Delhi cricket and Gautam Gambhir are no strangers to controversy. Just when everybody thought that cricket in the capital was back on track post the elections per the Justice R.M. Lodha reforms, controversy erupted again, this time just days ahead of the first match of the domestic season—the Vijay Hazare Trophy. The Virender Sehwag-led three-member cricket committee (CC) resigned, thus ending its short tenure abruptly. The latest controversy puts the spotlight on Delhi skipper Gautam Gambhir and his obvious conflict of interest, as well as tests recently-elected DDCA president Rajat Sharma's management of cricket activities.
The question is—has Gambhir crossed his brief, since the support staff's appointment has been the responsibility of the CC? Also, with the manner in which the tenure of the high-profile CC—which also has former cricketers Aakash Chopra and Rahul Sanghvi apart from Sehwag—has ended abruptly, it remains to be seen how Delhi—Ranji Trophy runners-up last season—will endure a tumultuous and long domestic season.
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“This is the most undesirable situation. Just when we thought that the first challenge of holding free and fair elections went right and that the elected people were taking right decisions, this happens. The captain (Gautam Gambhir) is going well beyond his brief,” former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi said.
Said Madan Lal, former India player and coach, “It's sad. The season is about to start... this is mismanagement.” Madan Lal was also chairman of the previous Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) appointed by Justice Vikramjit Sen, High Court-appointed administrator for Delhi cricket. “There was absolutely no interference from anyone. The CC was allowed to do its work transparently and smoothly last year,” he said.
The current controversy is indicative of the politics that is going on in the DDCA despite the elections. There are talks that “pulls and pressures” of certain individuals who backed Sharma in the DDCA elections but felt sidelined once he took charge are responsible for the situation. Interestingly, Gambhir, too, had publicly supported Sharma in the prelude to the DDCA elections.
The cricket committee set up by the newly elected president Sharma resigned after procrastinating for days over coaching staff appointments.
The key issue has been the appointment of former India all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar as the bowling coach of Delhi. The CC had shortlisted Prabhakar's name after the interview, but recommendation was kept pending. They were informed that Gambhir did not, reportedly, want Prabhakar as the bowling coach. The southpaw even tweeted, “It’s being said my protest against Manoj Prabhakar’s appointment as Delhi bowling coach has led to DDCA Cricket Committee’s resignation. Yes, I’ve always adopted zero tolerance when it comes to cricketers alleged of corruption but the real reason for their resignation as told to me by Powers that be was that post adoption of Lodha reforms on September 20th Cricket Committee will be disbanded. Just thought of clarifying....”
The DDCA is set to hold its SGM on September 20, adopting and ratifying the new constitution in line with that of the BCCI as per the Supreme Court order.
However, questions are being raised on Gambhir's “stubborn” attitude.
Prabhakar was the bowling coach of the Delhi team when it last won the Ranji Trophy in 2007-08 under Gambhir's captaincy. Last season, too, Prabhakar was Delhi's bowling coach, but no questions were raised over his appointment then by Gambhir or any other player. In fact, the cricket committee consulted senior players, especially bowlers including Ishant Sharma, who gave a positive feedback on Prabhakar's contribution in the bowling department. So, Sehwag and his committee recommended Prabhakar's name.
As for his alleged “tainted past” which Gambhir is raising objections to now, Prabhakar has already served a ban post the match-fixing allegations and is back in the cricket fold. He has been coaching domestic and international teams for many years now. He has coached not only Delhi in the past, but also Uttar Pradesh and international teams like Afghanistan.
Interestingly, Gambhir had also turned down the offer of captaincy last season but appears to have been convinced to take it up this season.
Meanwhile, In a statement, DDCA president Sharma said, “I have the tremendous satisfaction at the work done by Sehwag, Sanghvi and Chopra and the rock solid support that we at DDCA received from the Cricket Committee. As a committee, they have completed the tasks assigned to them with utmost fairness, transparency and professionalism. This parting of ways was inevitable since we are in the process of adopting a new Constitution as ordained by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and, in terms of that, all three would have come under the Conflict of Interest clause.”
There is, however, a contradiction in Sharma's stand. The DDCA elections were conducted and appointments thereafter were done as per the Justice Lodha reforms. The clash of interest issue of the three CC members was present then, too. Gambhir, too, had a conflict of interest issue as the government nominee to the DDCA appointed by the sports ministry. His presence in the cricket committee meetings, interviews for post of selectors and coaches was frowned upon by Sehwag's committee. The appointment, in itself, was a blatant violation of the Lodha Reforms accepted by the Supreme Court vide its various orders. How can a current player be present in interviews to select coaches and selectors? Sharma and his aides, reportedly, “tried persuading” Gambhir but failed to convince him.
Meanwhile, it has been reliably learnt that Gambhir will resign as the government nominee on September 20, post the DDCA SGM to adopt Lodha reforms.
The CC had sat down and thrashed out an exhaustive forward going plan for Delhi cricket and was frustrated over the delay in the announcement of support staff and coaches for the senior Delhi team. First, the DDCA announced coaches for all teams but the senior team. Finally, Mithun Manhas, whom the CC recommended, was appointed.
In fact, the CC had even advised the senior selectors not to pick Gambhir as skipper but due to non-availability of Rishabh Pant and Dhruv Shorey, the selectors had to fall back on Gambhir as Delhi skipper. Unnmukt Chand was an option but the selectors, reportedly, were unsure about his personal form.