Too rich even for MI?

Didn’t take long for the prediction made yesterday, with ref the Eden Gardens losing out on its marquee WC match, to come true now did it? Kolkata was waiting to happen; a couple of Sri Lankan venues, and the Wankhede in Bombay, got away by the skin of their collective teeth or this fiasco could have been much worse.

The real WTF element to this was provided by the BCCI president. In the past, I’ve lamented that Shashank Manohar has little or nothing to say for himself or for the organization he heads, leaving all the talking — and doing — to his successor in waiting N Srinivasan. Judging by Manohar’s latest attempt at articulating a position, I’ll withdraw that crib — it is far better for all of us if he just kept his mouth shut. Here’s his latest sally:

BCCI president Shashank Manohar has said that the Indian board cannot be blamed for the events that led to the shifting of the World Cup match between India and England at Eden Gardens. The responsibility for organising the World Cup, Manohar said, lay with the ICC. “According to me this (World Cup) is an ICC event,” Manohar told ESPNcricinfo. “The venues were selected by ICC. The inspection was made by ICC. The board [BCCI] was not at all involved in this.”

Well, duh! You mean the responsibility for constructing/renovating stadia, among other things, was that of the ICC? In other words, the BCCI had given up its control of the various venues to the global body, and they were the ones contracting for the work to be done?

The excuse is laughable. And what is more, it underlines how the BCCI functions. That stadia were not ready to meet deadlines has been an open secret for weeks now; sections of the media have constantly highlighted that, occasionally with telling images. And what was the BCCI response to that?

With 25 days to go for the 2011 World Cup, Ratnakar Shetty, the tournament’s director, has dismissed concerns about the preparedness of venues for the event.

There had been worries over the redevelopment of grounds in India and Sri Lanka, which had overshot their initial deadlines on November 30 and December 31, but Shetty said they were now on track.

I think the concerns are more in the media than anything else,” Shetty said following the ICC’s inspection on Monday of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, one of the grounds that was running behind schedule. “As far as we are concerned, all the 13 venues which are going to stage the World Cup are coming up very well and we don’t see any reason of concern.”

Ostrich, sand. So why blame the ICC now? The BCCI stuck its head deep in the sand, refused to acknowledge the problem let alone do anything about it, and now that it got bitten in the arse, its best response is to come up with a typically self-serving statement that only makes matters worse.

Oh, and who said that about the readiness of the grounds being a media concern? Professor Ratnakar Shetty — who, among other things, is “tournament director” for the WC2011. If the ICC is organizing the tournament, why is a BCCI official the designated tournament director? Incidentally, even when Shetty was calling it a “media concern”, he knew — or as tournament director, should have known if he had bothered to read the papers streaming across his desk — what precisely the problem with the Eden was. Here’s a story in the Telegraph that elaborates.

Stand by now for the next fiasco — the wickets. No one from the BCCI has thus far bothered to examine their state of readiness; pitches are being prepared by local bodies with no central guidelines; some have been dug up and relaid, but not tested; others have been patched over. And it is all going to come to the boil when the competition begins. At which time, Manohar can of course shrug and say none of this is the BCCI’s business.

He is right, in a way — the BCCI’s “business” is just that — business. Vide the latest load of excreta to hit the IPL fan.

After the auction earlier this month, I had in two posts pointed to many vagaries in how the auction was run (Apres the Auction, and The WTF Sequel). In another related post at the same time, there was this passage:

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.

At the time, some friends in the comments section had questioned whether I had definite information that this part of the auction was rigged. So here you go — Mumbai Indians has now formally protested that very act (Ironic that it is MI now protesting abrupt last minute changes in rules — they weren’t shy of doing just that very thing, as for instance when the franchise rammed in the player retention clause over the objections of other franchises). Excerpt:

In a two-page letter (a copy of which is available with ESPNcricinfo), Mumbai referred specifically to the clause in the ‘Player Auction Briefing’ dated December 17, 2010, which stated that the auction of player sets would occur in random order. But on the eve of the auction (held on January 8 and 9), two hours before the final auction briefing, the franchises were sent an email containing an amendment which stated that the random order would be replaced by pre-decided ‘order of the auction list’.

The clause was in paragraph 18 of the original Player Auction Briefing, which read: “Players in the auction would be divided into ‘sets’. The initial sets would comprise marquee players. Subsequent sets would each comprise players with the same specialism (batsmen, bowlers, allrounders, wicketkeepers). The order of these subsequent sets would be determined by random draw that will take place in the auction room.”

According to Nikhil Meswani of Indiawin Sports Private Ltd (parent company of Mumbai), who signed the letter, there was a sudden and unexplained change made to the above clause the day before the auction. “The final sentence of paragraph 18 is to be deleted. The sets will be presented to the auction in the order of the auction list.” Meswani noted that this was a “fundamental change” to the auction process.

In other words, “someone”, at the very last minute, decided the order in which players would come up for auction. That same “someone” then sat in on the auction. Thus, he had inside knowledge of which player would come up on the block when, and could thus help his franchise fine-tune its strategy while the others stumbled around in the resulting haze.

Now what? Err… nothing. The BCCI — or more accurately, its president in waiting — models his modus operandi on the Sphinx. Or PV Narasimha Rao, if you prefer a relatively recent example. You can question, you can shout yourself hoarse — but the body, and the man now running it de facto, will gaze back, impassive, knowing that after a while the heat and dust will die down, and everyone will accept the fait accompli.

Does MI seriously think something is going to come of the letter it has sent to the BCCI, assiduously forwarding copies to anyone with a publishing platform? MI, do note: when you arbitrarily got the rules rewritten to avoid the situation of Sachin Tendulkar going into the auction pool, the other franchises had written similar letters of protest.

Nothing came of those. Nothing will come of yours.

PS: Since MI has discovered the concept of “fair play” in a moment of stunning epiphany, will the franchise answer a question? The salary cap fixed is $9 million dollars. The idea is to prevent one franchise from using its money power to tilt the playing field unfairly. MI, along with all other franchises, signed on to that. So here’s the question: Are you paying Sachin Tendulkar the on-record sum of $1.8 million to retain his services? Really? After an auction process where far lesser players went for much larger sums? Will MI — since the auction, and wages being paid to players is supposed to be a matter of public record — reveal how much they are actually paying Sachin? And is it true that sum is close to half the total cap?

PPS: If you are looking for laughs, try this early reaction to the Eden Gardens fiasco:

India, the powerhouse of modern cricket, became the game’s laughing stock yesterday. Only 21 days before the start of the Cricket World Cup, the match between India and England in Kolkata was called off because the Eden Gardens stadium is unfit.

Tournament directors were last night searching desperately for an alternative venue for the match on 27 February. But though a ground will surely be found, the clear lack of readiness was a severe embarrassment for the organisers and, with only three weeks to go before the start, casts doubt on the country’s ability to stage a major sporting event for the 21st century.

More than 100,000 people had been expected to attend the game, which hardly needed any promotion – the new power in the game against the old and, at its most basic, the once ruled against the once ruler at the seat of its old power. It was a hugely anticipated match and its cancellation may yet have repercussions for the whole competition.

Four other scheduled venues – three in Sri Lanka and the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai where the final is scheduled for 2 April – are still not ready. The International Cricket Council has given them another 14 days to be complete and, although the work left is said to be no more than a lick of paint, nothing is now certain after the fiasco at the Gardens.

“Searching desperately” for a venue, Mr Brenkley? In India? Really?

And what’s with that glorious riff about the empire, and the clash of the old and the new in para three, culminating in the ominous warning that the “cancellation” could have repercussions on the whole competition? Isn’t it time England, as represented by its often infantile media, got over the Raj hangover? No one cancelled the game, you silly little schoolgirl — all that has happened is there will be a change in venue. Sheesh!

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