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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 14, Dated 09 Apr 2011
CURRENT AFFAIRS  
COVER STORY
Suresh Menon

Asia. And the great game

Match-fixing. Money-grabbing. Muscle-flexing. And players treated like prize cows. Is this what the rise of Asia in cricket means? Suresh Menon does some hard talk amidst World Cup euphoria

SOUTH ASIA — with three teams in the semi-finals of the World Cup — clearly have the power. But are they aware that it comes with responsibility? That this is the nerve centre of cricket has been obvious for nearly two decades now. India is where the money is. The passion is spread over Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka too. The tournament has put the stamp of Asian dominance on an English sport.

Money talks Jagmohan Dalmiya and Sharad Pawar gained control of the ICC thanks to the BCCI’s riches

Photo: Deepak Salvi

The future of cricket will depend on how well the region handles this power. The prognosis is not very encouraging. Match-fixing and its cousin spot-fixing have been rampant. Three Pakistani players, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir have been banned and face trial in a British court next month. No country is willing to tour Pakistan after the attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore. Pakistan play their matches abroad, and are entitled to their share of the financial returns. Where does all that money go?

Related

The organisers are doing their best to kill the World Cup
Van Winkle’s World Cup
Fan, Interrupted

 

The administrators are a disaster. That fine cricket writer Osman Samiuddin wrote of Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), that “a more damaging tenure in the PCB’s history has not been seen”, adding, “Because of him, world cricket bodies will not work with Pakistan.” Butt had accused England of somehow being responsible for the spot-fixing. “Anyone but us,” is a common, but pathetic theme.

Before the India-Pakistan match in Mohali, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that he was monitoring the players closely in case they were about to indulge in a spot of match-fixing. His advice: Don’t do it.

In Sri Lanka, Sports Minister CB Rathnayake has called the country’s cricket board “the third most corrupt institution in the country”. (The other two were education and the police). Sri Lanka have been getting along with an ‘interim committee’ since 2005, with no sign of an election to the cricket board.

India is guided by intense self-interest and money-grabbing. Former India captain Tiger Pataudi has said that the International Cricket Council (ICC) might be the voice of cricket, but the Indian board is the ‘invoice’ of the game. “It is time we had a pro-active, eloquent and constructive BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India),” he urged. Also one that is transparent and accountable.

Indian idol Sachin Tendulkar’s arrival heralded the golden age on the field

Photo: AP

The three countries that hosted the World Cup are in the bottom half of Transparency International’s Annual Corruption Index. India is 87th, Sri Lanka is 91st and Bangladesh 134th. Pakistan is 143rd. Against that background, what are the odds that the millions generated by the game are being put back into the game?

Sri Lankan legend Arjuna Ranatunga is clear. “The money that comes from TV rights deals,” he has said, “has gone into the pockets of some individuals.”

Will the World Cup success make matters worse, the corruption intolerable, the parochialism go unchecked, the muscle-flexing interminable or will it inspire a change, a new maturity, a more confident, inclusive world view?

AFTER ALL, whose game is it? Does cricket belong to the international stars, the journeymen players, the officials, the fans who allow everybody to enjoy the lifestyles of the rich and famous or to all of them? The stakeholders are in the millions, yet the power is concentrated in the hands of a few in India that the international body dare not displease. Players, who bring the thousands into the stadiums, have no say in the development of the game. They are treated like prize cows, moved around from fair to fair, while the organisers make the money. One of the saddest lines to emerge at the World Cup came from Paul Collingwood’s daughter who hoped that England would lose a key match so that she could have her father home earlier.

India have the power to sort out many of the ills of the game. The excessive, often disorganised touring, the illegal betting and spot fixing, chucking and many more. But often they have chosen to be part of the problem, rather than finding a solution. Technical committees cleared the action of a Shoaib Akhtar because it was politically expedient to do so at the time.

India have got to where they have by dint of hard work, and accidents of history like the arrival at the same time of Sachin Tendulkar and a host of great batsmen and bowlers. The economic liberalisation brought in a new confidence and large disposable income. Till 1993, India paid their national broadcaster to televise cricket matches. Then the BCCI decided to sell the television rights, and earned millions of dollars. The government, in its wisdom, quoted an 1885 Act to keep its monopoly, but a century later the country had moved on and government bullying was not received well.

Ever since Jagmohan Dalmiya improved the ICC finances when he became president — from £16,000 to £16 million — the talk has been of spreading cricket to “new markets”. Ever since, thanks to India’s enormous people power, financial power, television and sponsorship power, they have been a super-ICC. They have had umpires changed, Test matches cancelled, decisions twisted in their favour, threatened, waved money under the noses of people to get their way and ensured the mix of nationalism and commerce is always kept well stirred to generate greater jingoism and more money.

The ICC, realising where the power lay, rode piggyback on India’s entrepreneurial and manipulative skills. The ICC is not in love with India, and does not follow the country’s dictates merely because the time has come. No, it is the money that speaks in the one case and causes a holding of the tongue in the other.

HOW THE TIDE TURNED

WORLD CHAMPS

1983
WORLD CHAMPS

Thanks to the emergence of world-class players and spurred on by the 1983 World Cup triumph, India began to assert themselves in the 1980s


PARADIGM SHIFT

1993
PARADIGM SHIFT

It wasn’t until England and Australia lost the power of veto that the ICC started to become a democratic body and Asians started to flex their muscles


DALMIYA EFFECT

1997
DALMIYA EFFECT

Jagmohan Dalmiya became ICC chief and soon its fortunes were on the rise. Showed that Indian administrators have what it takes to rule the game


PREMIER SHOW

2008
PREMIER SHOW

Twenty20 changed the face of cricket and along came the IPL, which changed the rules of the game and firmly established India as the real power centre


PAWAR PLAY

2010
PAWAR PLAY

Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar became the second Indian elevated to ICC’s top job, a move that consolidates the country’s hold on the game

The democracy that India fought for in the ICC is conspicuous by its absence both in the BCCI as well as in the treatment of the ICC and other boards by India.

The Supreme Court recently upheld a Kerala High Court decision that cricket officials are public servants and can be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act that applies only to public servants.

This is good news. Especially when you consider what the income tax authorities have told us: the Indian cricket board spends just eight percent of its revenues on the promotion of the game!

The cyclical nature of sporting dominance is obvious to anyone who has followed a team for any length of time. That is what gives teams in decline — like Australia now in cricket — the strength to carry on, secure in the knowledge that their time will come, the right players will emerge, the encouraging results will follow. But there is another cycle that is not always commented on. That is the cycle of administrative dominance.

Former India captain Tiger Pataudi has said that the ICC might be the voice of cricket, but the Indian board is the ‘invoice’ of the game

In the years when England and Australia were the top teams, England ran the game from a back room at Lord’s as if by divine right. This entitlement was reinforced by the political reality when Britannia ruled the waves. They occasionally waived the rules too, but lesser countries could do nothing. India, in particular, assumes that payback time is now, when they hold all the dollars. It is this narrowminded approach that is likely to create tension.

The Imperial Cricket Conference became the International Cricket Council in two steps spread over 34 years, the word ‘Imperial’ having been dropped in 1965. But it wasn’t until 1993, when England and Australia lost the power of veto, that the ICC started to become a democratic body, a full 84 years after it was established. In that time, two Asian countries, India (1983) and Pakistan (1992) had already won the World Cup.

End of an era Malcom Speed’s losing battle against the BCCI effectively shifted the balance of power

Photo: AP

Now, things are moving Asia-wards at all levels. Before this World Cup began, India had become the No. 1 Test-playing country. The president of the ICC is an Indian, Sharad Pawar. The two cycles have finally begun to move together in the same direction. Dalmiya took over as the president in 1997; it has taken the players this long to ensure that performances on the field have matched the manoueuvres off it.

India’s dominance would be meaningless if it is not used constructively for the good of the game not only in the region, but worldwide. Already the game is in some disarray in the Caribbean, with the supply lines beginning to dry up, and talented international players like Chris Gayle more interested in personal aggrandisement than in inspiring the national team to victories. He has said often enough that he would rather play in the Indian Premier League (IPL) than represent his country. It is a cry that will grow louder with time.

Increasingly, the temptation to make in some six weeks of the IPL the kind of money that might take a year or three to earn is turning the heads of many players. Pakistan batting legend Javed Miandad thinks the IPL is the main cause of Australia’s decline. That might be an extreme view, fuelled by the ‘no- Pakistani’ attitude of the IPL, but the fact remains that of the three formats of the game, the one that will thrive will be the one that India throw their weight behind.

Sensible planning can accommodate all three formats, but sensible and planning are not words that go together well in the Indian context. India are happy to play interminable one-day series against Sri Lanka if it suits them, or make a shambles of the Future Tours Programme of the ICC if that works best.

Self-interest and money-making have been the BCCI’s dominating themes, but the time has come to shed the baggage of colonialism and stop seeing everything — from fines to players for minor transgressions to umpiring decisions — as insults to the nation. India have played the victim long enough.

IT WAS a ploy that worked well for Dalmiya, both as a populist move at home and for muscle-flexing purposes abroad. The BCCI has to change its essentially selfish stance and accept its responsibility as a leading player in the world game with responsibilities to the game itself. This is not the time for narrow, provincial games intended to score points off rivals in a clash of egos. India must develop the mindset to think big — and not just financially.

This is not to say that when they ran the game, England were the epitome of virtue and large-heartedness. In fact, it was just the reverse, with its stink of racism, selfishness and exclusivity.

You don’t need to have read Mike Marqusee’s Anyone But England to understand the manner in which England used to treat lesser cricketing countries like India. Long after the non-white colonies gained independence, England continued to behave as if history had stopped with the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne. But India, thanks to the emergence of some world-class players and ambitious officials (rather in the manner of England, actually) began to assert themselves in the 1980s and ’90s.

When Sunil Gavaskar said upon first playing at Lord’s that it was no big deal, an earlier generation of players and officials had apoplexy. Some years later, when he turned down membership of the Marylebone Cricket Club because it had treated him badly, many Indians could not believe it. Bishan Singh Bedi took him to task in print for insulting Indian crickethood. The winds of change were blowing gently but only the sensitive could feel them.

However, as the 1990s progressed, the subtlety went out of the process of change, and it would have needed insensitivity of a high order not to notice that the balance had shifted. Yet it took England an extraordinarily long time to acknowledge this.

In a newspaper column, the former England captain Michael Atherton finally spelt it out thus: “India are the big beast of cricket and everyone is frightened of both their bark and bite... It was a sweeping change to the balance of power but one that took England, who didn’t tour India between 1992 and 2001, a long time to appreciate.

Captain marvel MS Dhoni epitomises the new breed of Indian success

Photo: Rajesh Kumar Sen

“...Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ICC, found himself in a position much occupied by Kofi Annan and the United Nations in recent years: being bullied by a superpower for whom the notions of international law and collective responsibility have long ceased to have any meaning.”

Indian officials will react by talking about history repeating itself but through different characters. That they are merely following a tradition.

WHEN THE West Indies were the leading cricketplaying nation, they had little or no say in its administration. India — and by extension South Asia — have been given a chance to make a difference at a time when they are the top team in the world, with enormous influence over the way the game is run.

Indians have flexed their muscle too often and for too many silly reasons in the recent past. Ego and a decision to get back for all the insults, real and imaginary, have made them the most-hated cricketing body in the world. Everybody shuts up because of the money — the sponsorship, the television money, the audiences.

The time has come to change the attitude and think of the game as a whole, and not just what it is in the Asian countries.

If India don’t learn to be magnanimous and accommodating, they will lose both their own audience (whom they care little about anyway) and cause a split in the cricketing world, with the Australias, Englands and South Africas deciding, for example, that they can form a circuit without India. Cricket needs variety. Homogeneity is the greatest enemy of competitive sport.

Brinkmanship has been another feature of India’s recent approach. True, if India pull out of a World Cup, the tournament would collapse. Yet, in 1996, after what Graham Halbish, former CEO of the Australian Cricket Board, called a “decidedly ugly ICC meeting in London”, Australia, England, New Zealand and the West Indies were prepared to break away from the ICC.

In Halbish’s book Run Out, he gives the details of ‘Project Snow’, a “genuine option for Australia and their closest allies to counter a power play by the subcontinent and South Africa”.

Was this done to save the game? Here’s what Halbish says, “The contingency plan would allow us to keep satisfying our television networks, sponsors and crowds.” Note the order.

India have the power to sort out many of the ills of the game. But often the board has chosen to be part of the problem, rather than finding a solution

“Project Snow would provide our group with three outcomes we believed were necessary: First, to show South Africa they had chosen the wrong side; second, to steady India and the subcontinent’s quest for more influence over all matters cricket; and third, to restore balanced leadership to international cricket,” Halbish writes, blissfully unaware of the irony. Is it any wonder then, that given the chance now, India are happily putting the Englands and the Australias in their place?

If Project Snow tells us anything, it is that angels and devils are interchangeable in cricket; today’s angel is often tomorrow’s devil, and both are driven by the same motive. It is not unusual for the one paying the piper to call the tune.

Yet, this is where the South Asian countries can change things. Cricket cannot progress if the mistakes of the past are endlessly repeated by the new power centres. Someone has to break that cycle. The Asian powerhouses have been given an opportunity to do so. And that is the real significance of their World Cup success, on and off the field.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bengaluru
talmenon@yahoo.com


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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 14, Dated 09 Apr 2011
 

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