SOUTH ASIA — with three teams in the semi-finals of the World Cup — clearly have the power. But are they aware that it comes with responsibility? That this is the nerve centre of cricket has been obvious for nearly two decades now. India is where the money is. The passion is spread over Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka too. The tournament has put the stamp of Asian dominance on an English sport.
The future of cricket will depend on how well the region handles this power. The prognosis is not very encouraging. Match-fixing and its cousin spot-fixing have been rampant. Three Pakistani players, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir have been banned and face trial in a British court next month. No country is willing to tour Pakistan after the attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore. Pakistan play their matches abroad, and are entitled to their share of the financial returns. Where does all that money go?
The administrators are a disaster. That fine cricket writer Osman Samiuddin wrote of Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), that “a more damaging tenure in the PCB’s history has not been seen”, adding, “Because of him, world cricket bodies will not work with Pakistan.” Butt had accused England of somehow being responsible for the spot-fixing. “Anyone but us,” is a common, but pathetic theme.
Before the India-Pakistan match in Mohali, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that he was monitoring the players closely in case they were about to indulge in a spot of match-fixing. His advice: Don’t do it.
In Sri Lanka, Sports Minister CB Rathnayake has called the country’s cricket board “the third most corrupt institution in the country”. (The other two were education and the police). Sri Lanka have been getting along with an ‘interim committee’ since 2005, with no sign of an election to the cricket board.
India is guided by intense self-interest and money-grabbing. Former India captain Tiger Pataudi has said that the International Cricket Council (ICC) might be the voice of cricket, but the Indian board is the ‘invoice’ of the game. “It is time we had a pro-active, eloquent and constructive BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India),” he urged. Also one that is transparent and accountable.
The three countries that hosted the World Cup are in the bottom half of Transparency International’s Annual Corruption Index. India is 87th, Sri Lanka is 91st and Bangladesh 134th. Pakistan is 143rd. Against that background, what are the odds that the millions generated by the game are being put back into the game?
Sri Lankan legend Arjuna Ranatunga is clear. “The money that comes from TV rights deals,” he has said, “has gone into the pockets of some individuals.”
Will the World Cup success make matters worse, the corruption intolerable, the parochialism go unchecked, the muscle-flexing interminable or will it inspire a change, a new maturity, a more confident, inclusive world view?
AFTER ALL, whose game is it? Does cricket belong to the international stars, the journeymen players, the officials, the fans who allow everybody to enjoy the lifestyles of the rich and famous or to all of them? The stakeholders are in the millions, yet the power is concentrated in the hands of a few in India that the international body dare not displease. Players, who bring the thousands into the stadiums, have no say in the development of the game. They are treated like prize cows, moved around from fair to fair, while the organisers make the money. One of the saddest lines to emerge at the World Cup came from Paul Collingwood’s daughter who hoped that England would lose a key match so that she could have her father home earlier.
India have the power to sort out many of the ills of the game. The excessive, often disorganised touring, the illegal betting and spot fixing, chucking and many more. But often they have chosen to be part of the problem, rather than finding a solution. Technical committees cleared the action of a Shoaib Akhtar because it was politically expedient to do so at the time.
India have got to where they have by dint of hard work, and accidents of history like the arrival at the same time of Sachin Tendulkar and a host of great batsmen and bowlers. The economic liberalisation brought in a new confidence and large disposable income. Till 1993, India paid their national broadcaster to televise cricket matches. Then the BCCI decided to sell the television rights, and earned millions of dollars. The government, in its wisdom, quoted an 1885 Act to keep its monopoly, but a century later the country had moved on and government bullying was not received well.
Ever since Jagmohan Dalmiya improved the ICC finances when he became president — from £16,000 to £16 million — the talk has been of spreading cricket to “new markets”. Ever since, thanks to India’s enormous people power, financial power, television and sponsorship power, they have been a super-ICC. They have had umpires changed, Test matches cancelled, decisions twisted in their favour, threatened, waved money under the noses of people to get their way and ensured the mix of nationalism and commerce is always kept well stirred to generate greater jingoism and more money.
The ICC, realising where the power lay, rode piggyback on India’s entrepreneurial and manipulative skills. The ICC is not in love with India, and does not follow the country’s dictates merely because the time has come. No, it is the money that speaks in the one case and causes a holding of the tongue in the other.