With the Bikash Baruah innings coming to an ignominious end, the time has come for the Assam Cricket Association (ACA) to clean up its act. What has surprised and shamed cricket lovers in the State is how Baruah got away with his shenigans for 13 long years as ACA secretary. Allegations about his numerous omissions and commissions kept the ACA in the headlines for the wrong reasons while cricket took a backseat. Sports observers and many former players have laid the blame squarely at long-time ACA president Gautam Roy’s door for giving Baruah a free rein to go about his shady wheeling-dealings. The never ending construction of the Barsapara cricket stadium continues to be a gaping sore. Beginning with an estimated cost of Rs 100 crore in 2006 with a deadline of three years, this stadium is yet to be completed despite the passage of 9 years and costs meanwhile ballooning to Rs 200 crore. Compare this to the Jharkhand Cricket Association which began building a cricket stadium much later but has already completed it along with a clubhouse at a cost of Rs 125 crore. Allegations are legion about kickbacks and commissions in matters relating to construction, awarding works without tenders, procurement and other administrative matters when the Gautam Roy-Bikash Baruah duo held unchallenged sway at the ACA helm. Crucial ACA meetings were stage-maged to muzzle dissenting voices and stamp out uncomfortable questions, resolutions were passed with threats and blandishments.
As for players, they figured nowhere in this unholy duo’s scheme of things. Telephonic recordings of the abusive and expletive-laden language the ACA secretary employed when speaking to players have been published in the press. Thanks to the patroge and largesse he allegedly distributed among a section of district organisers, Baruah maintained his iron grip over the association till he committed an absolute howler two years back. In 2013, he distributed to the media a photograph purportedly showing him with Kolkata Knight Riders team owner Shah Rukh Khan and Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone. After mediapersons smelt a rat, the photograph was found to have been doctored by replacing cricket icon Saurav Ganguly’s face with that of Bikash Baruah. It was an asinine trick that a juvenile would have attempted; when it was attributed to Baruah, it took away much of his aura. And when 61 cheques issued by the BCCI to State players were discovered last year in the ACA secretary’s office drawer, along with uccounted cash totalling Rs 9.5 lakh — it was the end of the road for Bikash Baruah. The ACA governing body has now imposed upon him a life ban, and has directed that a police complaint be lodged against him. What is sad and unforgiveable is that players were denied the cash support BCCI had given, forcing many of them to cut short their careers. The ACA governing body has also decided to request the BCCI whether fresh cheques can be issued to those players; but in case the BCCI refuses, which seems more likely, the ACA is said to be mulling legal recourse to recover from Baruah the money meant for players.
If this is the callousness with which State cricketers were treated, it is nothing less than a miracle that some of them have still maged to make their mark on the tiol scene, the most recent being the giant-killing run of the Assam Ranji team and tearaway pacer Krish Das getting a call up to India A squad for the upcoming Deodhar Trophy. Paying for its myriad sins, the ACA is now said to be on its last legs after taking Rs 60 crore as advance from the BCCI. Having made expenditures that were never budgeted and failing to submit its annual accounts, the ACA has had its funds cut off by the BCCI, which in turn has brought cricket development in Assam to a standstill. The door may have been slammed shut on Bikash Baruah but the ACA has got a herculean task on its hands to clean up the mess he has left behind. With winds of change buffeting the BCCI itself after the Lodha panel submitting its recommendations to the Supreme Court, the ACA needs to move fast to uproot corrupt elements and straighten out its functioning if cricket in Assam is to get a chance. It is high time the focus shifts back to grooming players who sweat it out in the 22-yards game, as well as finding and nurturing new talent in the State.