Has The Supreme Court’s Recent Judgement Rendered the BCCI’s Selection Process More Transparent?

16 March 2015
Hailed as the “next Sachin Tendulkar” at the beginning of his career, only to be identified as “Indian cricket’s almost man” towards the end, Amol Anil Muzumdar’s dream run in the sport did not quite transcend his potential.
REUTERS/Arko Datta AD/LA
Hailed as the “next Sachin Tendulkar” at the beginning of his career, only to be identified as “Indian cricket’s almost man” towards the end, Amol Anil Muzumdar’s dream run in the sport did not quite transcend his potential.
REUTERS/Arko Datta AD/LA

In the 1994–95 quarter final of the Ranji Trophy—the domestic first-class cricket championship played in India—an Indian batsman scored 260 runs against Haryana in his debut match for Bombay, a record that remains unbeaten as the highest score in a first-class debut across the world till today. On 25 September 2014, he ended his 21-year-old career, having played for three different sides in the domestic cricket circuit with a mammoth total of 11,167 runs, including 30 centuries. But his achievements still appear to have fallen short of earning him the Indian Test cap. Hailed as the “next Sachin Tendulkar” at the beginning of his career, only to be identified as “Indian cricket’s almost man” towards the end, Amol Anil Muzumdar’s dream run in the sport did not quite transcend his potential. In an opaque eco-system sustained by the heavily veiled process for the selection of the Indian cricket team as endorsed by the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI), Muzumdar was just another casualty. The word of the national selectors was final and binding, and it shattered more dreams of hopeful cricketers than it fulfilled.

Stuart Binny, who became the fourth-oldest cricketer to make a Test debut for India with his selection for the five-test series in England in 2014 when he was thirty years old, did not suffer the same fate as Muzumdar. His father, Roger Binny, represents the South Zone in the BCCI National Selection Committee. The Committee did not exclude Stuart from the national team for the World Cup in 2015, either. It was the eminent cricketer Sunil Gavaskar who provided justification for Stuart’s selection: “Stuart Binny will be handy with bat and ball in Australia and New Zealand. It’s not because he is Roger Binny’s son.” Meanwhile BCCI officials rushed to clarify that Roger Binny “stayed ‘out of the room’ like always, as we deliberated on his son’s inclusion.”

Binny’s first-class career, which has lasted almost twelve years now, is certainly not reflective of the cricketer he is made out to be, even if he is regarded as a “handy” all-rounder in Australian conditions. His selection for the World Cup had raised eyebrows given that he failed to pick up a single wicket in the three tests that he had played in England. That he would get a game during this World Cup is still doubtful, since he may not be the first choice even if one of the first eleven were to be injured. MS Dhoni’s choices of all-rounders for the team were Ravindra Jadeja, a spinner, and Mohit Sharma, as the third pacer. If one of them were to be injured, the likes of Axar Patel and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, could well be brought on for their comparable skills as a spinner and a pacer, respectively. At best, Stuart Binny would then remain a substitute.

On 22 January, the Supreme Court held that “the functions of the Board are clearly public functions,” including supporting its “member” state associations and that the BCCI would be amenable to writ jurisdiction of the courts in India. This observation suggests that the state associations can also be potentially amenable to the writ jurisdiction of courts. This has opened up one of the most controversial issues pertaining to the BCCI: its selection process for the national team, which may at last be subject to scrutiny regarding allegations of nepotism, bias and lack of transparency that seem to follow each round of selection.

In the past, courts in India have consistently held that sports federations do not fall within the definition of “state” under the Constitution of India. In 2005, the Supreme Court in the case of Zee Telefilms v. Union of India had the occasion to address a dispute when BCCI decided to terminate a television rights contract to telecast Test matches. A five judge bench held that the BCCI was not a “State” under the Constitution of India. However, the Supreme Court did observe that the BCCI carries out “state-like” functions, such as selecting the Indian cricket team. In fact, while defending accusations of anti-competitive practises in organising the Indian Premiere League (IPL) in the case of Surinder Singh Barmi v. The BCCI, the BCCI deposed to the Competition Commission of India, recorded in the order of February 2013, that “the team which participates in international events is representative of BCCI and not India.” If that was the contention, then the BCCI should also ensure that its players are not wearing the national flag on their helmets or otherwise. Such use may erroneously give opponent teams the idea that the BCCI’s team is representing India and not a sport federation that apparently exists completely independent of the India as a nation.

Subhajit Banerji is an advocate based in New Delhi. He graduated in law from the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.

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