In India, it is not cricket which is a reflection of society. It is the cricket board. Intolerance has suddenly become the national motto. Ashish Nandy, Kamal Hassan, and even Salman Rushdie (despite his whining verging on the intolerable) have discovered this in recent days. And now, reflecting that intolerance is the latest from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Firstly, it has passed a rule (law, actually, where the BCCI is concerned) that no foreign players should be allowed to play or practice on any of its grounds in the country without formal permission. And then, to simplify things, it refuses to give permission. What the board hopes to gain by this - apart from a reputation for intransigence and a self-defeating pettiness - is hard to fathom. Yes, the BCCI is the most powerful cricketing body in the world; yes, it controls most of the money; yes, its word is law; yes, it has its views on the DRS and how tours may or may not take place. But such muscle-flexing at every turn and for the slightest reason suggests a lack of confidence and a refusal to play the true leadership role in world cricket.
The latest to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous BCCI is a group of county players from England who were to practice on a trip organised by Sachin Bajaj, a cricket evangelist from Pune and founder of the Global Cricket School. The GCS has been running the scheme for seven years now; former captain Andrew Strauss has also benefitted from this. Yet, the board's stand means that any attempt to see cricket in a global perspective is now deemed unpatriotic. Instead of throwing our doors open to sportsmen from around the world in the spirit of inclusiveness that must be at the heart of all sport, we are retreating into a dark place, all doors and windows tightly shut except for the ones that bring in loads of money.
This is embarrassing. How a group of players from abroad can, by playing in India, suck the essence of Indian cricket to its great detriment is not explained. Sport, by definition, has to be inclusive (one of the contributory factors for the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa was its sporting isolation), and to place limits on where private individuals may or may not practice is both arrogant and silly. To quote the poet Alexander Pope, "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"
Indian cricketers play in the leagues in England and Australia and elsewhere, and even if all the experience gained does not automatically convert into a place in the national teams, it is part of the larger education of the individuals. Indian players - Kailash Ghattani and Bishan Bedi are two regulars - have taken touring sides to England. Sachin Tendulkar first came to notice on one of Ghattani's tours as a 15-year-old. In the old days, Indians not only played county cricket, but were often sent to the Alf Gover School for coaching.
Today, the board discourages national players from the county circuit and other tournaments abroad. Perhaps this policy of isolation is contributing to the miserable performances at the highest level.
Part of the problem, apparently, is the manner in which Joe Root gained experience of Indian conditions before making his debut in Nagpur. Steve Finn, who played for the England Performance Programme's tour to regain fitness ahead of the Kolkata Test, upset the BCCI so much it demanded an apology from the English and Wales Cricket Board, and got one.
There are more important problems the board needs to solve. The question of handling transition, ignored for so long, for one. The fallout of the defeats at home and abroad for another. Preparations for the tours to follow and the World Cup too. Micro-management in the midst of the macro issues is ridiculous. Indian cricket needs to worry about where it is at the moment, and not about which county players might suddenly acclimatise themselves to their playing conditions.