London: The day after England's win over India at Lord's, the Independent published an article by Angus Fraser on how the Middlesex staff coped with the extra rush on "People's Monday". With tickets costing a flat £20 and all four results still possible, the people responded with a record turnout, and Fraser's article detailed the backroom efforts, with all hands on deck, to sell the tickets in time for play. The article, affectionate and positive, was obviously written from an insider's perspective, and sure enough it had this line at the end: Angus Fraser is the former cricket correspondent at the Independent and current director of cricket at Middlesex. With that one line the newspaper both underlined the credibility of its reportage and answered upfront any question of bias.
In a slightly different scenario, and on a broader canvas, a similar disclaimer could have helped Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri avoid the sort of controversy they have found themselves in over the past fortnight. As India's tour of England has collapsed spectacularly, Indian journalists and fans - and, indeed, much of the British sports media - have blamed the BCCI for its inept management of the cricket team. Gavaskar and Shastri have been the most visible targets. Two of the country's best-known commentators, they are on the ESPN-Star Sports panel for the Indian broadcast, but are full-time employees of the BCCI, and are thus seen to have a conflict of interest.
Their role with the BCCI was formalised in 2009 but it has come into sharp focus on this tour, especially given the board's direct role in several issues, including DRS and the team's pre-tour preparations, that have influenced the series and dominated discussions. Gavaskar and Shastri have been adjudged to be ambivalent in their stand on these issues, unwilling to directly criticise the board, which pays their salaries. It has provoked a series of articles in the Indian media, including a cover story in a leading newsweekly, titled "Cricket's voice or BCCI's voice?" The issue bubbled over during the Trent Bridge Test in a sharp exchange, live and on screen, between Nasser Hussain and Ravi Shastri, when Hussain called the BCCI stand on DRS a "disgrace". Hussain's pithy line, repeated several times: I'm paid by ESPN to voice my opinion. The implication was not lost on the discerning viewer.