It seems a matter of proprietorship privilege that an Indian Premier League (IPL) franchisee owner gets to sit in his team’s dugout. One cannot see any discernible value by the owner’s presence in close proximity with the players.
What, for example, does a Mrs Nita Ambani tell a bunch of high-quality professional players with a battery of support staff, which includes the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Jonty Rhodes, John Wright and Robin Singh? If anything, the players can do without the pressure of the owner around the dugout area.
For all practical purposes, the dugout in IPL games is an enclosure for the men involved in the heat and intensity of the battle in the middle — a place which has a sanctity about it and which is out-of-bounds for anybody other than the team and the support staff. Even TV interviewers, often times former cricketers who know the players well, stand at respectable distance from the dugout during a game.
Even recently-retired players hesitate to enter the dressing room they once were part of because they don’t want to be seen as an intrusion into the private space of the players. Ray Illingworth, during the time he was captain of England, once asked the Test & County Cricket Board Board (TCCB) chief to leave the dressing room.
IPL is an Augean Stable that needs a lot of clean up. And one of the things that necessarily need to go is this business of owners sitting in the dugout. It has become all the more imperative after the Gurunath Meiyappan — the man who was accredited as Team Owner but was dubbed a mere ‘enthusiast’ by his all-powerful father-in-law, then the BCCI chief — is out on bail after his alleged involved in the betting and match-fixing scandal last season.
Of course, there will be those who will say that even without sitting in the dugout an owner can indulge in these activities. Sure, one can. But when such a dubious person sits in the dugout, he is in an incredibly advantageous position to instantaneously swing things the way he wants by putting pressure on the captains and the players he owns.
Rajasthan Royals owner Raj Kundra is also under the scanner for betting in IPL matches and has been asked by the law enforcement authorities not to leave the country.
It’s possible that most of the owners are clean, but given the circumstances it’s important that not only an owner is clean but is doing all the right things to be seen without any traces of suspicion.
The owners will not like their privilege to be snatched away. That is understandable. After forking out millions of dollars, they could be forgiven for harbouring that entitlement mentality. However, the image of the IPL has taken huge blows and harsh measures are inevitable and unavoidable.
Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan is one of the franchisee owners who keep a respectable distance from the dugout during Kolkata Knight Riders’ matches. He is intense and expressive about his team, but from the stands. He leaves the pros to do their job without the pressure of having his presence around the dugout and comes to meet them only at the end of the game.
The pressure on the players is immense and they can well do without having the presence of owners adding to it. Sourav Ganguly said two years ago: “When I captained India nobody asked me anything and I didn’t have to answer anybody after the day’s play. But when I captained the IPL teams I had to answer the owner before the game and after the game. I’m telling you, seriously that is enormous pressure. When you lose the game, the first thing when you get back to the hotel is think ‘what am I going to answer? Why didn’t Ashok Dinda bowl the slower ball at that moment?’ ”
Those words were from a man who was not only one of India’s most successful captains, but arguably the gutsiest of the skippers. It’s hard when champion players have to explain their cricketing strategies to people who probably never played anything more than a Sunday game over beer with friends.
Credibility apart, if the IPL has to be seen as a serious competition among hardened pros, the ornamental presence of owners in the dugout should be done away with.
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook and on Twitter at @hnatarajan)