Several posts and articles have expressed several different concerns about the elevation of BCCI-employed commentator and India Cements employee L Sivaramakrishnan (Siva) to the ICC cricket committee as one of two player representatives. For a primer on what the cricket committee does, do check this out. Like most things that happen behind-the-scenes in the sport where one administration has a virtual monopoly, the details behind L Siva’s election are mysterious and fishy. Certain news reports have called out how Tim May was originally elected but a few captains were nudged by the BCCI to switch their votes while other reports like this tweet suggest this did not happen. A lot of the shenanigans surrounding this including the links above are captured in detail by The Cricket Couch in his expansive piece here.
While everything associated with this episode is unsavory and representative of the frustration (with the BCCI’s monopoly on world cricket and the rest of the ICC’s impotence) that a cricket fan constantly endures, I want to focus solely on Siva and his qualifications for this role. Even assuming everything with the process was fair and Siva is the representative chosen by a majority of active players to represent them on a world cricket committee, why Siva? The reasons behind his selection and their implications on future Indian cricket voices in the media are depressing.
Siva has been an employee of India Cements for over fifteen years and has thus established a close relationship with current BCCI president and owner of the Chennai Super Kings of the IPL – N Srinivasan. In most job and career situations you are only as good as your connections and for Siva, Mr. Srinivasan has proven to be a stellar connection. Being close to N Srinivasan and doing his bidding is one thing and is different from being close to N Srinivasan and doing what is good for Indian cricket.
Even if it is inevitable that an Indian cricketer will always be one of two player representatives, I imagine there are at least a 100 cricketers (active and retired) who would gladly play the role. What has Siva done or shown in his nearly three decades of being around the game that makes anyone think he will do a good job of representing cricketers? A lot of fans and journalists including Mr. Harsha Bhogle have said or tweeted that this is the way the free market works and those that are powerful like the BCCI is today trample upon the little ones. This is a theory that a lot of people find comfort in and are okay with. But what these people are missing is whether what is good for N Srinivasan is automatically good for Indian cricket?
I have watched and unfortunately listened to L Siva in his role as a commentator for the last 10 years. Siva was lucky to be thrust into commentating for the 2001 Challenger trophy in Chennai as one of the few English-speaking ex-cricketers available and has since survived and advanced into commentating for all forms of the game for over a decade. He has done this just like many Indian ex-cricketers who turned in to commentary do – By saying nothing remotely intelligent, critical or even predictive about Indian cricket or cricketers. Cricket commentary on television is an easy job to survive in once you are hired by/for the BCCI. Graphics, visuals and statistics keep the viewer engaged and educated. As long as you have 8’th grade education and can string together words that describe what the viewer just saw (grammar itself is not a criterion as Rameez Raja’s survival indicates), surviving as a commentator is easy. And that is exactly what Siva has done.
I think this point is key because a large part of Siva’s candidacy is based on the fact that he has been associated with the game for over 3 decades. But for the last decade his association is superficial and loose and not one of a friend or fan of the sport as much as one of obeisance to the corporate body that pays him to not say anything mildly critical. His allegiance to players supposedly comes from him having been one many years ago. His true allegiance since has been to the BCCI to say nothing while occupying one of the 5-6 unique bully pulpits available (as a broadcaster for when India plays matches). In my over 20 years of watching cricket, Siva has not said a single statement or made an observation that was profound, predictive, thoughtful or nuanced. Every piece of analysis from his driven by the outcome. A good ball becomes a bad ball if it goes for four and a bad ball becomes a good ball if it gets a wicket. His analysis is vanilla, devoid of even the minimum amount of insight you would expect from a journalist, ex-player or commentator (whichever hat you think he wears). He has also shown a lack of knowledge on the lbw rule which borders on the comical.
So while most people agree that world cricket is worse off with even more BCCI influence and recommendations than before this election, those who think the BCCI and Indian cricket are not necessarily better off because of this move. Siva is N Srinivasan’s paid hand at the ICC’s table now and is likely to do his master’s bidding devoid of thought or reason into whether it is good for the players he supposedly represents or the country he is from. If tomorrow, N Srinivasan has a recommendation on pitches, Siva will be doing his bidding for him. Even if that recommendation is deleterious to cricket, players and India in the long run, that is what he will likely do.
This and the silence of powerful Indian media voices on this are depressing. Many a cricketer will aspire to be a non-controversial media personality so as to have a chance for an escalation into various BCCI and ICC committees in the future. A game devoid of critical analysis by Indian voices on air will continue to stay so.
I hope to be completely wrong here and that Laxman Sivaramakrishnan will have the 4 deities in him wake up to the responsibilities he currently holds. Maybe, just maybe this elevation will incite the latent perspective and nuance in him that will make him a ferocious defender of all that is sacred to a majority of active international cricketers. Just maybe he will be the voice that finally brings balance and reason to the influence of Mr. N Srinivasan. I hope, for the sake of cricket.
But nothing in his last decade of association with the sport suggests any of this is likely. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan has been mediocre, devoid of insight and has risen thru the ranks to become very powerful. He is likely to stay and do so.