India September 16; Sometime over the next couple of days Haroon Lorgat, the Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive, and Sanjay Patel, the BCCI secretary, will meet in Dubai on the sidelines of the ICC chief executives’ conference. For a meeting that exists almost under the radar – there is no publicised date or time or even agenda – it has immense significance for cricket, not merely in South Africa and India, but potentially the global cricket community.
At stake is India’s tour of South Africa, scheduled for the end of this year; it is the headline series in CSA’s calendar, worth approximately $15 million to the board. There is one catch: India’s tour may not take place at all – or may do so in such a curtailed manner as to be almost meaningless.
In Dubai, Lorgat will attempt to convince Patel that the tour should go ahead. If he succeeds – and he will need a potent game-changer to do so – it will count as one of his biggest successes as administrator; if he doesn’t, and the tour is called off, it might undermine his own position at CSA.
There are no clear reasons why India’s historically close relations with South Africa went belly-up in a matter of months to the point where not only is this tour under threat but also CSA’s stake in the lucrative Champions League T20. However, there are several well-known irritants that have been at play – an errant tour schedule, a letter of reference, elements of the BCCI’s own internal politics – and, unfairly or otherwise, most have to do with Lorgat’s appointment as CSA chief executive. This is also a story of staggering naiveté on the part of CSA in antagonising an old but prickly friend – and of similarly staggering arrogance on the part of the BCCI in indulging in what can only be called bullying, without much care for the conventions and niceties of the cricket world.
The BCCI’s view on Lorgat is well known and its concerns over him being appointed chief executive have been admitted to on record by CSA – an amazing display of realpolitik given it was purely a matter for CSA to decide on. The antipathy goes back to Lorgat’s time as chief executive of the ICC, when he backed the DRS and commissioned the Woolf Governance Review Commission, both of which India was opposed to in sum or in part. The BCCI viewed Lorgat as a provocateur; the opposite view was that Lorgat angered the BCCI simply by not toeing their line.
Cut to the 2011 World Cup, when India were one of the co-hosts, and the two flashpoints it threw up. One involved the ICC’s attempts to secure tax exemptions – worth around $10 million – from the Indian government. The tax authorities had sought a set of documents from the ICC, and marked a copy of the letter to the BCCI. Srinivasan, who was then the BCCI secretary and India’s representative in the ICC chief executives’ committee, offered to pass on the relevant documents from the ICC to the tax authorities but Lorgat is believed to have refused to hand over the documents to him. They were later handed over by Campbell Jamieson, ICC’s general manager (commercial) and the tax exemption was duly granted – but at a price Lorgat would not have reckoned with.
The other, more public, issue was the decision to remove the India-England match from Eden Gardens, as it was deemed unfit for the purpose, a month before it was to have been played. The man in charge of Eden Gardens, Jagmohan Dalmiya, suffered public humiliation. At the time he was on the fringes of BCCI politics; he is now the board’s acting president.
Lorgat stepped down from his ICC post last year but the BCCI hadn’t forgotten him; at an ICC board meeting in January, Srinivasan raised a point on ethics. “Mr Srinivasan requested that certain matters which relate to the former chief executive, Mr Lorgat, be investigated by the Ethics Officer.” It was one sentence and lacked specifics but, placed as a matter of record in the minutes, illustrated that the battles were not over.
This was the backdrop when CSA began, early in 2013, their search for a chief executive. Lorgat was one of 200 applicants but by March he was shortlisted with three others. His CV was clearly the most impressive – apart from his four-year ICC stint, he had been involved with South African cricket in the past, as convenor of selectors and had more recently done consultancy work with the boards of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Yet CSA were obviously aware of the implications, vis-à-vis the BCCI, of appointing Lorgat and flew a high-level delegation, including its lead independent director Norman Arendse, to India in March to assess the mood. On his return Arendse revealed what the BCCI had told him. “They raised their concerns about Haroon Lorgat,” he said with unprecedented candour. “They conveyed to us, with a fair amount of detail, why they would be opposed to his appointment.”
There was no apparent threat to the tour yet but the net effect was a delay in the appointment process. The new chief executive was to have been in place by April; that became May, then June and July. It was clear that CSA had identified their best candidate but were wary of the reaction of their biggest partner. Relations were still friendly but the threat of rift and ruction was implicit.
Two things happened at this point to precipitate matters. On July 8, CSA announced the schedule for India’s year-end tour – a series comprising three Tests, seven ODIs and two Twenty20s, apart from three warm-up games, and stretching from mid-November to mid-January. It was a schedule to thrill any cricket board hosting India, given the expected revenues from TV and ticket sales. There was one hitch: it seemed CSA had announced the schedule without the BCCI’s approval.
The very next day the BCCI went public with its annoyance and the first serious doubts surrounding the tour were raised. However, the issue still seemed to be one of logistics – the BCCI wanted a shorter gap between two of the Tests, and perhaps two fewer ODIs – and the public stand was that an amicable settlement was being worked out. The tour still hung in balance because the FTP, the grid of all international fixtures, has not been signed by the BCCI, leaving all proposed tours essentially a matter of bilateral understanding.
Haroon Lorgat and IS Bindra at the ICC Executive Board meeting in Dubai, Dubai, April 15, 2012
The letter Haroon Lorgat received from his former ICC colleague IS Bindra upset the BCCI © Getty Images
It is not clear what happened with the schedule – did CSA not take the BCCI on board? Suicidal, given the BCCI’s method of working. Was it a matter of BCCI politics? Possible, with the board’s leadership in disarray following the IPL corruption cases. Yet that scheduling glitch was overshadowed by the next bombshell.
In mid-July, with CSA yet to name its chief, it emerged that Lorgat had obtained a letter of reference from IS Bindra, a former BCCI president. Both men had worked together at the ICC when Lorgat was the chief executive and Bindra served as the principal advisor to Sharad Pawar, then the ICC president. Bindra typed out the letter on his own letterhead, marked it ‘To Whomsoever It May Concern’ and emailed it to Lorgat.
Bindra, the president of the Punjab Cricket Association but a waning force in BCCI politics, had long been critical of Srinivasan and his running of the board. In fact in June he had written to ICC Board members to “disallow Srinivasan from attending any ICC meeting” until the enquiry against his son-in-law’s alleged involvement in the IPL spot-fixing scandal was complete – an act for which he may yet face disciplinary proceedings. Bindra was persona non grata in the BCCI – a letter of recommendation from him was a red rag to an already annoyed BCCI.
It’s not clear what CSA made of the letter. Were they unaware of Bindra’s status in the BCCI? A brief background check would have told them the reality. Did they believe – or were they led to believe – that there would be a power shift and Srinivasan would exit the stage, possibly bringing in someone more sympathetic, or less hostile, to Lorgat? It is understood that when South Africa expressed doubts, they were assured of a change in regime within the BCCI with the elections due to be held on September 29. “Once we come to power, we’ll sort things out,” a BCCI member is said to have told them. There were a lot of assumptions involved here: that Pawar would contest the BCCI elections, that he would win, and that he would listen to Bindra if he did win.
On July 20, within days of that letter being written, Lorgat was appointed CSA’s new chief executive.
Even while unveiling Lorgat at the Wanderers, CSA president Chris Nenzani acknowledged the controversy but sounded confident that the upcoming tour, and the relationship between the two boards, would not be affected. Within days, though, the rumblings had started: the issue of Lorgat’s appointment, and BCCI’s reservations over it, was raised at a Champions League T20 meeting in London. There were also hints dropped that CSA would lose their stake in the tournament.
There was calm on the surface through August. India sent a strong A side to South Africa for a series of limited-overs and three-day matches, aimed at giving its less experienced players a feel of the conditions before the senior tour later in the year. Cricket fans believed the tour was on – so did South Africa’s franchises, whose commercial and ticketing deals are blocked months beforehand.
On September 1, though, the BCCI dropped its own bombshell, announcing a home series against West Indies in November – a move that would effectively cut out or severely curtail the South Africa tour. Srinivasan said the SA tour was “definitely on” but added, darkly, “There were neither any discussions on the South Africa series, nor did any members raise any questions on it.”
Events moved swiftly. On September 2, the dates were announced for India’s tour of New Zealand – the first match of the tour would be played on January 19, the last day of the third Test in South Africa under the existing schedule. Two days later came the dates for the West Indies series – October 31 to November 27. As if that wasn’t bad enough for South Africa, there was credible information over the past week of India staging a tri-series in December along with Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It was meant to be a back-up plan in case the South Africa tour fell through but it could well be the opposite.
Lorgat meets Patel with plenty at stake; India hold the aces, and have a plan B to fill their winter calendar. South Africa’s only alternatives for Christmas and New Year are Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. India are the winners for the moment but the real loser could be cricket. By so brazenly flouting the conventions that underpin the sport, and asserting its unquestioned financial power when things don’t go its way, the BCCI has set an unhealthy precedent that go against the cricket’s very nature.