Barbarians at the gate

2014-01-25 00:00

SPORT in the modern era has long been moving away from the ethos of its foundations. “The love of the game” that imbued those who played and looked after most sports is now no more than a romantic illusion belonging to a distant age that was characterised by short brave lives and bitter wars. In the Great War of 1914-18 over 1 200 Old Etonians lost their lives. This was more than the entire intake of boys over the four years of the war.

In the cricket pavilion at Eton there are displayed the photographs of every cricket team since the school started playing the game. Of the entire 1916 and 1917 teams only two boys were not killed in that awful conflict. G.O. Allen entered Eton during the war and subsequently became the éminence grise of world cricket in those years when the game was run by the MCC from Lord’s cricket ground.

It is little wonder that Gubby Allen, as he was known, had a somewhat different view of the manner in which cricket should be run from that of Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the scoundrel who is now the de facto chief of the game by virtue of his position as chairman of the BCCI. Allen was the only fast bowler in Douglas Jardine’s team who refused to bowl at the heads of the Australians during the notorious bodyline series.

Like Keith Miller in Don Bradman’s 1948 team, Allen could not bring himself to threaten injury to those who who had risked their lives and whose brothers and fathers had sacrificed theirs on behalf of the mother country. Allen ran cricket as he had played it, fairly and concerned only with the welfare of the game and all who played it.

It became fashionable in the second half of the 20th century to decry the MCC amateurs who ran English and world cricket from Lord’s. These were the men who had “stood in the way” of enabling cricketers to make a decent living from the game. They may have been slow to appreciate the potential of television but in those days one needed special foresight to be aware of the riches that lay in waiting once the televising of cricket could be loosened from the state controlled broadcasters who believed that it was their duty to take Test match cricket without charge into every home.

That foresight was later supplied by Kerry Packer with the insider’s knowledge of the powers of commercial television, which was still cutting its teeth in Australia. He found in Tony Greig the ideal man to help him lever the television rights for cricket away from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Together their revolution changed the game forever and, so far, for better.

There will be those, however, that may soon find themselves reflecting nostalgically for those more gentle days when cricket was run by Allen and his friends in the MCC. These will be the players and officials from those countries not part of the triumvirate that has launched its bid to take full control of world cricket.

Led by the appalling Srinivasan, the boards of India, England and Australia have put forward a plan that will give the three countries complete control in perpetuity over all aspects of world cricket. In effect these three boards have launched a takeover in which no matters of any importance will fall outside their remit.

In the business environment this type of manoeuvre would be subject to all sorts of approval from various regulatory bodies but no such obstacles stand in the way of the new “Big Three” of world cricket despite the fact that their bid is nothing other than a greedy grab for greater riches.

Only the boards of those Test countries left outside the Big Three can stop this naked bid for power, which has been dressed up as an effort by those who generate the major share of world cricket’s revenue to get their “fair share” of it. Sadly, there is just an element of truth in this claim. This is what will make it difficult for the “poorer” countries including South Africa to resist. There is no safe alternative for these outsiders. Without India, England and Australia in their camps these outsiders would have little to offer their players and public. The migration of cricketers to these countries would become unstoppable.

CSA might squeal about the outrageous nature of this bid for control but there is nothing that the South Africans or any other country can do. The wisest move for CSA would have been to be the first board to support the bid and to hope that it all happens pronto. Better to be inside the tent.

One of the many items on the new agenda is the establishment of a two-division Test match structure with the Big Three joined in the top division by one other team, which as things now stand would have to be South Africa given the current Test match rankings.

Movement between the divisions would be by relegation and promotion but the killer proposal is that the Big Three are to be given perpetual immunity from relegation. This means that only South Africa could be relegated. Presumably South Africa would have to finish last in the top division before facing relegation but nothing could be taken for granted in the new dispensation.

If the takeover bid fails to get the required seven votes of support from the Test-playing countries, the Big Three will threaten to set up a new world order of their own design. The rest would soon be left with no money and no players.

The Barbarians are at the gate. South Africa can dine with them as long as the Proteas are the top dogs. The mongrels will have to do with scraps from the governors’ table.

Maybe the dangers of this scenario will bring an end to the racial acrimony that is blocking the road to South African cricket’s greater potential.

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