Had Gavaskar asked for money to help the national team, some of the outrage might have been justified. But the IPL is a playground for rich men.
Gavaskar has the right to ask for pay
What can you say about Sunil Gavaskar? From a cricketing perspective, for those who never watched Len Hutton or Jack Hobbs play, he was the greatest opening batsman, the maker of an astonishing 13 centuries against the West Indies.
The first man to 10,000 Test runs, he was also the first overseas player to be named a Bradman Honouree for embodying the principles of courage, honour and integrity in the game.
Sir Garfield Sobers, the greatest cricketer of them all, offered his opinion a few months ago. "It's my approach, my view that Sunny Gavaskar is the greatest batsman I have come across," he said. "He has opened the innings against genuine fast bowlers like Michael Holding, [Andy] Roberts, [Colin] Croft and [Joel] Garner."
In reality, he never had to face the menace of Croft, but consider this, the modern game has one great fast bowler, Dale Steyn. The rest would have been also-rans in Gavaskar's era, paling into insignificance next to the skills of Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall, Holding, Roberts and others.
Yet, when you think of Gavaskar, you do not just picture a little man batting fearlessly with a near-perfect technique. Some will recall the crawl to 36 not out in India's first World Cup match. Others will mention the scenes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1980/81 when he tried to take Chetan Chauhan, his batting partner, off the field, after his dismissal provoked unkind words from Australian fielders.
Ayaz Memon, one of India's senior cricket writers, highlighted his many facets beautifully in an article last year. "Sometimes it would appear that he was at war with the world, sometimes with himself; both were probably true," he wrote. "He fought furiously for pride and self-respect at a time when Indian cricket was easily dismissed; he also raged for perfection as a batsman because he wanted to be the best."
When the Indian Premier League's (IPL) governing council was reconstituted a few weeks ago, Gavaskar was one of those to lose his place. Under the new guidelines, those on the panel would not be paid, and Gavaskar was not interested in such an arrangement.
The board cleverly released a few sound bites implying greed on his part, and the story took another turn last week when it was revealed the new IPL franchise in Kochi, which will be terminated this month if it can't sort out ownership details, had sought his advice on cricketing matters prior to the auction.
Instantly, the media made it into a conflict-of-interest story, another stick to beat a "money-minded" man with.
But why are cricketers expected to work for free? "I declined to be on the governing council simply because I think that former players on it need to be remunerated for the expertise, experience, inputs and time they give to it and the credibility they bring to it," Gavaskar said.
"The IPL is a commercial enterprise after all."
When N Srinivasan, the board's president-elect, is also an IPL team owner, how does it matter if someone else has a "conflict of interest"? Gavaskar's Champs Foundation has done much to help his less-fortunate peers, and he is entitled to ask for reward from a league that has been all about the money from the day that Lalit Modi envisaged it.
Had he asked for money to help the national team, whose standard he carried with more pride than anyone else, some of the outrage might have been justified. But the IPL has little to do with national pride. It is a playground for rich men.
During the 1993 riots in Mumbai, Gavaskar helped rescue a Muslim family from a mob near his residence. A man like that does not really need a character reference from a grubby board, or even grubbier television channels.