The Telegraph
Saturday , March 29 , 2014
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Sunny and match on, so is a gentle debate

New Delhi, March 28: The Supreme Court today allowed the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals to play this year’s IPL “to ensure that all those who love cricket continue to watch cricket”.

The court also appointed Sunil Gavaskar as “the interim president” of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The court seemed to have followed the modern trend of having separate captains for different forms of the game, anointing Gavaskar as the stopgap chief only in relation to this year’s IPL and handing “all other” board matters to senior-most vice-president Shivlal Yadav.

Some lawyers wondered whether the apex court should be taking micro-decisions related to sports administration and, if so, whether an “outsider” should not have been picked to replace Narayanswamy Srinivasan. None of them was questioning Gavaskar’s credentials or the court’s powers.

One of Sunny’s peers compared his temporary assignment to the age-old practice of promoting a tail-ender to substitute for a specialist batsman in fading light.

“Never known opening bat become nightwatchman,” was Bishan Singh Bedi’s tongue-in-cheek comment.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer A. Ramesh confessed himself surprised at the decision by the bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Ibrahim Kalifulla.

While acknowledging the apex court’s extraordinary powers to pass any order or judgment, Ramesh voiced a not uncommon complaint — sometimes expressed even by its own judges — that at times it tends to “overreach” itself.

Since the national cricket board is made up of elected members from the various state associations, Ramesh said, the court could have asked the state bodies to elect a new president.

“But if they did not want to do it, they should have ideally picked an outsider who has no connection with the cricket establishment,” he said. “He could be any person of unimpeachable integrity, provided he has no vested interests.”

Gavaskar is not only a BCCI-approved commentator — a job the court said he must give up for the duration of his appointment as interim chief — he is a partner in a company that manages players who are India hopefuls and conducts events for the board.

“If the purpose is to cleanse the system, the cleansing could have been done better by an outsider than an insider,” Ramesh said.

Fellow advocate K.V. Dhananjay said that courts were woefully unequipped to decide who should govern a sports body though they could at times declare who was not competent to do so, especially if they had abused their powers.

“Instead of thrusting a person of its choice, the court should have asked other board office-bearers to choose one from among themselves to act as the president,” Dhananjay said.

“Even better, the court could have ordered a CBI inquiry. Weeding out corruption from sports bodies that have government patronage is not the same as deciding who should head such sports bodies. I think the court failed to see this distinction.”

Another senior lawyer, A. Chandrachund, however, felt that although the Supreme Court should normally not interfere in the affairs of sports bodies, it behove the country’s highest court to look for an “extraordinary remedy in extraordinary situations”.

But he too felt like Ramesh that someone other than Gavaskar should have been appointed.

“Perhaps the best course for the apex court would have been to appoint a retired judge, or a former IPS or IAS officer,” Chandrachund said, adding that bringing in an outsider would have reduced the “room for any fresh manoeuvring”.

The court today formally accepted Srinivasan’s offer to step down for the duration of the probe into the IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal, which has singed him because of the betting charges against son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan.

Yesterday, the court had assumed an umpire’s role, suggesting it might declare the Super Kings and the Royals out of IPL VII and thus hanging the cloud of possible cancellation over the glitzy tournament.

During brief arguments today, board counsel C.A. Sundaram pleaded that no team be barred because of the charges against Gurunath. But the court cut him short, saying it had to deal with 60-odd cases today, and passed the interim order.

“We are considering only an interim order and we don’t want the game of cricket to be disrupted. We are not preventing CSK or RR from playing. In the interest of cricket and lovers of cricket, we don’t want to put any disruption in the conduct of the tournament,” the court said.