Former England batsman Kevin Pietersen is set to become the first non-Indian cricketer to deliver the BCCI’s annual MAK Pataudi lecture, a decision that has resulted in dissatisfaction among the board’s office bearers.
The previous five speakers at the lecture have been former Indian cricketers: Sunil Gavaskar, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Farokh Engineer.
The BCCI’s acting secretary Amitabh Choudhury criticised Saba Karim, the BCCIs general manager of cricket operations, for the development.
“This last email on the trail by GM (Cricket Operations) and expression of happiness on it had left me wondering whether the Memorial Lecture was indeed MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture or Sir Len Hutton Lecture or for that matter Sir Frank Woolley lecture,” Choudhury wrote.
The long discussions – which ESPNcricinfo has seen – between Karim, the BCCI office bearers and the Committee of Administrators, which was appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the functioning of the board, to choose the speaker had begun on May 10.
Karim’s original shortlist of “former Test cricketers of stature who are currently involved as either commentators, coaches or administrators” had four names: Pietersen, Kumar Sangakkara, Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain.
The CoA had unanimously picked Sangakkara, but Choudhury expressed reservations over that choice. According to Choudhury, he and Karim had discussions in Bengaluru on the sidelines of the India selection meeting on May 8, when he had suggested the names of former India cricketers Nari Contractor, Chandu Borde, Erapalli Prasanna or Abbas Ali Baig to give the Pataudi lecture.
“These cricketers have even the distinction of having played alongside Tiger Pataudi and if any of them agrees it could provide the much needed perspective on how cricket has evolved from those years of challenge,” Choudhury wrote. “As I understand Tiger Memorial Lecture is not an elocution contest and reasonable communication skills are all that we should look for. It is meant to bring to the fore the evolution of the game, what it meant to play for the country in the old days, the hardships of the time, challenges of the future, and the like. If that be the case, certainly once every few years an iconic cricketer of yore should find a place as the keynote speaker in the Memorial Lecture.”
Vinod Rai, the chairman of the CoA, said Choudhury’s objection was a “non-issue” and instructed Karim to come back with other suggestions only if Sangakkara was unavailable. On May 14, Karim informed the others that Sangakkara was not available, and that Pietersen had agreed to deliver the lecture.
The choice of Pietersen, and the lack of communication during the process, angered Choudhury, who then objected to the whole process: why the shortlist did not have his suggestions, why there was so much preference for non-Indians, why the speaker’s relevance to Pataudi was not explained, and why no authorisation was sought before speaking to Pietersen once Sangakkara was not available.