On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Is This A Gentleman’s Game?

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Cricket was a gentleman’s game. This was that I have used in the previous sentence was an is to a certain degree when the game was played in whites and the dirt it attracted was largely on the ground and could pass off as a by product of tough competitive cricket at the highest level—showing a bit of ‘mongrel’ as the Aussies would put it. These days the whites are not among the clothes that need daily washing in the home of a cricketer and there is too much colour in the game for the liking of those fans that prefer their cricketers in white.

Australian media mogul Kerry Packer was the first ‘visionary’. He brought coloured clothes, night cricket and a rival league of top cricketers called the World Series Cricket (WSC) in the late seventies and the game was never the same again with Wisden using the terminology ‘the world before Packer and the world after Packer’. Indian players were not involved with the rebel tours of WSC and the meteoric rise of the game in India started after they won the 1983 World Cup and it gained momentum post-liberalisation in the nineties.

Money was at the core of the Packer schism and it accelerated changes in the pay structure of players and umpires. The Wisden Anthology, 1978-2006, edited by Stephen Moss is a delight for the cricket lover as it records the movement of the game through the years. It has the pace of a timeless cricket match and the reader can approach it in an unhurried manner one piece at a time. It went to press before the vapid commercialisation of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Stephen Moss in a section called Mammon wrote: “Wisden has been preoccupied with getting that balance right (of game and business), and has fought strenuously to protect the traditions of the game from being sullied by an excess of commercialisation. Its contention might be that if the game is only played for money, it isn’t worth playing.

…We should be ever vigilant but, compared with football, tennis, golf or the corporate beanfeasts that are American sports, cricket retains some degree of innocence. It has not yet sold its soul to the financial devil. Packerism transformed it without destroying it.” This cannot be said about cricket anymore.

Ceremonial and elaborate Test cricket has now taken a backseat and IPL, the high-profile entertainment package of Twenty20 cricket, is having a taxing time. This may be the ideal time to pause and think and to see where the game is heading. The crisis that came to the fore via some tweets has presented a wonderful opportunity to clean the entire mess. India is the financial powerhouse of cricket and it is not unalloyed by love of lucre and mean jealousies that threaten the very existence of the game. What precisely is the difference between the ICL and the IPL apart from the fact that one of them has the blessings of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)?

The IPL is supposed to make millions of dollars for the franchise owners and the BCCI while at the same time rewarding players generously; but, in my view, it has precious little to do as far as the betterment of cricket is concerned. The addition of two new teams would mean around 90 matches if the same format continues. It would make any cricket lover sick and also put immense pressure on players who are also representing their countries in the other two formats.

Having paid hefty amounts for the teams and then for the players the owners according to one estimate would incur losses for the first 10 years before they see some earnings. It is quite possible that in such a scenario the IPL starts thinking of having the tournament more than once a year. That would be the end of cricket as we have known it and young players would hone their skills to maximise their income via T20 and the rigour and discipline required for Test cricket would find few takers.

What is the locus standi of the BCCI with respect to seeing that Test cricket retains its pre-eminent status in cricket’s pecking order? Is the BCCI a charitable organisation? Where are we headed with the ICC’s Future Tours Programme? This opportunity must not be limited to just checking the account books of the IPL while allowing the BCCI to continue as it always has. It is the working of the BCCI that should be made transparent and open to scrutiny and the matter should not rest with just a witch hunt.

The BCCI is full of politicians and it means that there would be efforts to reach at some sort of a settlement without the public getting to know the truth. A few months ago the daring Sehwag stood up against rampant corruption in the DDCA and the crisis was finally settled by assurances from the President of the DDCA.

The BCCI has its own constitution and that is how it plays the game and if not to anyone else the Board should at least be answerable to the fans. The fans who invest their blood and their soul are the real stakeholders of the game and it would be naïve to presume that their trust would remain unabated when controversies are just swept under the carpet. The world’s richest cricket board needs to realise that it cannot function poorly.

Written by Deepan Joshi

April 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm

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