Cricket’s Cassandra

Sanjay Jha challenges cricket’s status quo, says SHANTANU GUHA RAY

SANJAY JHA started tracking the willow game— cricketers, umpires, their emotions, idiosyncrasies and outrageous acts — from 2000, the year he hosted He instantly brought a voice and character to the portal. My interaction with him was brief — I think it was during my days with ESPN Star Sports — but Jha always rattled those running the game when he wrote his column. In some ways, he is the unsung Busybee of Indian cricket. A senior official of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) once said during a meeting in Delhi: “Remember the image of Michael Holding kicking over the stumps in fury during the 1979-80 tour of New Zealand? If Holding had to be replaced (hypothetically) by a cricket writer, it would be that Jha.” Over the years, Jha has earned many titles. He has been labelled a maverick, a go-getter, rabblerouser, and even a Sourav acolyte. But, no one could counter his arguments that — over a decade — produced a perfect rainbow of writing for India’s sports (read cricket) cognoscenti. He continues to rattle the establishment with his excellent columns.

I loved the well-crafted open letters he wrote to both Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell at the peak of their slugfest, urging them to end their public spat. And also his list of 10 — distinctly uncomfortable for the world’s richest cricket board — questions that included one on the legendary Sunil Gavaskar and his eyebrow-raising 36 off 60 overs in a Prudential World Cup tie. He wanted answers for all but no one bothered to reply. True to his style, Jha — an executive director at Dale Carnegie Training, India — asked whether there was anything that a common fan had missed. Basically, he asked: Was it deliberate, Sunny? There are other highly controversial posers, including one on why Abhijit Kale shut up after levelling bribery charges on national selectors. I have a feeling that Jha — totally clued into the game — knew the answers but still wanted someone from the board to reply. No one did.

His book, 11: Triumphs, Trials, Turbulence (Indian Cricket 2003-10), is a compilation of his writings that — time and again — highlight his desperation to get into the management of the game in India, even world (read ICC), and change what he calls some big time, basic flaws that are messing the game in the subcontinent. Jha has loads of grievances, the newest being the way the game has been commercialised by former IPL czar Lalit Modi. Expectedly, the BCCI top guns stay away from him.

Jha knows he can be an agent of change only if he is allowed to join a state association and work his way up the greasy ladder. This collection of excellent columns is useful reading for the serious fan of cricket and cricket politics. However, it is not likely to help Jha leapfrog into the BCCI.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 23, Dated June 12, 2010