N Srinivasan: The cat in the hats

I didn’t watch the IPL auctions this weekend. Not because, like a long-lost friend I bumped into by accident, I have some deep-seated philosophical objections to “players being sold like cattle” — what the hell, players have for the longest time been treated like cattle, driven from fair to fair to be put on display whenever the masters choose, so what’s the issue with their being “sold like cattle”?

My reason for not watching was more basic — I find the whole damn exercise boring. For all the noise TV anchors or post-facto analysts make, there seems little in the way of well-planned strategy and tactics; ergo, what could have been as compelling as 10 simultaneously chess games between grandmasters is… how to put this?… not as compelling as 10 simultaneous et cetera.

To cite one simple instance out of many — past IPLs have pretty conclusively proved that winning efforts are built on the back of a finely calibrated lineup of Indian players, with the foreigners providing that little bit extra. I’d thought the franchise focus this time would have been on this aspect, that their efforts would have been geared to lining up the best possible mix of domestic players it is possible to get (not that I have anything against foreign players — I’m all for their participation, but the fact of life franchises have to live with is that they can only field four of them in a playing XI). But no — ever single franchise seems to have focused on spending money on acquiring far more imports than they need, or can possibly use.

#My friend Sid Vaidyanathan (@sidvee on Twitter) recently wrote this lovely valedictory post about Anil Kumble. While reading it over the weekend, it occurred to me that another modern cricket great has — through fate, chance, circumstance — been deprived of the kind of send-off his accomplishments merit.

Effigies are already being burnt in Kolkata over the non-signing of Sourav Ganguly (I wonder if, much like the BJP’s anti-corruption drive that wasn’t, there is plans for the Kolkata fans to go to nine other venues and burn effigies there as well, since it is not only KKR (or KR, since the franchise has dropped Kolkata from its name), but nine other franchises that silent when the former India captain came up for auction.

Whatever you think of Sourav’s current form, fitness and other variables, he certainly did not merit that kind of humiliation. Franchises will pick players they believe can win them games (at least, that is the theory, though it is not borne out by some of the buys — for instance, how the hell KKR hopes to win games with a bowling lineup that reads Jacques Kallis (fitness queries), Brett Lee (who has played less cricket and more guitar in recent memory), L Balaji, supposedly worth $500,000, Jaidev Unadkat ($250,000) and James Pattinson ($100,000), with the part time spin of the elder Pathan, is anyone’s guess).

So yeah, franchises will want value for money, and maybe their coaches and talent scouts decided Sourav didn’t fit that bill. Makes you wish, though, that if none of the franchises were interested in him, that fact had been conveyed to him ahead of time, giving him the opportunity to seek an honorable way out rather than face public humiliation.

It occurs to me that Sourav must have got the exact opposite signal — else, there was no reason for him, in the week before the auction, to up his base price from $200,000 to $400,000. That was the act of a man confident he would be acquired, and that confidence had to have come from the signals he was getting from his own, or other, franchises. Against that, the stony-faced silence of the 10 franchise owners when his name was announced struck the sourest note of this auction cycle — and left a proud man needlessly humiliated.

I seriously hope Sourav will now go into commentary full time — his is a strong, opinionated voice that will come as antidote to the anodyne fare dished out by the Arun Lals and Sivaramakrishnans of this world. Did I mention Ravi Shastri?

#If the Sourav fiasco was the saddest moment of this auction cycle, the funniest moment happened off the auction floor itself — and it centered on the man most controversies seem to swirl around: N Srinivasan, secretary of the BCCI, president of the TNCA, president elect of the BCCI, member of the IPL governing council, co-owner of the Chennai Super Kings and who knows what else. (I sometimes wonder how he keeps track of all his various hats, and how he figures out which one he is wearing at any given point. Likely has a secretary just to keep it all straight).

The buzz is that franchise owners were seriously miffed over Srinivasan sitting in on the auction while it was in progress. Friends in some of the franchises pointed out, through SMS and calls, that this was just one hat too many, one conflict of interest too much to stomach.

First, they point out, he almost single-handedly rammed in the player retention clause when, besides CSK and Mumbai, all other franchises were against it. ‘If the IPL is democratically run, how come decisions are taken just because it suits one or two franchises?,’ one person closely connected with an under-rated franchise asked on phone. Further, Srinivasan set the norms for the auction, decided which player would go in which category, and when each name would come up for auction — which is just dandy since, as a team-owner, he could in advance plan the CSK strategy, then tailor the auction process to suit his team.

This is not the first time ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘N Srinivasan’ are being mentioned in the same sentence — in fact, considering that this was one of the biggest criticisms of Lalit Modi, it is surprising how similar concerns are not voiced more often against the man who is de facto running Indian cricket today (when last did you hear from Shashank Manohar about anything at all?).

What amused me was the official response to the question of conflict. Chirayu Amin — you can be excused for not knowing this because, like the best and most pliant of figureheads, he is neither seen nor heard, but Amin is de jure commissioner of the IPL — was apparently asked this question. His response is a modern classic of obfuscation:

“We want to maintain complete transparency as far as our communication with the franchise is concerned. They are all partners and there is not going to be an unfair advantage to anyone. Corporate governance is an issue where we are sitting and that is our basic premise. We want to deliver that. The best thing would be to ask the franchises if they are being unfairly treated or not. If they tell us we are open about it because we keep having a dialogue all the time.”

Wow! Notice how the man managed to use up 87 words to not answer the question?

83 thoughts on “N Srinivasan: The cat in the hats

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