AGM) approaches, it is time to remind the Board once again that it is this neglected constituency that has made IPL the brand it has now become after four years of existence. And it is for these men and women that the BCCI needs to get its house in order. Unless correctives are introduced and introduced soon, the slump in Indian Test cricket will not be arrested and the fans, sooner than later, will lose patience.

In fact, it is now upon the BCCI to live up to its promise of transparency and ensure that the fans dont lose confidence in Indian cricket and continue to support the game as they have done in the course of the last decade. Frankly, the fan isnt worried about whether the telecast deal for the IPL rakes in the $1.64 billion that it is doing or it goes back to its original figure of $918 million, the amount for which the rights were sold in season one. These absurd amounts of money have little relevance for the viewer, who wishes to watch the best players play and the best men and women commentate. They arent bothered if the BCCI has made a profit of R118 crore from season four. They are far more concerned with India fielding a fit team against Australia come Boxing Day.

In the context of Indian cricket it is Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag who people will tune in to watch in Australia and if they are wasted like they have been, resulting in the disaster in England, fans will soon vent their ire on the Board.

In fact, one simple quiz question is enough to demonstrate the problem with the BCCIhow many readers know the names of the leading administrators of English cricket and how many know N Srinivasan The answer is a given. Srinivasan and his team are celebrities in India because they govern Indias most coveted brand. Unfortunately some of them are getting bigger than the brand or, put more aptly, bigger than the game of cricket itself. Lalit Modi has already paid the price. For the sake of Indian cricket this scenario has to change. Despite the autonomy the BCCI must be acknowledged discharges a public function and it is the billion-plus Indian cricket fans who are the custodians of the game. They have given their favourite soaps and serials a miss in supporting tournaments like the IPL. They are the ones who have spent their last rupee in trying to catch a glimpse of the action during the World Cup and they are the ones who will make IPL season five a success.

The BCCI needs to make them feel empowered, wanted and welcome. Guarding Indian cricket is the first step to win their confidence back. It is time to decide between fast money and the fans. The AGM will perhaps provide the answer.

The writer is a sports historian