'I don't think it's fair to call the BCCI a bully'

Board president N Srinivasan acknowledges India has an influential role to play in world cricket but rejects the perception that it controls the other boards

Interview by Sambit Bal

By virtue of being the president of the BCCI, N Srinivasan is widely considered the most powerful man in world cricket. In a rare interview, conducted before the Mumbai Test between India and England, he answers a wide range of questions about the IPL, the future of Test cricket, the BCCI's implacable opposition to the DRS, and its role in the governance of world cricket.

"All of us who have watched the IPL have seen your cricket skills must be good to do well in the IPL. The people who have done well in Test and ODI cricket are the ones doing well in T20" © AFP

You've just signed a title sponsor for the IPL for almost double the previous amount. You must be happy about that?
Extremely happy, from certain points of view. Firstly, as an amount it's good. It reflects the continuing growth of the IPL, BCCI and cricket in India, and it shows the kind of faith people have, the kind of belief and the value that they derive from this. This is contrary to the speculation in some parts of the media over what the IPL is. Even if you take last year, the crowds flocked to all the games, and over a 74-game tournament. It was remarkable the kind of attention the IPL got from the public. So we are very glad, as it enables the BCCI to do more.

The IPL almost defies recessionary trends and the economic outlook in the country. Did you expect this?
The previous times, I think, the reserve price was set at Rs 23 crore [about US$ 4.23 million] and we got Rs 40 crore [$7.37 million]. Now the reserve was set at Rs 60 crore [$11.05 million] and we got higher. Even the bid for the franchise for the Hyderabad team was a very good amount, considering that the same Hyderabad was going at Rs 40 something [crore] and we got Rs 85 crore [$15.6 million].

The teams that were sold in the interim had gone for a much higher amount.
The teams that had gone in the interim had a different revenue-sharing model compared to the first eight franchises, and [Hyderabad] was on the basis of the first eight. We must compare this to the first eight, so therefore it is good.

The IPL as a brand has seen its ups and downs. The IPL chairman went out controversially, and there have been problems with the franchises. Do you think, in hindsight, that things happened in a hurry and would you have done things somewhat differently if you could?
There is a disciplinary inquiry going on against the former chairman of the IPL, so I cannot comment on him or his action. But as far as the IPL is concerned, my view is that it has shown a lot of resilience. There has been some strain but it has come through it well. You have to understand that the IPL was a new concept in India. A franchise-based tournament was new to India, although it has existed for decades in other countries. The positive is that a lot of new fans came in. Women, children, all of them became fans. The viewership grew tremendously; cricket was exciting. With every season, somehow, the attention has increased. So taking all this into account, the positives far outweigh any strains that may have come. But it's all being addressed now. The BCCI is addressing it and taking a holistic view.

As the IPL has grown, it has become a fairly viable commercial success and has given the BCCI a lot more money. But in world cricket it has created certain tensions, in terms of schedules, fixtures, in terms of the availability of players from other countries.
Players are coming because they want to play and they would like to play. I mean, it's a good tournament - a showcase tournament. We have not asked for a window in the Future Tours Programme for the IPL. I think the IPL management, the BCCI, franchise owners are aware that all the players won't be available all the time, and we've sort of settled down with that. So I don't think it is putting a strain on other boards.

There is this fear that IPL will become this all-consuming entity and everything will gravitate towards it and players will manage their careers around it. We've seen what happened with Kevin Pietersen and Chris Gayle.
It's a free world. People and players make their choices and we can't compel a person. There are a lot of things that go into it and I don't think that it is all-consuming. It holds a lot of interest for many players, but as you are aware, there are only so many players who can play in the IPL, because we have a cap on the number of players in the team. And from what I have seen, players may not be happy to sit out as we have a cap on foreign players. So squad size and the number of franchises have a limiting effect.

But there have been tensions. In England, in the West Indies, in Sri Lanka, some players have come back from the IPL a few days before a Test series. From a global point of view, because the BCCI is the most influential cricket body in the world, the question arises: should the BCCI not be thinking about world cricket?
The BCCI has to look at its cricket. There's a lot that the BCCI is doing for Indian cricket and that is what it is concentrating on. We also run a highly successful domestic tournament called the IPL. Now some adjustment here and there cannot be defined as a strain. It may be portrayed as a strain by certain sections of the media, but I don't accept that it is a strain.

Some people have suggested that there must be a sensible way out of this, that the world should recognise the importance of the IPL and there should be a window clearly demarcated in the calendar, like there is an official window for the Champions League Twenty20. What's your position on this?
The BCCI has not asked for a window. The BCCI has recognised that today you have ten Full Members, they play each other home and away once in four years. The number of ICC events has increased from ten years ago, so there's a lot of clutter. So the BCCI accepts the fact that there is no real window and that whoever is available plays.

If a window was offered by the ICC, would you take it?
You must understand that it is not ICC who can offer a window. The FTP is among ten members, so ten members decide. We did not want to impose a limitation on fellow members by saying, "Don't play now, don't play at this time, so there's a window for IPL."

There was a suggestion that the BCCI didn't want a window because they didn't want the IPL to be regulated by the ICC or its calendar to be regulated by the ICC.
No, a window in the FTP does not mean regulation by the ICC. All FTP tours are between two members. The ICC provides a match official, by agreement, so therefore the window cannot be linked to control by the ICC.

The two great things that the IPL has done is that it has distributed wealth among players. It has also promoted a lot of goodwill and camaraderie among players internationally. But at the same time it has become an aspirational thing for players. The IPL has become the benchmark for salaries. So, in a sense, does it become a disincentive for people aspiring to play Test cricket?
All of us who have watched the IPL have seen that your cricket skills must be good to do well in the IPL. The people who have done well in Test and ODI cricket are the ones doing well in T20.

I think, aspirationally, a person would like to play for India, as that is what will bring you into the limelight for a franchise to look at you in the IPL. Recognition comes from performance.

The BCCI is also putting in a lot of effort to improve our domestic structures, and there is a lot of emphasis on domestic cricket. We also have been encouraging players to play domestic cricket, saying that they can't come into the IPL unless they play a certain amount of domestic cricket, particularly the uncapped players. So unless a person plays a certain number of Ranji matches and a state association says, "Yes he has", he has no chance of playing in the IPL. So it's not like you can go to the IPL at the cost of playing longer versions of the game.

The skills required to perform in the IPL are slightly different, though. The question is, who would want to be a Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman if you can do better financially by being Ravindra Jadeja or Yusuf Pathan?
I think the answer should be that everyone would like to be a Rahul Dravid, because for the BCCI, and for me personally, Test cricket is the cricket. Test cricket has all the skills of cricket on display. I think a gripping Test match is far more interesting than a slugfest in a T20. And a lot of people are watching it. Let's not undersell Test cricket. We have a decent crowd, tickets have seen a brisk sale in Mumbai [for the England Test].

"Most of the money for cricket is coming out of India. It is not the BCCI. It is because the Indian public watches cricket that commercial enterprises feel it is worthwhile to invest in cricket and the sponsorship comes to cricket"

We must understand that we had one product - Test cricket. Then came ODIs, and then T20. Overall cricket viewership has grown tremendously. Test cricket, with the amount of cricket being played today, I think the viewership and attendance is good. Australia are playing South Africa - from 5am you can watch it, and from 10am you can watch a match here [in India], and maybe somewhere else in the evening. So the amount of cricket available to see has also gone up.

In the Indian market, the fans seem to be gravitating towards the shorter forms.
Traditional, old Test-playing centres still get good crowds for cricket. Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, you still get good crowds. These are what I call the original, permanent Test centres, where the habit of watching Test cricket is still there.

The way the IPL is marketed, the franchisees' desperation to get crowds in - you don't see that in Test matches. You go to a ground in Nagpur - I've been to three Tests in Nagpur - and there will be 200-300 people watching an India-Australia Test. And Nagpur is where the previous BCCI president came from. Is enough being done to market and promote Test cricket?
We are taking steps to market domestic cricket. We are even televising domestic cricket, so we are taking these steps. But some amount of weightage must be given to the fact that traditional Test centres, their performance is different from the non-traditional Test centres. I can't explain why no one came to see a match in a certain stadium, but people are coming to other stadiums. With our newest stadium - take Rajkot, we are going to have matches in Rajkot, in Ranchi, and Dharamsala. They'll all be full.

But they'll be ODI matches…
Even if we play Tests there, I think we will get… We are taking cricket to newer venues.

The kind of ownership and marketing you see in IPL, you don't see for Test cricket. Who should take that ownership? Should it be the associations or the BCCI who do a marketing campaign?
You will find that in the future the BCCI will be paying more attention to this. We have taken a look at how to improve domestic cricket. How to change the scheduling of matches. In due course this will also happen.

The emphasis we are putting on our Ranji Trophy - basically, I've said that what is important for the BCCI is to have a very strong and robust Ranji. You will find that more and more importance is being given to Ranji. After every season we call all the captains and coaches of every Ranji team. We ask each of them to tell us what they feel should be done to improve. We got the ideas from the people who are participating, which is why we changed the format to three groups of nine. All of them said, "We want to play more cricket."

Every Ranji game is videographed. Umpires are being trained on the job. The NCA [National Cricket Academy] has been strengthened, we have increased the number of India A tours, we have paid a lot of attention to district cricket. We are asking for more sporting pitches for domestic games. We have increased the size of the pitch and ground committee, so that they can go take a look at these venues to get us better quality of cricket. All these are for the longer version of the game, so that is where the emphasis is. An uncapped player who has not played for India cannot play in the IPL unless he plays 60% of the Ranji Trophy games. So in more ways than one we are pushing a player to the longer version.

Australia and England have always had very set calendars for cricket. You know that a Melbourne Test will happen on December 26 and you can book it in advance. You can plan your life around that. But in India it doesn't happen that way. There is no sense of a season.
We will get that. We are starting to look at and define our prime season, and during your prime season you should be playing at home. This is something we are conscious of. This year we also encouraged our big players and stars to play domestic cricket. This is a change from the last several years.

We are going to look to our domestic season. We want to have possibly one or two visiting teams during our domestic season, starting in September, all the way up to March, and we'll see the extent to which we don't tour outside. Given the FTP that is there, we are going to see how we can adjust.

Looking at the huge imbalance in remuneration in Test cricket and IPL cricket, do you think it's worth remunerating Test cricketers as much as the IPL does, since the BCCI can now afford it?
About 30 to 40 people are on a retainer worth Rs 1 crore each, which is $200,000. Then they get an amount for every Test match that they play. Then they get a share of the media-rights income of the BCCI. Twenty-six per cent of BCCI's income is given to the players, 13% to international players, ten and a half to domestic. So today a Ranji Trophy player who would once be getting Rs 1000 ($18), is getting Rs 40,000 a day ($737), so cricket can be a profession. On the whole, a domestic player playing Ranji could earn about Rs 7-10 lakh a year ($13000-18,400), which is a good income. And as far as an international cricketer is concerned, he is earning money, as he gets his share of 13%, which is substantial.

Are you also taking steps to ensure that Indian players get all kinds of pitches?
We are asking for sporting pitches here. One reason why we've done well is that we are having a number of reciprocal tours for our A team. So our India A team is playing abroad, it is playing in Australia and the West Indies, and they come here. So they are exposed to different surfaces, different conditions and different pitches even before they come into the Indian team.

Last year what happened on the England tour was blamed on the lack of preparation. It was said there weren't enough players with long-form practice. Sachin Tendulkar skipped the West Indies tour, Virender Sehwag played the IPL and then had an operation and missed the West Indies tour and landed midway in England. In hindsight, would you say mistakes were made?
We monitor the fitness of players. Before every selection, players have to be declared fit by the physio etc. All players don't have the same levels of fitness, some are fitter and don't have niggles, some always live with niggles. But as far as the England and Australia tours are concerned, I think on both tours in the early matches there were moments when we were in the game and there were moments when it was running our way but it slipped out of our hands. In England, except Rahul, the batting did not click. But in both England and Australia, we had super-fast pitches.

The Indian fast bowlers were not good enough, which, in fact, has been a huge problem. There has been a lot of promise. Ishant Sharma looked like he would be a world-beater in Australia [in 2008]. RP Singh looked like he would be a handy bowler, Sreesanth had so much promise. And now Umesh Yadav. But where have they all gone? As the president of the board, does that bother you?
As the president of the board, it definitely bothers me when our performance is not up to the mark and when players do not perform to expectation or they are not able to maintain [form]. Having said that, we must realise that Zaheer Khan has been bowling for a long time, even in this [Mumbai] Test he did bowl well. Umesh Yadav is showing a lot of promise; he can bowl quick. Some of the others did not last long enough. They were not able to hold their places in the team. Now there's pressure from somebody else, now there's another bowler knocking on the door. So today in the absence of performance, somebody else is likely to come.

India get exposed when they go abroad.
It's not that we get exposed when we go abroad. Every country is used to its own conditions, whether it is England, South Africa, Australia… so they tend to play better in home conditions, which is what we also do. You don't see the media in those other countries really berating their players for not doing well [abroad]. One has to recognise the advantage of home conditions, and this applies across the board. So I don't think we should run down our players by saying we did not do well abroad. Other teams don't do well when they come to India. In the past we have had teams that have done well both here and abroad, when players were possibly younger.

"I've said that what is important for the BCCI is to have a very strong and robust Ranji Trophy" © K Sivaraman

Is enough being done to preserve the fast bowlers, keep them in shape and peak fitness for Test cricket?
I think so. When they are with the team, they have access to all kinds of coaches, the best physios, trainers, etc. If they have even the slightest niggle, the National Cricket Academy is now turning out to be a very good rehabilitation centre. We have a physio in the NCA, Nitin Patel, who also keeps track, and it is not as if [the bowlers] have such a big workload. Except one or two players, most of them play less cricket, excepting those who play all three versions, like an MS Dhoni. We can't say that they are having so much of Test cricket.

It is also a player's responsibility to keep himself fit. A player like Rahul Dravid has been extremely fit at all times. The BCCI is there to give every kind of support - help, advice, etc. But ultimately it is down to the players to be responsible.

A lot of talk in the last three-four years has revolved around money and how much the BCCI has made, and the success of Indian cricket has been seen in terms of money in the media. That's a perception: that the BCCI is the most powerful cricket board in the world because of the money it gets. But how do you see the BCCI's position in the cricket world?
There are other boards who earn good money from their media rights. There are other boards who make a lot of money from gate revenue. I have also come across this kind of statement - that the BCCI is earning a lot of money or the BCCI is powerful.

It is because the Indian public watches cricket that commercial enterprises feel it is worthwhile to invest in cricket and the sponsorship comes to cricket. So it is not the BCCI but the Indian public.

Secondly, what has the BCCI been doing in the last four-five years? It has, in my opinion, in a fair and just manner been addressing issues relating to Indian cricket and ensuring that we get a fair deal. For that matter, for decades since cricket was started and the ICC was first formed, until the end of the last century, the president of the MCC was always the president of the ICC and there was a veto right for England and Australia. At that time nobody said that cricket was controlled by X or by Y.

But the realities have changed. And India is clearly in a position to get its way. For example, in case of the DRS, India's position is seen as obstructionist.
Our position has been clear from the start. We don't believe the technology is good enough. When we expressed some doubts during one of the presentations, a comment was made that we should take a leap of faith. In a purely scientific situation, where technology alone governs, there is no need for an expression like that.

Have you given it a second thought? Or have you considered using only the physical evidence of where the ball pitches and leaving the ball-tracking aside? Or Hot Spot, which they claim to have improved since the England-India series?
That itself is my question. When we agreed to use it, all the member nations had requested that there must be DRS, and we know what happened during India's tour of England. Now you say that they say that has improved further. So there is an acceptance that it was not good enough then. But it was touted as being good at that point in time. Our problem is that they say it is all right, then they say it'll get better tomorrow. So we concede the fact that there was less than adequate perfection. Which is our point: if you want to use technology it must be perfect.

Secondly, you are giving [a team] two referrals, which is a limited number of referrals. If you don't have faith in the umpire - which itself is a contradiction, as in cricket the umpire's verdict is final… if a player shows dissent you fine him. But now you're saying that I have two attempts to question [the umpire's] decision. The reconciliation between that is difficult. So if you take it to the end point of it, then you have two lamp posts with coloured lights - red, yellow and green - and you don't need an umpire at all, as you refer every decision. So let an automatic reply come from there after a review and you say red or green.

Cricket was a game of two sets of 11 people, two umpires, and the umpires' decision was final and we lived with it for a long, long time. I'm not against technology but one should be cautious and we should be clear what it is that we are trying to achieve. If you say my correct decision percentage has gone up from 94 to 95.6, is that all you are looking to achieve? It is relative. But we must understand what has been the beauty of the game.

So the sum total of this is: we say, let us leave it as it is. You have taken bias out of the system, as the umpire by definition is neutral. Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, so why not keep it that way?

Does it bother you that there are two systems in world cricket?
No, it doesn't bother me at all because, apart from all this, there is a cost to DRS and there are only one or two people involved. It's a monopoly-area situation, which I am not going to go into here. It doesn't bother me if two other countries use DRS - they are happy, that's okay.

But your players are playing in ICC events where DRS is used.
ICC was insisting that it is an ICC event and they had the right. But in bilaterals, we say no. We are clear in our mind, but I hope slowly people will see our point of view.

Since India is the most powerful board in the world and is in a position to influence decisions, would you rather not use your power to persuade the other boards that the world have just one system?
We have not taken an obstructionist policy. We don't believe in it, so after discussion, the members have agreed it should be bilateral. I don't want to dictate to other people.

There's a perception that India is the bully at the ICC board. How do you react to it?
It's very difficult to change perceptions once they are set. I don't know if I can make an attempt now, or what I could do to change that perception. But I don't think it's fair to call the BCCI a bully.

The BCCI has the biggest voice on the ICC board. Is that a fair assumption to make? And that other boards are wary of going against the BCCI's wishes?
That is not a fact. In the ICC, all members are sovereign. The ten Full Members are sovereign.

The India tour matters a lot to every board, so what India says carries the most weight at the ICC board.
Such a simplistic conclusion cannot be drawn. There is no doubt that there is an advantage to an Indian tour, because the Indian public wants to see… in that sense, it makes your visit more desirable.

Do you think there's a case for better communication? The BCCI tends to be opaque, as the world doesn't know what goes on behind the decision-making.
I think that is not a fair comment. The BCCI is not opaque. We are quite open to discussing how we function. I think a lot of systems are in place today, we are cooperating in a very professional fashion.

But it's still very centralised. Only two or three people run the business here.
All big decisions are made by the working committee, although the public perception is that X or Y makes them. We have got very strong committee structures here to deal with every aspect of the game. Over the last several years we have paid a lot of attention to our management structures in the BCCI. So one can't say we are opaque. Maybe it's a lack of knowledge of the systems that we have that you could come to that conclusion.

Is it perhaps because there is not enough communication and not enough media management, that things are not explained properly? I'll give you two examples. For instance, nobody really knew what happened in the Sky controversy. There's a huge backlash in the UK because fans don't know what the real story is.
It was a simple issue. There was an additional cost involved in what Sky was asking for and Sky declined to pay.

But there was no proper communication from the BCCI about the issue and there was the wider question of English fans getting deprived of the best possible coverage.
The rights holders in each market should be responsible for doing what they need to do make sure they provide the best possible localisation. We believe our coverage is world-class, and if any localisation is required by Sky, they have to pay for the services, like the BBC agreed to pay. Even Star, our rights holders, incur costs for localisation in Hindi.

And then there has been the issue with the photo agencies.
Just like media rights, our TV production is a right we have sold. The still image is also our right, but we have chosen not to monetise it. Now if you are a newspaper and come with your camera, take a photograph and print it in your newspaper, I have no problems. But if you are an image agency, you are going to sell it out and monetise it. I'm saying no to that because this is my right. This policy applied to the IPL also, but there was no controversy and no one came and asked us anything.

But you were willing to allow certain agencies to take photographs. AFP, for example.
AFP is a newswire agency, as against Getty and Action Images, who are image-only agencies. AFP is selling pictures with editorial. Standalone pictures is business. Tomorrow I could have a camera around my neck and start shooting photographs and say I'm from Andheri Times. How many such people will be on the ground? We are giving images at no cost to any publication, so the coverage is not affected.

"One has to recognise the advantage of home conditions, and this applies across the board. So I don't think we should run down our players by saying we did not do well abroad. Other teams don't do well when they come to India. In the past we have had teams that have done well both here and abroad, when players were possibly younger"

I know people - Rahul Dravid, for example - who talk with great affection about your love for cricket. About how you used to watch club cricket. But does it bother you that the perception of N Srinivasan in the world outside is that of a tough administrator, tough negotiator, who is sort of slightly cold towards cricket?
I tell you, I'm a pure sportsman. I played hockey, cricket, tennis, and now I play golf. Sport has taught me to be fair, to accept victory and defeat, and from my father's days, India Cements has been… we talk of cricket teams from the mid-'50s, we are running teams and even now we are running 12 teams, we have given employment to cricketers. So we were a promoter of the sport when there was no money is the game.

Otherwise I'm very seriously involved in the production and sale of cement, which is my basic business. I read a lot, I watch sport, I walk every day, I play golf. Those who know me know me differently.

I feel for all the cricketers who have contributed to Indian cricket, which is why, if you notice, this one-time benefit is a very big thing. We have not really thumped our chests about it. During the IPL we felicitated all the cricketers. Even yesterday, looking at the CK Nayudu Awards, we were thinking about who else might have got it, so let's collect them and give them a special award.

What would you like your legacy to be in cricket? How would you like to be remembered?
Just as a fair person. One must realise that the BCCI occupies a prime position in India and in the cricketing world. Cricket is a religion in India, so it is very easy when you're in the BCCI to be tempted because of the attention you get from media, from all places. We should not look at that, but we should look at the job we have to do here. A person who is an administrator here must realise that this is a job we have to do, and we must go about our job and not be interested in the publicity that we get out of it.

Do you aspire for the BCCI or India to take the leadership of cricket as a global game?
Even now we are not only talking about India. At the same time, we must understand what it is that we expect out of the ICC. How did the ICC develop? They were running one World Cup. The question also is: what do you want the ICC to be? It's very important. These are debates that are taking place at all levels. I think the BCCI is contributing positively to the development of the game. Everyone may not agree, we may not be on the same page, but I think we are doing it sincerely.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo