Something doesn’t smell right at the National Cricket Academy
Something doesn’t quite smell right at the National Cricket Academy. If truth be told, the rot that probably set in years ago is now assaulting the auditory senses. And a letter sent recently by Rahul Johri the CEO of BCCI to the Committee of Administrators (COA) has removed the scented cloth that had helped keep the stink away.
Johri informed the COA in a letter that came to light last night that one of the trainers at the NCA approved for appointment by the COA had neither attended the BCCI’s workshop on sports science last year nor appeared for the exam at the end of it, unlike 23 attendees who had, and were not appointed.
Sohum Desai was appointed by the COA based on a recommendation from BCCI’s General Manager (Cricket Operations) MV Sridhar. Initially on being questioned about his recommendation at the NCA meeting on Sep 15th and then by the press, Sridhar answered “The boy came second in the exam and that’s why he got the job. I don’t think there is any conflict of interest.”
So what was the conflict of interest angle here? Well, it appears that Desai was associated with a personal fitness centre called ‘Primal Patterns’, which is owned by Shanker Basu, the strength and conditioning coach of the Indian cricket team. Nothing wrong with that one would think, except that the test where Sohum Desai did not put in an appearance was conducted at the NCA under the supervision of Shanker Basu.
The final twist to this story comes from Sridhar’s response when confronted by Johri with the fact that Desai did not attend the course or appear for the exam. Johri states in his letter: “I brought this issue up with Dr. Sridhar and he told me that even he was not aware that Sohum had not appeared for the test but was relying on Basu’s recommendation.”
To summarize the facts then as stated by Johri in his letter: “Sohum Desai did not attend the SSM Trainers Workshop and neither did he appear for the exam.” Desai was however deemed to have finished second in the exam he did not appear for asper information provided to Sridhar. He was also recommended for appointment by Shanker Basu, the strength and conditioning coach of the Indian cricket team, who supervised the test (where Sohum did not appear) and is the owner of ‘Primal Patterns’, the personal fitness centre with which Sohum is associated.
Clearly, given the curious events that have occurred in this case, there appears to be more wrong with the way that things are run at the NCA than meets the eye. A report in the Times of India that appeared this July titled ‘Great Indian cricket coaching sham’ laid out numerous inconsistencies that have crept into the selection process and remuneration of coaches at this premier academy that supports the growth of Indian cricket and plays an important role in the development of the next generation of players. Without going into the details of the allegations in that article, it is perhaps a reflection of the angst that exists in the Indian cricketing community about what is happening at the NCA that revelations of this type have started emerging.
On the positive side, one just needs to look at the effect that Narendra Hirwani has had as the head spin coach at the academy to understand why the NCA is such a vital cog in the wheel for the continued growth and dominance of Indian cricket. There is little dispute about the fact that but for Hirwani’s stint, the bench strength of India’s spin department would not have made their presence felt as quickly as it has. India is in a happy situation today that it can afford to keep out the world’s top two spin bowlers, Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja out of the One-Day team and yet have two young wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav bowling in tandem and spinning webs around the Australian batting, with finger spinner Axar Patel waiting to take one of the two places.
When the NCA was set up in 2000, it was meant to be a cricket facility of the BCCI for training young cricketers who are identified as having the potential to represent the Indian cricket team. In the intervening years, the academy has clearly played its role more than adequately and is an institution that is very valuable indeed for the future of cricket in India. It is now up to Rahul Johri and the COA to address the issues head on at the NCA. Greater transparency and a cleaner image of the NCA can only be positive for Indian cricket.