Cricket under threat

2012-04-21 00:00

IN the latest edition of Wisden published last week, editor Lawrence Booth voiced his disquiet at the questionable influence the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has on the affairs of the game.

This influence is varied, but I agree with Booth that not much of it is beneficial. That a host of cricketers are trousering a great deal of money by making cameo appearances in the Indian Premier League is good for their financial security, but it is hard to see that this long running cartoon series has a positive impact on the game.

The IPL is central to India’s negative impact upon cricket, but the BCCI’s influence, built as it is upon the great wash of money slushing round cricket in India, also extends to other aspects of the game.

Not least of which is the illegal gambling which is corrupting cricket at a rate which, if not halted, could cause a fatal lack of interest if its supporters begin to distrust the integrity of the players.

The fact that the IPL has become a home of sorts to some cricketers who are aged almost to the point of infirmity has aggravated a situation where bookies and gangsters move amongst players and teams with an ease that is bound to cause trouble.

Hopefully it is not that easy to corrupt young players whose best years are ahead of them, but those who have less to lose are vulnerable prey for those with an illegal bent to their activities.

In the five years of the IPL history not one player has faced any charge of corruption notwithstanding the general knowledge that its games are fountains of illegal betting. Nobody believes the absence of charges is due to the high standards of ethics prevailing within the IPL.

The BCCI has allowed privateers back into cricket through its front door some hundred and seventy years after the MCC was successfully entrusted with the task of removing them from the game.

Last year several cricketers were convicted of illegal gambling activity in matches outside the IPL.

The most serious instance concerned the Pakistanis, who were jailed following a sting that was organised by the now deceased News of the World newspaper.

The anti-corruption unit of the ICC, however, has not been responsible for a single conviction of any sort ever since it was formed following the Hansie Cronjé affair.

How did it happen that the ICC, once one of the world’s most respected controlling bodies in sport, has become little more than a mouthpiece for the wishes and desires of the Indians?

During the last decade it became apparent that the enormous public interest in cricket of the second most populous country in the world was about to be translated into a flood of money through the sale of television rights.

The Indians were the first to realise that this financial power could deliver into their hands the control of cricket if only some of the obstacles to their aspirations could be removed. The main problem facing them was the veto over the affairs of the ICC that existed in the hands of its founders, England and Australia.

South Africa had also been a founder member with a veto, but lost this status following our expulsion from the ICC in 1972.

In fact this veto had never been used, but its existence gave the two countries that held it a control over the mother body that the sub continent resented.

Prior to their brief domination of world cricket late last century, West Indies had been pretty relaxed about the vetoes held by the two countries that had done much to help foster the game in the Caribbean.

With their dominance, however, came a certain resentment of the continued control held by two “white” countries.

At the same time South Africa was readmitted to the ICC thus joining Zimbabwe as representatives from this part of the world.

With the demographics of the ICC shifting in India’s favour and buoyed by their financial power, the BCCI pounced.

They threatened to break away from the ICC and form a new body unless England and Australia agreed to a constitutional change that did away with their vetoes.

Reluctant to break up the ICC and conscious of the financial opportunities emanating from India, the two countries agreed whereupon the Indians pounced.

Bangladesh was soon admitted to the ICC thus securing a solid subcontinent voting block and the headquarters of cricket was moved from Lord’s to Dubai.

In the space of a few years the official vetoes had been dismissed and replaced with one effectively held by the Indians.

The short term effect of Indian control has been the alteration of the World Cup schedule so that it is held more often in the subcontinent, the devaluation of Test cricket in favour of the limited over matches favoured by the Indians and the consequent collapse of India’s competitiveness as a Test match team. None of this has been to cricket’s advantage.

With Zimbabwe a nonstarter in the longer game, Pakistan unable to host any form of cricket with other countries, the Windies struggling on the lower reaches of the Test match ladder, New Zealand consumed with rugby and India unconcerned about the decline of its Test team, Test cricket is facing a crisis of context that could lead to a dismal conclusion unthinkable during the days of the Anglo-Australian hegemony.

It may be that India will eventually restore wise leadership to the ICC, but it cannot do so until it recognises that its own interests do not always coincide with those of the game. Until that realisation takes place, the game that withstood the perils of the 20th century may not survive the demands of this more complicated era.

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