Just Not Cricket
This piece is a rant. You have been forewarned.
The world’s anger against the BCCI has been simmering for quite a while. Ever since the BCCI capitalised commercially on India’s love for cricket to pull away as the richest cricket board in the world at whose beck and call the game would be run, the dethroned powers, England, Australia and New Zealand and their outspoken representatives and sympathisers have spewed venom on the BCCI’s dominance of the ICC and the inequities of the situation.
Secretly at the time, I felt a quiet sense of satisfaction within, seeing the events in the cricketing world unfold. Years of cricket-watching led me to believe that the ICC, dominated by the cricketing North, was systematically biased against India. While this perception, in hindsight, is most certainly untrue, the recurrence with which Indians, and not others, were pulled up for slow over rates, why excessive appealing became an ICC offence whereas sledging, despite being roundly criticised was rarely dealt with officially, and the shameful incident of Mike Denness calling Sachin Tendulkar for ball-tampering in South Africa, would certainly lead even a dispassionate observer to believe that underneath the beautiful game lay a seething discontent along national, cultural and perhaps even racial lines. So when the likes of Ian Chappell started ranting against India and the BCCI, it was easy to dismiss these outbursts as a natural reaction to a sudden loss of power and prestige. But today, after seeing BCCI’s unprincipled and ruthless domination of the sport in the last few years, trampling over world cricket like an all-powerful feudal chieftain lording over its family estate, my latent post-colonialist sense of victimhood has slowly but surely given way to a deep anguish.
My immediate provocation is Michael Holding’s pained but pithy statements on the BCCI and why he chose to resign from the Cricket Committee of the ICC chaired by Clive Lloyd and comprising well-respected cricketers, past and present. Watch this. Note the applause at the beginning when asked about India’s stand about DRS and especially the part (3:40 onwards) when he remarks that a BCCI official when hearing of certain recommendations of the Cricket Committee to the BCCI commented, “Oh! That’s just the Cricket Committee”. You can almost imagine the next line being something to the effect of “woh manage ho jayega” or “unko sambhal lenge” and the recommendations being summarily rejected.
It is precisely this complete lack of respect for the viewpoints and sentiments of others that is deeply disconcerting. Two reasons are responsible for this state of affairs- one cricketing, one not. First, the vast majority of the office holders of the BCCI have little or no understanding of cricket as a sport. A position on the cricket board is yet another checkbox in an upward spiral of public importance in a country where the strength of character has long given way to the strength of checkboxes in the public estimation of importance and reputation. And this is being charitable. When rank outsiders such as media mogul Modi (Lalit for now, politico Narendra is surely not far behind) minister Pawar, middling lawyer Manohar, industrial tycoons Srinivasan or Muttiah (I’m not taking sides here) and Dalmiya, their progenitor, constantly battle over these honorary positions that hold the key to the riches of the cricket world one cannot discount the possibility of being involved in a high stakes commercial enterprise which is a significant motivating factor. It is not surprising and almost inevitable that these gentlemen whose primary interest and competence lies in deal-making and an aggressive pursuit of self-interest will summarily dismiss the recommendations of a committee of cricketing experts regarding the game itself, without batting an eyelid if it does not suit them.
Second, and more worryingly, the clear erosion of respect for others is caused by and in turn represents a new, brash, devil-may-care India flaunting its new-found economic might. Such expressions are usually vulgar, taking the form of distasteful Facebook groups, a culture of entitlement based on who you are (or who your father is depending on how old you are), and seeking refuge in a warped and jingoistic understanding of patriotism when faced with any criticism from outside. This sentiment can be attributed primarily to a naive sense of assuredness based on material wealth and when allied with patriotism, seeks to aggressively correct India’s long failures on this front. But the line between assuredness and arrogance is thin. The BCCI has long crossed it, becoming the most powerful and, at the same time, the most hated force in world cricket. It foolishly believes that by striking covert deals with other national boards, and asserting its authority at every given opportunity, it can force others to cow down in fear and earn their respect. Of course, such a strategy will work in the short run and the BCCI will dominate world cricket for a period of time. But as murmurs against the BCCI become louder, and come from unexpected and hitherto friendly quarters, it is inevitable that unless they correct their ways, soon the tables will most certainly turn and the fruits of their misdemeanours will come back to haunt them and Indian cricket.
What happens to the BCCI is of little concern to me. But what pains me most is that the injustices we had once accused the likes of England and Australia of perpetrating in the cricket world— inequity, self-interest, disrespect for others, are the very same that we stand justifiably accused of today. To have faced injustice is sad. To perpetrate the very same injustice you once faced is unforgivable. And worse still, the state of affairs in the cricketing world today contains a likely snapshot of the world itself in a few decades. With India’s clout having increased further, I shudder to think how our political leaders will conduct their foreign affairs then. Unless there are some fundamental changes, there is little reason to believe that they’ll act differently from how the BCCI does in the cricketing world today, browbeating countries into submission, forging unprincipled alliances, losing friends and creating enemies. The BCCI’s domination of world cricket is just not about cricket, in more ways than one. It’s about the future of India itself.