The Wankhede Stadium was choc-a-block for Tuesday night’s IPL match, as you would expect when two of the biggest teams in the tournament, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore, square off against each other.
Both the teams had lost their previous match, which made this is a vital game in the context of the tournament. That it also featured some of the biggest stars in the contemporary limited overs game, notably Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma on opposite sides, added to the flavour and the fervour of the audience.
The loudest cheer for the evening was reserved for Kohli when he walked out to bat. Perhaps that’s not entirely accurate, for an even louder cheer erupted when he was dismissed, allowing Mumbai to take a firm grip on the match which was never relinquished.
Those uninitiated in the ways of sport might see this as a conundrum, but actually, they are two sides of the same coin. They reflect not just the stardom of the player concerned, but also how valuable he is perceived to be by fans, especially those loyal to the opposition.
This was true of Bradman, Sobers, Gavaskar, Richards, Miandad, Sachin – or lately AB de Villiers – to name a few top batsmen who have illuminated the sport. They had a magnetic pull on spectators wherever they played.
Obviously one can’t put Kohli in the same league in terms of body of work right away, but it is clear he is headed to find a place for himself in that brilliant club. He has got the charisma to go with calibre and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t make it.
For all his wondrous achievements, particularly in the past couple of years, what Kohli hasn’t been able to do successfully is turn around the fortunes of his team in the IPL. On Tuesday, he was comprehensively upstaged by the gifted Rohit Sharma in batting and in leading his team to success. So there are some peaks still to be conquered for Kohli. Meanwhile, Sharma too needs to set his sights on doing justice to his undoubted talent in Test cricket where his lack of consistency has been the cause of much consternation in cricket circles.
I dare say that keener internecine rivalry with Kohli as a batsman will make Sharma’s batting tighter, better and more productive. This is not unusual between players from the same team (Richards and Greenidge, Gavaskar and Viswanath, Hayden and Ponting, Tendulkar and Dravid, to name a few) and how wonderful would that be for Indian cricket!
That said, the central figure in Indian cricket on Tuesday was neither of these batsmen, but Rahul Johri, who was appointed as the BCCI’s first CEO. Johri was seen at the match in company of the Board’s honchos, getting a first feel of his assignment which commences from June 1.
There has been a clamour for the BCCI to appoint a CEO for over a decade, but it was not until the Justice Lodha committee put this down as significant to the reform agenda proposed that the establishment has moved in the matter.
Better late than never. The BCCI, while the richest cricket Board in the world by many millions of dollars, has also been a laggard where organisational is concerned, and is currently weighed down by so many controversies that Johri’s job, while high profile, is also unenviable.
How to manage sweeping changes suggested by the Lodha panel will top his immediate agenda, though the IPL poses arguably the biggest challenge for Johri. Improving the image of the League is paramount, but linked to controversies that have dogged it incessantly. And it’s not just about scams and corruption.
Shifting of matches this season has opened up a whole new dimension of dissent, as the suit filed in the Rajasthan high court against matches to be played there, would suggest. BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur has already hinted that IPL 2017 could move overseas. That is drastic and could take away from the flavour and purpose of a domestic tournament. This and other issues await Johri when he takes office in the cricket centre in Wankhede Stadium. But his biggest task will be to professionalise an organisation that for decades has been run by those who see power and pelf for themselves paramount. The perception – even if not entirely correct – that what India’s cricket establishment does is ‘just not cricket’ is becoming increasingly widespread. Johri has to restore to the BCCI virtues that the country’s most loved sport deserves.