Dodgy selections, sexual harassment FIR and Bihar cricket rot

This month, Bihar made eight changes to the playing XI for their final Ranji Trophy game against Arunachal Pradesh. They still ended the season without a win, finishing behind BCCI’s newer teams Nagaland, Manipur, Sikkim and Arunachal.

Here’s one obvious reason. The season that started with two under-19 teams entering BCCI’s age-group tournament, both claiming to represent the divided Bihar Cricket Association(BCA), has been marked by constant chopping and changing. The game of musical chairs, where 62 cricketers represented Bihar across tournaments, also saw three coaches and a selector being changed within months. There are other reasons that are not so obvious. BCA president Rakesh Tiwary, a former state BJP treasurer, is at the centre of allegations of procedural wrongdoing and interference in the selection of teams. Tiwary was also named in a sexual harassment FIR filed at the Parliament Street police station in Delhi by an owner of a player management firm.

The charges levelled against Tiwary by his colleagues include holding key selection meetings at his home. Officials and coaches say those who didn’t toe Tiwary’s line were shown the door.

Former Bihar first-class player and coach Tarun Kumar says he put his foot down when Tiwary tried to influence the selection process. “There would be frequent requests to accommodate relatives of bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen. Such requests would regularly be from Tiwary. As I didn’t agree, I was sacked. Some of the players for the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy were not even fit for club cricket,” Kumar said.

When contacted, Tiwary said the background of players was not a criteria but cricketing merit was. “We won’t play sons of bureaucrats and other such influential people just because their fathers are at an advantageous position,” Tiwary told The Indian Express.

Nikhilesh Ranjan, a Bihar batsman from the 1990s, replaced Kumar for the 50-over tournament, the Vijay Hazare Trophy. After the first two matches, Ranjan was demoted to assistant coach before being sacked.

“In the third match, Pavan Kumar, my assistant, was made the head coach and I was made his assistant. About 30 minutes into the fourth match, the manager called me while I was at the ground. He asked me to go back to the hotel, pack up and leave. Since there is no secretary or joint secretary, the president is in charge,” Ranjan said.

“In the recently concluded season, two reserve selectors were appointed apart from the three main selectors…this means the BCA was already aware that one of the three main selectors appointed would probably leave in between,” he said.

According to Tiwary, the change in back room personnel was necessitated because the coach was causing rifts in the team.

“In the Vijay Hazare Trophy, of the two coaches sent… there was a tussle between some of the players and we found that a coach was involved in incitement. The Ranji Trophy coach was found guilty in a very old case by the court of the Ethics Officer. However, we still appointed him. Later, someone filed a petition in the court of the Ethics Officer and the court held that once it has deemed someone guilty, how can he be appointed coach once again,” Tiwary said.

What has also raised eyebrows is the high number of players and standbys that represented Bihar this season. While this season’s Covid protocol allowed teams to name a 20-member squad for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Bihar picked 25, including two reserves. Of them, 23 made it to the Playing XI, including the two reserves. Typically three or four players are named as stand-by teams, but Bihar had 15 for the Vijay Hazare tournament and Ranji Trophy.

Since the start of the domestic season in September last year, 62 senior cricketers have made it to the playing XI of Bihar across formats. The corresponding numbers in established teams, like Mumbai and Karnataka, are 43 and 51, respectively. Those in the know say that more players means more people can be obliged.

Kumar Arvind, former BCA joint secretary, claims that selectors were summoned to Tiwary’s home and team lists were changed. “Before the Vijay Hazare tournament, Tiwary called the selectors to his home and replaced seven players. When I refused to sign, he ensured that I was out of BCA. This year for every format there was a new coach,” he said.

Arvind alleges that Ranjan and Tarun Kumar were ousted because coaches were asked to play players who had paid money and that those who disagreed were removed.

Tiwary justifies the jumbo list of players. “The humongous population of Bihar needs representation. I had asked the coach and captain about the many changes in the final Ranji game. I was told since we were out of contention, we tried several players,” he said.

The allegation of sexual harassment against Tiwary is linked to the BCA’s proposed T20 league and the arrest last year of the president of Gurgaon-based Secure Corporate Management, Ashutosh Bora, and his sister Chitra, in an alleged “cash for selection” scam. Chitra, out on bail, has alleged that Tiwary molested her at a five-star hotel in New Delhi.

Asked about the FIR, Tiwary said: “They are still allegations, nothing has been proved yet… I never entertained them. I am innocent.” When contacted, a senior officer of Delhi Police said: “Tiwary was booked under sections of sexual assault. No arrest has been made so far in the case. We are investigating the matter.”

Last year, the BCCI had to intervene in the BCA’s selection matters after a turf war between Tiwary and a rebel group led by former MLA and state BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel. The Board had also pulled up BCA for hosting the inaugural Bihar Cricket League (BCL) without its permission.

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