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Bitter Umrigar set to quit

One of India's best-known ex-cricketers is set to to quit the post of executive secretary of the cricket board on March 1 a bitter man. Polly Umrigar, a former Indian captain, took up the post when he was offered it by the late S. Sriraman who was then president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. That was in 1987.

Ten years later, one finds Umrigar totally fed up with the way the board runs, miffed at the fact that none of his ideas were welcome and left with the feeling that his experience and knowledge were never utilised. For starters, Umrigar has claimed that he advised the board to help players to avoid burnout long ago. The idea was not even considered.

More recently, says Umrigar in an interview to a news agency, he advised the board to send the India 'A' squad to Bermuda after the West Indies tour and not the senior side; his reasoning is that the team will be thoroughly tired after a five-Test tour of the Caribbean. After all, they have a one-day tournament to play soon after. The physical and mental condition players would be in at the end of such a tour can only be known by one who has played the game at the same level. But he found no takers for what seems like an eminently sensible suggestion.

Another example cited by Umrigar was a suggestion that the Indian team practise on the bouncy Eden Gardens pitch, the one which was used for the second Test against South Africa last December, before leaving for South Africa. He pleaded for the pitch to be retained as such and the team given lengthy workouts on it. All that the board had to do was to delay the departure of the team and knock off the Zimbabwe matches. Nothing happened and India got a drubbing at the hands of the South African pacemen, he says.

Umrigar is a cricketer to the core and thus his suggestions would not cut ice with the businessmen who are trying to turn the game into a milch cow any which way they can. It is thus not surprising that a cricketer with such a wealth of experience has been given the cold shoulder and ignored by the other officials. Umrigar says he took the job only in the understanding that he would be given due importance in matters relating to the game. Sadly, that has not been the case.

Umrigar has not singled out any individual as standing in the way of commonsense but it is easy to figure out whom he means. There have been a rash of officials in the last decade, most of whom know more about politics than about the game. Their manoeuvring and politicking has helped the Indian team to reach its current position. To quote Umrigar, "those blighters who had never touched a bat thought that I was encroaching on their domain."

There is one thing that gives the old man cheer, though. When he entered the board office in Bombay, he says, there was a huge pile of files lying on the ground covered in layers of dust. The one consolation he has as he prepares to quit is that the office now looks worthy of a sport which has turned out to be the biggest money-spinner in the country.

The case of Allan Rae does come to mind when thinking of Umrigar. He too was an opener -- that is sheer coincidence. But Rae had, when he was on the West Indies board, proposed the same contract system for professionals that the board implemented last year. He was years ahead of his time but his suggestion was not considered. Umrigar shares a similar fate. The voice of the cricketer is dying in the land which once produced the likes of Ranjitsinghji.

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