Gorillas in our midst

2008-02-02 00:00

Hidden away in the middle pages of this month’s Jungle Times is a report claiming that Arbor Jon Sinner, the prolific fruit-pinching vervet monkey, has been banned for three moons after calling King Kong an “Australian” during the finals of the All African Tree 20 tournament. On the high boughs of the jungle’s canopy there is apparently no greater insult that can be levied against a fellow ape.

It is not thought that Arbor Jon will be appealing against his sentence in view of his opponent’s threats to boil him and eat him should they ever again find themselves contesting the same end of a monkey rope. In addition, such is the dominance of the gorillas that no legal action against them stands any chance of success.

In the world of cricket, too, the unleashed gorilla that is Indian cricket has again flexed its muscles with success and another attempt to discipline a player from the sub-continent has failed. Those who think that India’s current control of the game is a temporary aberration should think again. Cricket is about to undergo the biggest revolution in its history and it is all to do with the extraordinary sums of money floating round the game in India.

Several years ago, the English Cricket Board came up with the idea of 20/20 cricket in order to replenish the slowly emptying coffers of county cricket. Despite its instant success in England, this mode of the game found little favour in other countries, with the exception of South Africa.

Gradually 20/20 cricket has gained acceptance elsewhere and in no country more so than India after its team won the inaugural T20 World Cup. We know that a rebel T20 circus has just finished its first tournament in India, but it has been small fry compared to what is about to be unleashed on the cricket world by the ICC-sanctioned Indian Premier League.

The money involved is enough to encourage Neil Adcock, Maritzburg’s famous former fast bowler, to resume training. For starters, the 10-year global television rights have been sold for over $1 billion. Last Friday, the biggest auction in sport took place as bidders from all walks of commerce and industry competed with bids for the eight franchises that will comprise the IPL.

When all was done and dusted, the successful bidders had spent a staggering $723 million for the eight franchises on offer. The cheapest franchise, situated in Jaipur, went for a miserly $67 million. That for Mumbai, home of Sachin Tendulkar, was knocked down for over $100 million to India’s biggest company, Reliance Industries, and there is no guarantee that India’s greatest batsman will even play for them.

The owners of the franchises must now employ coaches before the next auction takes place. This will be when they will bid for the services of players drawn from a list of some 100 local and foreign players currently under contract to India’s Board of Control. Bearing in mind the sums of money already spent it is unlikely that the franchise owners will hold back when it comes to bidding for the stars of world cricket.

Just how the players might benefit from these final auctions is unclear. As they are all under contract to the BCCI, it may be that they will benefit directly, but I cannot see this sort of outcome being calmly accepted by the players. One way or another, more money will find its way into the players’ pockets than ever before.

Cricketers could become the new footballers and the game will never be the same again. With so much money sloshing around, agents will be falling all over themselves to represent cricketers, coaches and even umpires. The traditional cricket authorities will find themselves struggling to control their best players. When vast sums of money are available for a few weeks’ work, what sane cricketer of great talent will use the conventional game as anything other than a stepping stone to Indian riches?

It has already started. Do not think for a moment that it is a coincidence that there is such similarity in the timing of the retirements from international cricket of both Shaun Pollock and Adam Gilchrist. Both these great cricketers have enough gas left in their tanks to cash in on what is left of their playing days. Neither of them wish to jeopardise the certainty of a couple of big cheques from the IPL in favour of continuing to plough a tough road littered with obstacles such as the whimsies of selectors and, in Pollock’s case, the interference of those with political agendas.

Others may follow Pollock and Gilchrist sooner than their current masters may think. Short of reclaiming his world record tally for dismissals, Mark Boucher has little left to prove. It would be surprising if his treatment last year, when CSA punished him for his outspoken defence of his mate Jacques Kallis, still rankles. If Boucher retires to concentrate on the IPL, will Kallis be far behind?

Herschelle Gibbs is another with reason to eye the large pay days available in India, notwithstanding the unresolved matter there of his match-fixing case. He must be aware that the South African selectors are losing patience with him. The regularity with which he fails to make runs is not the sort of consistency they require. For his part, the ratio of time spent fielding to batting in the longer game has reached levels that must be impacting on his threshold of boredom. What could be more attractive to Gibbs than a new career in which fielding is limited to 90 minutes and a blasted 30 from 15 balls could be a match-winning performance?

Andrew Flintoff is another who could easily take the short cut that the IPL offers.

Six weeks’ work a year might seem an awful lot more attractive than an annual grind interspersed with cortisone injections into, and rehabilitation for, his frail ankles. There will be many others thinking along the same lines.

The exact nature of change is impossible to forecast, but the scale of money feeding this latest revolution ensures that it will change cricket’s landscape more profoundly than we can imagine. For one thing, the traditional structures will come face to face with the gorillas of big business.

In any confrontation about control of the professional game there can now be only one winner.

The boards that have controlled cricket for over 100 years will need to forge a partnership with business that protects the roots of the game. Such a partnership, however, would require that the national boards shed a portion of their long held dominance over cricket.

It may be the best thing that has happened to the game … or the worst.

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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