Chishty Mujahid talks to Javeria Shakil in this exclusive interview.
How has the game of cricket impacted the South Asian region?
The answer to this question in detail will require a considerable amount of time and space and we are faced with acute paucity of both. So let me give a brief introduction in order to put the developments of this so-called game of gentlemen in the correct perspective. I shall make every effort to be as brief as possible (a difficult proposition in my case). If your readers, after going through this piece, have any queries, I shall be more than happy to try and answer them.
Cricket, as we were talking earlier, started in England in the 1300s and even Prince Edward is said to have played it. Even in those days, wagers were put on the results of these games by their sponsors and there may have been some sort of “fixing” or “bribery” going on.
The only time England did have a republican form of government was during the days when the “roundheads,” led by the Puritanical Oliver Cromwell governed the country. I will give here a quotation from British history as testimony to the fact that cricket was also the focus of attention of the Commonwealth.
“Contrary to other answers, Cromwell did ban the playing of cricket on Sundays – along with many other sports (games of chance) – and his law was not repealed until 1748. He had indeed played cricket in his youth, there existing documentation from 1617 and 1620 relating to this.
“I suppose you could say that Cromwell was indirectly responsible for cricket coming to the attention of the moneyed gentry. Until he had his civil war and his puritans saw cricket exiled from public life, it had been a game of the poor. Cricket was killed off in all the big cities and was only played in the countryside. The remaining royalists (who had also left London for their country estates) started to play the game as a form of rebellion against the Commonwealth, and to encourage the game amongst their staff, which of course swiftly led to betting on the outcome. With the re-establishment of the monarchy, the game spread
among the elite as a basis for all kinds of gambling. Important people began to sponsor teams and even provide playing areas for them. We know the rest...
“Also, the mass immigration caused by the Civil War took cricket to the British colonies in the West Indies for the first time, if local history is to be believed. Jamaica was also seized from the Spanish at that point.”
If you study the history of the game in detail, you’ll know that it is played only in the countries where the British ruled. It’s not the game of choice in Europe, South America, Middle East, South East Asia, China and most of Africa. It is mostly played in the Commonwealth countries.
In the beginning, in order to formalize the game and make rules, the ICC (Imperial Cricket Council) comprising England, Australia and South Africa as its original members, was formed. Over the years, other countries, including those comprising the West Indies and New Zealand in the early 1930s and undivided India in 1932 were admitted to the fold, followed by Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and the organization was renamed the International Cricket Council. South Africa, because of it apartheid policy, was suspended in the late 60s and re-admitted in 1992 after having abandoned apartheid. Even today, all the full members or Test playing nations are members of the Commonwealth. Formal Test cricket started in 1876, One Day Internationals (50 overs a side) in 1971and the 20/20 variety in the middle of the 21st century.
With time, the ICC (like most things English) expanded and the members increased and today it has around 120 member countries, 10 being full members and the others divided into two categories the Associates and the Affiliates. With the increase in the popularity of cricket, its impact has also grown in the South Asian region. From being a passion, cricket has now become an addiction for the people of South Asia. The game gradually became commercialized because of its growing popularity.
Broadcasting, telecasting, reporting and streaming assumed huge proportions and vast sums of money. Gone were the days when broadcasting rights for bilateral series were on a reciprocal, complementary basis. Kerry Packer, the Australian media moghul among his other businesses and interests, revolutionized cricket by starting his own “cricket circus” (named World Series Cricket, roping in the top names in cricket and making them wear coloured clothing, playing under lights at night and using white cricket balls.
A similar venture was started by Abdurrahman Bukhatir in Sharjah under the banner of Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS). This was meant to benefit Indo-Pakistani former players. This was a brilliant idea and was very beneficial to cricketers and cricket fans. CBFS was initially restricted to Indo-Pakistan contests but was expanded into a globally popular programme. It hosted Asia Cups, Australasia Cup, Wills Trophy and Rothman’s Trophy. Most international teams and players played here. Sharjah Stadium developed to the highest international standards and today holds the world record for having staged the highest number of ODIs. Seeing the success and popularity of Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi also jumped on the bandwagon and invested millions in making two stateof-the-art stadia which now serve as “home grounds” for Pakistan and also for some ICC minor tournaments. For reasons, which we will not delve into at this juncture, India refused to play in Sharjah, and even at Dubai and Abu Dhabi from around 2006 todate when the IPL matches are being staged there.
But unfortunately commercialization has its fallouts and betting, match-fixing and speculation, etc., increased manifold. Billions were lost and won. It is rumoured players were “bribed.” I cannot comment on this as I do not believe that “this is cricket.” But reports are rampant about players and even officials being involved. Do we need an Oliver Cromwell instead of the ICC?
Do you think the Big Three phenomenon will change the sport in a drastic manner?
I am not sure why they are called Big Three (self-christened or the creation of the media). As far as money is concerned, yes, India dishes out 70 percent, if not more, of the money in cricket. England and Australia contribute sufficiently. But so far as performance in cricket is concerned, all three have been pretty mediocre in recent times. England have hit rock bottom, India were on a losing spree until the T20 World Cup in Dhaka and Australia fared badly in Dhaka after bulldozing England in the Ashes and ODIs.
The concept of Big Three reminds me of the original Big Three of the ICC, England, South Africa and Australia. I have a feeling that it must have emanated from the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board).
The other Boards followed the adage “If you can’t lick ‘em join ‘em.” Pakistan, who were left stranded, have now, through their new Chairman Najam Sethi, done the right thing by joining the nine others. And this may have paid dividends because the Three have made alterations and amendments to their original plans.
Pakistan will now get bilateral series against the others as in the past. They, we are informed, also stand to get the Vice Presidency of the ICC next year. The Future Tours Program, which they had finished off, has now been restored. They have restored a few other things like the Test Championship. So far as the money is concerned, there is no denying the fact that the Indian cricket board has more money than all the cricket boards of the world combined. Smaller countries like England and South Africa are viewing the situation in the context of revenue potential in terms of television coverage and media rights which can make them rich. Unfortunately, in the game of cricket, it is the money that talks and India has got that money. Its influence is evident from one example. We have an Indian Cricket
Board chairman who’s been asked by the Supreme Court of India to step aside. This person had been representing the BCCI in the ICC meetings and there was not even a twitter. So the Three will go on for a few years and then it will die its natural death.
As for the Three affecting the game, there is one thing we must know. The rules of cricket, or the laws of cricket, are not made by the ICC. They are made by the Marylebone Cricket Club, which is based in the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.
So where does the ICC stand now?
The ICC, which is the regulatory body, is a toothless tiger. It is not what it used to be or what it should be. Now, after the arrival of the Three, it will become a servile body to them although it is trying to make itself useful by spreading cricket all over the world. But sadly, it has reduced itself to a money-spinning organization.
Has limited overs cricket added to the game’s popularity, both among fans and sponsors?
The limited overs games, the One-Day Internationals and the T20s, have emerged mainly because of the commercialization of the sport. The ODIs started in the early 1970s by accident when a Test match was to be played between Australia and England in Sydney. The match couldn’t be played because it rained continuously for four days. But the fifth day was better weather-wise. The captains of both teams decided to play 50 overs each and the game became quite popular. Even then, 50-over matches were already in vogue in England in the weekend Leagues and were quite popular among the people. So when its popularity increased, the trend started to catch on and the business-minded people saw a great opportunity to make money out of it.
The famous tussle in the 1970s, involving Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer, over the broadcasting rights of a cricket series to be held in Australia also played an important role in the popularity of One-Day cricket.
How did the element of corruption creep into the game?
Greed, I think, is the main culprit. The element of temptation is there. And it is given by bookies. I do not know the modus operandi of how these things work but there are reports that match fixing and spot fixing and fancy fixing are rampant. There are eyebrows being raised and fingers pointed at some fixtures in Dhaka 2014.
I am at a loss why players get roped in. There is no cause as they are so well provided for. They are looked after extremely well. The Pakistani players, for example, are paid handsomely, they have good contracts, they travel business class and are paid daily allowances when they go on international tours and stay in five-star hotels. All their needs are taken care of and they have the best of everything. But everyone wants more. It’s the greed which makes them fall prey to bookies and other such corrupt elements. All boards need to counsel their players and have sessions in the academies to prevent our heroes from being involved not only in betting but other forms of misconduct.
The ICC is not lenient towards players who are caught in these activities. It has an Anti-Corruption & Security unit and if it catches anyone, it punishes them. However, unfortunately this crackerjack unit has not been able to “catch” even one culprit. It is the policemen of various countries who have done so.
Would you like the rules that govern cricket to be given a big shake-up?
The rules are just fine. They keep changing and evolving.
Are you happy with the amount of technology that has crept into the game?
I think the use of technology should increase. Technology should be used uniformly by all the cricket playing countries. At the moment India does not use many technologies and the ICC can’t do anything about it. That’s why I say it’s a toothless body. Technology should be developed and used throughout the cricketing world. Technology is very expensive and instead of the “host” boards picking up the bill, expenses should be paid by the ICC.
When we use technology, there are no accusations of cheating and favoritism. No one can say that the Sri Lankan or Pakistani umpires are biased or the Indian umpires are useless or the West Indian umpires are scared or the English and Australian umpires are incompetent.
What are the causes that have led to cricket’s decline in Pakistan?
Who said cricket is on the decline in Pakistan? It is not. We have some of the finest players in the world. We have the best bowling attack. We have Saeed Ajmal as the off-spinner, Shahid Afridi as the leg-spinner and Zulfiqar Babar as the left-arm spinner. Our fast bowlers are among the best in the world. Some of them are old and a bit unfit but we have their replacements – Junaid Khan and Muhammad Talha. In fact, Sami is still going strong. We have some really good pace bowlers at the domestic cricket level too. Then we have good all-rounders. Muhammad Hafeez, for example, is a very fine allrounder.
On the batting side, our openers and middle-order batsmen are good. We have Azhar Ali and Asad Shafique. Then a number of talented youngsters are coming up – Sami Aslam, Inamul Haq, Ahmed Shahzad and Sharjeel Khan, to name a few. So it’s not true that cricket is on the decline. Our cricketers are in such demand throughout the world because they are great crowdpullers. They may not be registered with the IPL – for non-cricketing reasons, obviously – but they are in demand everywhere else. They are in the Big Bash, the Caribbean League, the Sri Lankan League and the Bangladeshi League.
How can we improve the functioning of the PCB?
The PCB should be run like a corporation. It should have departments, departmental heads and it should have job descriptions, key tasks and accountability. Annual appraisals should be done and people should be paid and promoted accordingly.
The cricketing aspects such as coaching and selection matters should be decided by senior and experienced cricketers. As far as the management of the Board is concerned, we must have professionals to run these affairs. Some of the successful leaders in the world of cricket were non-cricketers. Jagmohan Dalmiya of India, Sir John Anderson of New Zealand, Air Marshal Nur Khan of Pakistan, Percy Sonn of South Africa and David Morgan of ECB. Also the Presidents of ICC, apart from a couple, have been non-cricketers. Malcolm Gray, Ehsan Mani, Percy Sonn, Jagmohan Dalmiya and Sharad Pawar. The list goes on. Even the heads of the ICC are not former cricketers although they are associated with the game in some manner. Being a cricketer has its advantages as far as the technical aspects of the game are concerned. But it has its disadvantages when it comes to the management because there you carry a lot of baggage with you.