Since November 2015, a retired judge in his late 60s has been in charge of supervising the conduct of high-profile matches at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla. As a "court-appointed observer" his term began with the Test against South Africa but it has continued to stretch. Four matches of the 2016 World T20s, the entire IPL, and an ODI between India and New Zealand in October 2016.
The Delhi High Court got involved after the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) ran into difficulties over getting civic clearances to host the Kotla Test versus South Africa, on account of, among other things, the failure to pay entertainment taxes for four years owing to the freezing of a bank account. The court sanctioned the clearances on the grounds that Justice Mukul Mudgal, a former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court, who headed the investigation into the 2013 IPL corruption scandal, and his team would oversee the conduct of the Test. Once that match left the hands of the DDCA's entrenched geezers, the court decided it could not let things return to the way they were.
Among India's traditional Test centres, the DDCA would easily be the worst run, tied with the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association (UPCA). Among the state associations in the major metros, the DDCA is Bad Egg No. 1. It is currently undergoing a court investigation into its "malpractices and irregularities". Justice Mudgal's first report after the conduct of the South Africa Test listed the DDCA's deficiencies as follows: "lack of transparency, poor record keeping, huge delays in bill payments, defunct sub-committees, mismanagement, rampant ad-hocism".
Under Team Mudgal, the DDCA actually made its first profit in decades out of hosting a Test match. The "court-observed" game was hosted smoothly, financial and ticketing processes were sorted, and more revenue earned than would otherwise have been. Of course, the justice system should have far more important matters to attend to than the hosting of cricket matches, but if the DDCA's modus operandi for its biggest games could be elevated from pond-scum practices into something approaching efficiency and transparency, it offers an indication that nothing is impossible.
Be that as it may, the DDCA's court-supervised smooth functioning is not what we hear about in public a week after the country's highest court brought a Kotla-sized load of bricks down on the BCCI's highest-ranking officials. Instead, we are told of the dystopian horrors that await Indian cricket without its board president, treasurer, two secretaries and five vice-presidents. Their indispensability, it is advertised, will be felt across several areas: meetings and matches will not be held, the BCCI's clout in the ICC will definitely be undermined, and as for IPL finances, doomsday is around the corner.
"The DDCA's case provides a counterpoint: a game-playing, back-scratching cavalcade of committees was replaced by a dozen officials working with Mudgal and his team, and the Kotla has not crumbled into ruin yet. What's more, its toilets might even be cleaner"
In the last week we have had a delayed selection meeting, whispers about England's first two practice matches on the ODI leg of their tour being nixed in some way or the other, and a wild and improbable tale about a former high-ranking BCCI official calling in a favour to a former high-ranking ECB official, asking him to have Eoin Morgan's team stay back.
Surely, whatever their current situation, these displaced men of cricket, fans of the game to the core at the start, would never contemplate sacrificing cricket itself for point-scoring against the court? Especially when stumps have been called on that particular timeless Test, which lasted an entire year and ended last week.
The delayed selection meeting was eventually held, England turned up and won their first practice match at the Brabourne Stadium on Tuesday night. The BCCI's CEO is suddenly the man in charge. But it is at the state associations that the leadership cull appears more severe, because the numbers involved are larger. It is where BCCI old-timers say the court will come across the biggest road blocks.
The state associations are the fundamental fabric of the BCCI, the power of each vote allowing for divergent structures and unaccountable actions. The court has ordered that the change at the BCCI must be replicated across the states as well. Now that almost the entire top brass of the BCCI's 28 member associations has been rendered ineligible, who could possibly take the place of, at rough count, about 150 officials? Are there enough capable hands to replace them? Surely technocrats can't handle cricket administration? How can the sport go on at various levels?
Answers to this can be attempted by putting out another query: how many people does it take to run a state cricket association? If you believe the disgruntled ex-officials, without members of their tribe at the top, no number is too large. There is through the DDCA's case, a counter-point: a game-playing, back-scratching cavalcade of committees was replaced by a dozen officials working with Mudgal and his team, who have been around for a year, and the Kotla has not crumbled into ruin yet. (What's more, its toilets might even be cleaner.)
In theory, Indian cricket associations should be able to work on operational autopilot after decades of service from their long-serving chiefs. If the associations were to fall apart in the absence of those long-serving men, it needs to be asked: how efficient is the leadership, if after all the years of service, things didn't function without them?
Ask around various state associations for the specific number of hands needed on deck in order for the ship to stay on course with an operations head, in the absence of elected officials. A few say six, others 12, and still others put it at about twice that number. Running a season, they say, is not a problem. The tasks across the associations remain the same. At its most skeletal, a cricket organisation needs a certain number of area heads to look after its functioning: accounts, logistics, procurement, technical (functions pertaining to cricket schedules, grounds, academies, umpiring, staging of matches), personnel, and if they are so bothered, media.
It is around big-match days that things will get a little more frenetic, as institutional hurdles emerge - over matters to do with permissions and licences, clearances needed and favours sought. For the DDCA during the IPL, for example, permissions must come from the police (for crowd control and security), the municipal corporation (for commercial branding and permission to play music), the electricity and fire departments (for safety), the excise department (to serve alcohol), traffic police, and disaster-management departments. Also from the Archaeological Survey of India, as the Kotla is next to a 600-year-old medieval fort. For smaller matches, clearances are obtained, and the police and three municipal bodies - the ones in charge of electricity, water, and sanitation - are handled through well-established means: the handing out of tickets. In the case of the police, large security fees are dealt with by making generous donations to police welfare funds, as is the norm all over India.
It is not that matches in India run like clockwork, but there is a history of them running reasonably smoothly. It is not that there is no sabotage by rivals - when floodlights suddenly fail, for instance, it need not always be bad maintenance or grid failure, and state associations are well used to being vigilant in these matters. It is not that elected officials have not played a huge role in setting up the most international-standard cricket grounds of any country across the world. Their contribution to cricket could continue, regardless of them being disqualified from holding elected office, if they were to seek to fill the full-time paid positions that will now open up in state associations around the country. They would, of course, need to give up their demanding high-pressure "main" careers to be hired as state-association CEOs. Running a state association may not be brain surgery, but it is a full-time job.
Old-time cricket officials - genuine cricket "enthusiasts", who do exist and grimace at that word today - worry about the kind of people now drawn into cricket management, attracted by the salaries, waving MBA degrees. Do these arrivistes treat cricket as one part of the wider world of business, or is business and commerce only a part of the wider world of cricket to them?
Now that the BCCI's officials over the decades have done a fine job of bringing in and raising the money, maybe this is what they are meant to do next. As true lovers of cricket, find the right balance between the technocrats and the puritans.