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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By So­haib Alvi

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.

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