NEW DELHI: Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the most powerful man in cricket, faces a last-ditch challenge to his reinstatement this weekend as head of India’s board, days after his son-in-law was charged in a corruption scandal.
The combative president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should be a shoo-in at Sunday’s annual meeting in Chennai after nobody came forward to contest his re-election for a third year in office.
But he now faces a new hurdle on Friday after the Supreme Court agreed to consider a request for an injunction against Srinivasan to prevent him from standing for election, brought by a cricket association in eastern Bihar state.
India, cricket’s superpower, generates 70 percent of international the game’s revenue due to its vast television audiences, allowing the BCCI to have its way in all significant decisions on the game’s future.
Other international boards dread falling out with the BCCI, aware that the sale of television rights when India is in town is vital to their survival.
But the hearing is yet another headache for the 68-year-old, who had to nominally step aside from the helm of the BCCI in June — curtailing his powers — when his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was named as a suspect in a corruption inquiry.
Meiyappan was on Saturday charged with cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy as part of a police investigation into claims of spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL), a Twenty20 tournament run by the BCCI.
Meiyappan had been the team principal of the Chennai Super Kings when the scandal broke, one of the top IPL teams and which is owned by Srinivasan.
But while the charging of Meiyappan has emboldened Srinivasan’s critics, it has not stopped the man himself from seeking to resume his innings at the helm of the wealthiest and most powerful cricketing body in the world. “I am not disqualified and neither can you push me out,” Srinivasan told reporters after charges were laid against Meiyappan. “If Gurunath is wrong, the law will take its own course. “It is up to him to defend his position. It has got nothing to do with me.”
However, many of the game’s leading figures, including former BCCI president Inderjit Singh Bindra, argue that such a stance is untenable and Srinivasan has no moral or ethical right to seek another term. “The IPL scandal involving Gurunath and Srinivasan is much bigger in scope and dimension than the 2000 saga,” Bindra tweeted, referring to the Hansie Cronje scandal that gripped cricket at the turn of the century.
The former South African captain, who was killed in a mystery plane crash two years later, was nailed by Delhi police at the turn of the century for hobnobbing with illegal bookmakers.
Local media, quoting the 11,500-page charge-sheet submitted in court by Mumbai police, reported that in one instance, Meiyappan told a bookmaker ahead of a match in Jaipur on May 12 that the Super Kings would score between 130-140 runs and lose the game.
The team, led by Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, scored 141-5 in 20 overs and lost to Rajasthan Royals by five wickets with 17 balls to spare.
The scandal that involves several other matches has already seen two Rajasthan Royals players, Test fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and upcoming spinner Ankeet Chavan, banned for life by the BCCI.
The Indian Express wrote in an editorial that “given that Srinivasan is the owner of Chennai Super Kings and the father-in-law of Meiyappan, it is amazing that he is now on the verge of being reinstated as BCCI chief.”
But even his critics concede Srinivasan is a wily operator who has crucially managed to keep the support of the country’s six southern cricket associations, which include his own Tamil Nadu.
As part of a rotational system, the southern associations get to choose the president this time round and they all maintain that Srinivasan cannot be held responsible for any alleged wrongdoing by his son-in-law.
A BCCI insider told AFP that Srinivasan would “not to take victory for granted” but nevertheless had reason to be confident. “When strings are pulled, the puppets fall in line,” said the source.
Srinivasan has already shown his willingness to stare down his critics on the international stage, stonewalling pressure to make India join the Decision Review System and refusing to change the IPL timetable to avoid it clashing with Test matches elsewhere.
He also blocked implementation of a specially commissioned report by Britain’s former top judge Harry Woolf calling for restructuring of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the game’s world governing body.
Srinivasan’s fate will be of particular interest to Cricket South Africa (CSA), which had been expected to host India for a money-spinning series at the end of the year.
The tour has been plunged into doubt after CSA named former ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat as its chief executive despite Srinivasan’s strong objections and the BCCI is already making alternative arrangements.
International news organisations, including Agence France-Presse (AFP), have suspended their on-field coverage of matches hosted by the BCCI since last year after the board imposed restrictions on picture agencies.