Mumbai: The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to sack BCCI president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke for not complying with the Justice R M Lodha committee recommendations was a bombshell, no less.
It’s not that cricket, otherwise seen as a staid and stable sport, has not seen upheavals. In the past, cricket Boards in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have been dissolved and senior officials summarily cast aside.
But for this to happen to the BCCI, the richest and most powerful, seemed unthinkable. In hindsight, though, not entirely unexpected considering the trajectory this case had taken over the past couple of years.
After the July 18, 2016 deadline had lapsed -- and with the Supreme Court unwilling to buy the arguments of the BCCI -- the Lodha recommendations had become an order from which there was virtually no escape.
Any reconsiderations post the July 18 order would have been construed as backtracking by the Supreme Court, and opened the demand for `negotiations’ in sundry other cases, which would have diluted the standing of the apex court.
As it transpired, the hearings in the Supreme court post July 18 – though the BCCI was represented by a battery of topnotch lawyers -- were actually an exercise in futility: the status reports that Lodha panel submitted didn’t imply any change in the order.
However the recalcitrant approach, particularly of BCCI president Anurag Thakur, had started to rub Justice Lodha the wrong way. Also secretary Ajay Shirke – among those early - vehemently opposed to former president N Srinivasan, was now toeing the party line.
In hindsight Thakur, Shirke and those opposed to the reforms (which constituted the vast majority of BCCI officials) would perhaps regret not having taking a more proactive and conciliatory approach when this was possible.
The BCCI’s position was that all reforms were impossible to implement in toto. Essentially, the objections were on the age cap (70 years), cooling off period between successive terms in office (three years), the appointment of a CAG official to the BCCI and each state being allowed only one vote.
But these compunctions – some not unjustified - could have been debated amicably rather than taking a stand-offish position, believing that Lodha committee would wilt in the face of the BCCI presenting a united front, and that it was protected legally by virtue of being a private society.
Now that the die has been cast, what next?
As it stands, the BCCI’s seniormost vice-president becomes acting president and the joint secretary takes on the secretary’s functions till January 19 when the two senior counsels appointed by the Supreme Court, Fali Nariman and Gopal Subramaniam, appoint an interim Board till the next elections.
But will state associations who had taken a confrontational position earlier now toe the line? Reports are mixed. Some officials have said they have no choice in the matter, some are still talking of filing a curative petition to challenge the order.
For instance, the first ODI against England is at Pune on January 15. Will the Maharashtra Cricket Association be obliging or diffident to the administrative demands necessary for the successful conduct of the match?
Apart from international fixtures, there is the ongoing home season too, including the high profile Indian Premier League. Apart from conducting the IPL, its broadcast rights – a multi-million dollar affair – have to be auctioned. This has to be controversy free.
Players are also focused on their careers, livelihood, and the fame and glory they earn for themselves, team and country. Upheavals in administration usually don’t matter, unless this process is prolonged.
Indian cricket is robust and rich – and not just in commercial terms. The sport is deep-rooted in the Indian psyche, and has its footprints across the length and breadth of the country. The BCCI must get credit for this, though it has lost out hopelessly in the perception game.
The edifice is not going to crumble because of the Supreme Court’s verdict. But surely there is a need for normalcy to be resumed to ward off uncertainty, which if prolonged, can become a latent threat.
That’s why the transition has to be swift, but also done astutely and with dexterity.