Uncertainty looms over the future of Hardik Pandya and K.L Rahul. Their ill-considered statements (largely by the former) on Karan Johar’s talk show has snowballed into a major crisis, resulting in their not only being withdrawn from the ODI series against Australia, but an indefinite suspension pending inquiry means trouble could last longer.
After returning home, the two will face an inquiry committee instituted by the COA in consultation with the BCCI. The hearing has to be completed within a week but their future depends on the quantum of punishment.
The best-case scenario is they get off with a reprimand, perhaps even some fine, and are allowed to play in the ODI and T20 series against New Zealand that begins in a fortnight. Other scenarios, however, are more damning.
If the inquiry committee extends the ban to say two months, it restricts opportunities for Pandya and Rahul to clinch a place in the World Cup squad, for which the countdown has begun.
The team management and selectors would like to crystallise the squad as soon as possible, assessing form and fitness of all hopefuls under a microscope. Pandya has only just returned from an injury lay-off, so some questions on his fitness obviously linger.
On the other hand, Rahul’s current form has been woeful, and every opportunity was invaluable for him. Such is the competition for places in every format in Indian cricket that few players can take their places for granted.
The worst-case scenario for the two would be that the inquiry committee finds their transgression serious enough to suspend them for say six months or more. That would put them out of contention for the World Cup straightway.
Diana Edulji, one of the two members in the Committee Of Administrators, has said the establishment is okay with the worst-case scenario since Indian cricket and the sport is bigger than players. That statement is both correct and foreboding. Many theories, mostly psychobabble, have been thrown around about why Pandya and Rahul dropped their guard on the show. The relevant ones, like better mentoring of players (though I feel this is more pertinent in the 15-21 age group) is something that must obviously be considered.
I am also in disagreement that players should not be allowed on shows that don’t pertain to cricket. That restricts freedom of expression and may not be legally acceptable . As long as no contractual obligations are broken, individual rights must be upheld.
The problem is not that they appeared on the show, but what was said. Pandya has always been somewhat of a show pony going by his demeanour on and off the field. But there is a difference in bragging, even indulging in some ribaldry, and in being crass and insensitive.
Rahul, by being in the show and therefore complicit it would appear, finds himself in the same boat too, though it remains to be seen how the inquiry committee views his role.
Considering their age and that this is a first time such offence, there was perhaps a case for leniency in my opinion. What they indulged in was bawdy locker room talk stupidly broadcast in the public domain. Having realized their mistake, both showed contrition after being served show cause notices. The matter could conceivably have been closed.
What has riled the situation for the two players is the internecine tug-of-war within the COA between Vinod Rai and Diana Edulji. Rai initially mooted a two-match suspension, which Edulji opposed and, after examining the legal ramifications, insisted on an inquiry with the tacit approval of the BCCI.
Troublesome as it has become for Pandya and Rahul, it’s difficult to fault Edulji for taking the position she has after being stymied by Rai in the ‘MeToo’ case against BCCI CEO Rahul Johri against whom she had demanded more robust inquiry procedure and tougher action.
This time, Edulji found support from the BCCI. When asked by her on what course of action should be taken against Pandya and Rahul, acting treasurer Aniruddh Chaudhury said agreed with the inquiry: “…The entire team and support staff must go through a sensitization process. The BCCI CEO may join them in the sensitization as well as recommended by Ms Veena Gowda, advocate’’.
The last sentence is an undisguised barb against the Rai and Johri, revealing how the political dynamics and between the COA and BCCI are being played out currently. That puts Pandya and Rahul further on tenterhooks. They can only keep their fingers crossed....