Sunday, April 08, 2007

Every breath you take

(Op-ed in the Hindustan Times, Mumbai edition, Friday the 13th. A benediction on the Hale Queen Rose and the Token!)

India’s patron saint? Kafka. Or maybe Arthur Dent.

I’d go with Dent. Or perhaps Murphy with his Law.

Every day, working for the government (please do NOT point out the oxymoron, it’s been done) seems a sane option. My employers have framed rules governing my service. They’ve set up independent adjudicating bodies to decide disputes within that framework. Outside my professional commitments, they pretty much let me do my own thing. Blogging? Who cares? (What’s a blog anyway?) Getting published in the press? There’s even a rule that says, pretty much, “we don’t give a big rat’s ass”. Partying five nights a week? They don’t own my booty once it’s out the office door, I can shake it where I like. They’ll even pay me a pension if I stick around for another couple of years. (They don’t pay me much, but then one can’t have everything)

Now if I played cricket for India – correction, if I played cricket for the BCCI, where would I be? No fixed salary, I’d be paid on a project basis. No assured income, my livelihood is linked to my performance. If I’m not good enough to be selected for the Bangladesh tour, I don’t get paid for those two months. Mind you, it wouldn’t be enough to be good at what I do. I’d have to make sure that there’s nobody better than me. So the performance parameters aren’t fixed, they’re floating.

So far, it makes some kind of sense. The Board is paying for the best, they’re recruiting/deploying on a case-to-case, best-available basis. Like insurance salesmen getting the annual bonus, sport is about competition.

Move on now. Who decides what is good enough? The selectors. Are they qualified to judge me? Have they been through the same grind? Well, the Board is getting there. Vengsarkar’s credentials can’t be questioned, Venkatapathy “Muscles” Raju has played enough international cricket. But Sanjay Jagdale? Bhupinder Singh Sr.? And Ranjib gerswoggling Biswal? Check out their records, please. In first-class cricket, these last three have between them 5602 runs and 398 wickets in 155 matches. Their international record is 6 runs and 3 wickets (Bhupinder Paaji) in 2 matches in Sharjah in April 1994. To put that in perspective, Irfan Pathan, who is not good enough to be in the current side, has 1841 runs and 206 wickets from 98 international matches alone; his first-class tally would mean a further 1812 runs and 209 wickets from another 64 matches. A jury of my peers? Give me a break!

So the Board has woken up and decided to appoint professional selectors on the basis of qualifications, pay them and send them round India to scout talent. Like pro sport in the USA. Good show. Except that the Board itself is not the most professional or transparent body around. The selectors could end up toeing the party line. For the time being, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But limiting the number of sponsorships? Come off it! Where does the Board make its money? Television. Where do the sponsors show off their contracted players? Television. So what is the Board saying, in effect? That THEY can make money from television but their indentured slaves cannot. Is that fair? I think not.

Do the players tell the Board to improve playing conditions? Presumably not. They’re labour, not management, and they don’t have an effective union to put pressure on the top brass. Does the public make a big fuss about stadia with no shade, no drinking water, no loos and broken seats? Hardly. At best, they stay away from the matches and watch them on television instead.

What does the public want to see? Not cricket per se, but India winning at cricket. What pays for their entertainment? The ads. What drives the ads? India winning. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The players are big boys and realize that their market value depends on winning. So why should the players be deprived of their cut of the take? Search me. If a player does not perform, his sponsorships will dry up. Therefore, for his own good, he has to perform. What business is it of the Board’s whether he has three sponsorships or thirty? Is it because the Board has not developed enough bench strength to find another set of players if the present bunch does not perform? Ha!

The average player has an effective international career of about 5 years. Sachin’s 18 years at the top level so far, or Kapil Dev’s (not THIS guy’s) 16-year career, are aberrations. What happens to a player after he’s dropped for the last time? If he’s lucky, he gets a benefit match. How much he takes away from that match is a matter of luck and conjecture. The Board’s accounts are still in a mess and they don’t like to be held accountable. Thereafter, if the player is reasonably articulate – or like Srikkanth or Sidhu, suffers from terminal logorrhaea – he gets another lease as a motormouth on television. (See? Television again) The Board does not give him a pension. The Board does not have a rehab scheme for the player to pick up other skills.

So why should the Board come in the way of players making some money while they still can? If Dhoni or Kaif or Rahul want to put away a nest egg, is it right for the Board to stand in their way?

The players should be judged on performance. Perhaps even on fitness levels. Not on whether they make money because they look good in ads (or not – “Palmolive ­da jawaab nahin­­” became a national catch-phrase, but what about Rapidex English-speaking courses?) You know, this entire issue seems to be fuelled more by envy than by rationality – “do you know how much Yuvraj makes from those ads?!”. Doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a juvenile and short-sighted attitude. It could even be counter-productive – the lure of sponsorships could drive players to perform, taking away the contracts certainly doesn’t add to their motivation.

The Board makes money from television, leverages the demand in the market. Sometimes it even uses government arm-twisting to make extra money, as in the recent row over the telecast rights. Now it wants to limit the players’ entry to the same market. I think it’s not fair. It goes against the principles of the free market. Who’s going to stand up to them? Not the players, but perhaps the sponsors will. In one sense, they are the paymasters. More power to them, I say (though Shah Rukh Khan may not agree). What do YOU say?


babelfish said...

I loved what Kumble said before he retired; "Cricket is just a sport. When you play and win or lose, you feel cricket is more than a sport. But when you come back home and see your family and kids, you feel cricket is just a sport"

I think this whole attitude stopping endorsements is mind bogglingly petty. The board just wants to deflect public attention from its own shortcomings.

I also think politics in the workplace sucks. For the players, this is their workplace and the board is nothing if not a political body. And if you ask me it's high time the players had a union of their own. Dammit if the players refused to play where would the board be?

Tabula Rasa said...

bang on.

another angle -- can they enforce a limit of 3 endorsements on current contracts? wouldn't that cause players having more than three contracts to breach a bunch of them?

Kaushik said...

The BCCI earns millions. I could not find an account of what they spend and how they do it. A few months back Deccan Chronicle suggested that less than 2% of their earnings is spent on 'developing cricket' whatever that means. Can the viewing public call the BCCI to account for the moolah it makes?

Sfx said...

I'll tell you who'll stand up to them ...(altho given the nexus its more like along with them)

Netaji Subhash Chandra.

Sfx said...

Now when I read what I posted , it sounds like I mean that Subhash Chandra WILL stand up to them. On the contrary, I think there's room being made for a parallel universe (or circus if you will)

Vivek Kumar said...

There’s even a rule that says, pretty much, “we don’t give a big rat’s ass”

And which rule would this be? CCS Rules seem to indicate otherwise!

Rimi said...

Why wouldn't Shahrukh Khan agree?



The BCCI wants to please people like the para-r Poltu-dada: " Eder taka kete dao, sob byate theek hoye jaabe" ...simple as that.

Nice post.

snickersnee said...

I too, think it more than borders on the ridiculous.

And the budget hotel, RRR in Mysore. Still there. Strong as a pillar.
Give it another 25 years before the CCD cult brings it down.
Maybe more.

What about NUJS?

Priya said...

With Mandira for an Extraaa Innings, next?

Anonymous said...

Could you please post the link to your article in HT?

Aunty Marianne said...

Now you see, this is why I would rather come to India than Jamaica. You're still mad about cricket, but I much prefer bangra to reggae.