Loss of Innocence
The claims of theh Indiansdi are exaggerated and manipulative l i when it comes to their contribution to the cricket world’s spoils. But it’s undeniable that they are the Wall Street of Cricket.
On a rare, sun-sparkled day in Lord’s – on the first day of the first ever cricket World Cup in 1975 - Sunil Gavaskar opened for India after England’s 334-4 and returned to the pavilion 60 overs later unbeaten – on 36 with India on 132-2. Known as an ascetic stonewaller, some felt he had registered his protest that One-Day cricket was an insult to the classic game.
The previous summer, India had been whitewashed 3-0 in the Test series, including being bowled out for 42 after following on, again at Lord’s.
That was Indian cricket four decades back. In the subsequent years, India avoided ODI cricket like the plague and played no internationals at home until November 1981. By then, they had played 25 ODIs in other countries, including two World Cups. They were regarded as the most insipid team out of the six that played cricket in both formats at the time. When all the top players of Australia and the West Indies, the world’s top two teams, were plucked by Kerry Packer in 1977 for his private Test matches and ODIs against a World XI containing the top players from the remaining four countries, he did not give a second look at an Indian. In fact, he opted for the top cricketers from the recently exiled South Africa.
So what has transformed the tortoise into the hare, that today India is the citadel of limited-overs cricket, especially in the shorter version? The genesis can be traced, ironically, to another summer game at Lord’s in 1983. It was then that Kapil Dev’s Indians created the greatest upset in World Cup history by bowling out the still impregnable West Indies for 140 in the final to win by 43 runs. No one was more surprised than the over 700 million Indians. The players were feted by Indira Gandhi and Lata Mangeshkar sang
‘Bharata Viswa Vijeta’, a song written in honour of the world champions by the legendary Indeevar.
The winning moment had come at the stroke of midnight back home, and it gave Freedom at Midnight a new perspective as it let loose an inspired generation which till then had been brought up on banal draws and the odd ODI win. Cricket in the country had gone from the drab black and white to multi-colored horizons, appropriately in the year when color TV was introduced in India.
It was no fluke as India also won the 1985 World Championship in Australia, comprehensively beating Pakistan, which had stormed through to the final as favorites; the metamorphoses in the mindset could not be better epitomized than by the fact that Sunil Gavaskar wrote a book titled One-Day Wonders.
India’s flirtation with ODIs was soon
consummated into owning the format. The advent of cricket in Sharjah, hosting the World Cup in 1987 and 1996 and the coming of Sachin Tendulkar rolled the cricket world under its feet. Indian conglomerates and top MNCs ploughed billions into the game in India and Indian players were soon the most expensive commodities in world cricket. The gentlemen at Lord’s bewailed what they had helped create.
What they had created, of course, was the most powerful cricket board in the world. Though the claims of the Indians are exaggerated and manipulative when it comes to their contribution to the cricket world’s spoils, it’s undeniable that they are the Wall Street of Cricket. You can live without them, but it’s not the lifestyle you have been elevated to. Like the United States, to whom Europe owes a debt for saving and then helping rebuild the continent in and after the Second World War, the cricketing coterie knows it would be thrown back to the 1930s if India was to pull out. It would be suicidal for the BCCI as well but it would be all about who blinked first – and the BCCI is still staring.
But just as Europe allowed Nazi Germany to become powerful, so has the rest of the cricket world been acquiescing to Indian ambitions at hegemony for several years. Now that they have launched their blitzkrieg in the shape of the IPL, they rule the world. They have their Mussolini and Hirohito on their side in the form of the ECB and the CA and there has been no attempt by them to disguise India’s demand to be the emperor of the cricket world. It had come through an ultimatum that mirrors that of General James Outram to the Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah, which was to surrender or be vanquished.
Ironically it was given first to the British, then to Australia and after taking them on board, to the rest of the world. You can say that Pakistan proved their Bahadur Shah Zafar, long on talk and short on armory, as its dominion lay split between warring factions within.
Behind the façade of the BCCI, of course, is the betting mafia. Fed up with ICC’s policing, they masterminded the takeover this year, preempting the probability of independent directors running the ICC as was proposed in the Woolf report. An initiative of Haroon Lorgat, then CEO of the ICC, the report was an incisive analysis of the policy and procedural flaws that were allowing match and spot-fixing. The amendments it recommended were pragmatic and would have taken away the power from the BCCI and hence the mafia. Now, any charge of fixing has to be submitted to the ICC Executive Committee, where India, England and Australia will decide whether or not to take it forward. Needless to say, it’ll be consigned to the dustbin no matter what the merit.
But the Indians have reached such commanding power also due to weakening structures of other countries. The advent of the Premier League Football and the overpowering marketing of its charisma, glamor and world’s top footballers drew an entire British generation away from cricket. While before they were aligned to both, which teenager would now want to work towards making a few thousand quid a month playing seven hours a day, six days a week? And then working odd jobs to get through the winter months, when he could make tons of money playing 90 minutes once a week. And if you made it to the top, there is no comparison between the prospects of living three months away from family on distant continents with that of a weekend trip to the continent at most.
That England have risen again as a team to contend with is due to their imported cricketers from South Africa, where post-apartheid white cricketers have limited seats. This adds up to players coming in from the Asian and Caribbean communities. Today’s England team is an assortment from the lost British empire, far removed from a combination of the fashionable counties up until the 1970s.
In the West Indies, the underprivileged used to bend their backs on streets and on the beaches with cricket as their sole road to superstar appeal. But by the late 1980s, Florida was attracting the tall and well-built Calypsos to basketball; similarly the Kiwis to rugby inspired by the All Blacks. It was only in the South Asian countries that young men from deprecated villages and middleclass urban neighborhoods were willing to sweat it out to play cricket. Perhaps they had no choice as the game remains the singularly lucrative sport here. Or perhaps they are made for cricket more than the rest of the world.
If England and Australia are going to retain their sponsors at the levels they are charging, they need the Indians, both at home and abroad, as there is no such thing anymore as a local company with a local market. India’s market of billions beckons to the Fortune 500 toppers just as a lantern does to the ship in the perfect storm. Whether it is title sponsorships, rights, endorsements, ground merchandising or air time during the games, it’s the gateway to India.
Pakistanis can only look on jealously as they do the making of the Far East, whom they taught to fly in the 1960s and built their business models. Right to the 1970s, the Pakistan cricketers were the toast of the English counties and crowds everywhere because of their brand of cricket, a cocktail of fire and elegance.
But the match-fixing in the 1990s tore the team apart. The men Imran and Miandad had so carefully put together splintered into groups, each chasing their own greed and power. The administrators wanted to play Caesar, having never been in the battle, when actually they were being played by the soldiers. Pakistan’s cricket was led by a general, a bureaucrat, a doctor and eventually a second-grade cricketer of old times. Eventually, it has a banker and a journalist jostling each other to steer the patched-up ship of dreams.
Such was their callousness for the game that they left the one friend they had left in cricket to the mercy of the gunmen. The Sri Lankans had been drawn in with the promise of a presidential-level security. But it was left to their bus driver to rescue them once the two police mobiles had
been dealt with by terrorists within minutes. The ICC demanded a report that was not sent to them for months. Previously, too, the PCB would not send audited reports to the ICC for
If England and Australia are going to retain their sponsors at the levels they are charging, they need the Indians, both at home and abroad, as there is no such thing anymore as a local company with a local market. India’s market of billions beckons to the Fortune 500 toppers just as a lantern does to the ship in the perfect storm.
2 to 3 years at a time, primarily because there was no audit worth the name.
They were losing the forest for the trees and the other ICC members laughed at the delusional intelligence of our chairmen in meetings when they weren’t ignoring them. One chairman stood helplessly on the ground as his team refused to come out to play in front of a packed ground. Another was called a buffoon by a former ICC CEO and we could only protest to the walls, such was the cowardice.
With them came their private wazirs, whose prime job was to front the king while running palace intrigues. The courtesans running, or rather ruining, the crucial functions of cricket development were obsessed with personal benefits and TA/ DA, leaving the next generation of cricketers to fend for themselves any which way they could.
Taking advantage of this were the ‘Last of the Mohicans’, arguably the greatest talent ever accumulated in one team, Inzamam and Yousuf. They misused their genius, combining to ensure no one would threaten their place. Merit was the least consideration, loyalty was paramount. While other countries built their infrastructures, systems and academies, Pakistan cricket crumbled under the weight of its own incompetence. Like children of warring parents or abandoned, our young cricketers were left to be tempted and crucified by the ways of the world.
Despite precocious talent, we have reached a stage where we have no idea where we are and where we have to go. Pakistan cricket and cricketers have reached some high points over the past 15 years not because of the PCB but despite it. It can get worse unless we get our act together. As Macbeth says in his poignant soliloquy, “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.” The writer is a strategy and marketing consultant and corporate trainer with a passion for cricket.