Will the players’ association work? The unluckiest dismissal in cricket is a batsman getting run out without facing a ball, at the non-striker’s end while backing up.
The new BCCI-approved Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA) is doomed to suffer a similar fate. A player association was a long-felt need in India but what we get is a body unrepresentative in nature and hopelessly inadequate in scope. Sadly, it is no better than the dinner party where half the guests are declined food and the rest served only starters, not the main course.
The ICA does not represent all players, only those who have retired. And even here, there is a catch because ‘conditions apply’. Players must satisfy eligibility conditions and apply for membership, which raises the question: Would Kapil Dev, who heads ICA, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar actually fill a form to seek membership?
A bigger problem is that current players are excluded, a decision FICA (the global body of players recognised by ICC) finds disappointing because ‘collective representation’ is the standard practice across cricketing countries. By keeping out 1000-odd current players from 37 Ranji teams, the key stakeholders of Indian cricket, the new body starts on the wrong foot.
More telling is ICA’s scope, restricted only to ‘conserve and advance the welfare of players’. This is odd considering that BCCI already has a comprehensive policy to look after retired players, which includes medical insurance, grants in emergencies and a monthly pension scheme.
The new constitution empowers BCCI to initiate widespread welfare measures for cricketers, their spouses and children, also to others who ‘served’ cricket, their spouses and children. BCCI can fund benevolent schemes, donate to charities and award sponsorships to sportspersons in other disciplines.
Given these powers, there is little scope for ICA to ‘advance welfare’ but if they so choose, finding money will be a challenge. BCCI will get ICA rolling but the notification announcing its birth contains a killer footnote: Going forward it must raise its own resources.
The Lodha reforms placed players centre stage in cricket administration, encouraging them to contribute their expertise on technical matters. Players have been awarded two seats, based on elections through the player association, in the decision making Apex Council—in the Board and state level.
If the spirit of reform was to mainstream players into governance, the proposed association comes up short. Why should cricketers, past and present, not give inputs on the game and on what impacts them? Who better to decide matters related to scheduling, playing conditions, workload management, pitches, umpiring? That said the formation of a player association, however handicapped, is a step forward, the door opening a crack to admit cricketers into administrative roles through a transparent election process. Successive cricket administrators fiercely protected their turf and kept players away from the BCCI top table. They thought players in the board room were too hot to handle, men of stature and understanding are less elastic in principles and tend to display an independence of thought that disrupts peaceful teamwork. Yet, while players and officials remained in their corners, one unwritten rule was always respected—players should be allies, never allowed to become opponents.
Over the years, this formula was win-win for both, and neither needed a collective body to mediate. Officials kept a hot line to top stars without the presence of a player trade union. This worked satisfactorily as they owned the remote and prevented potential conflicts with powerful players, which would be a public relations disaster. Cricket superstars too were happy because this convenient dispute resolution mechanism ensured they only had to make a call to get what they wanted.
India was the last country to accept T20, last to contract its players, and only Pakistan is behind in setting up a player association. ICA, minus current players and a voice in cricket matters, is a crumb to those desiring a stronger say. But it is a useful placement agency for a select few who will get elected to office.