In­ter­view

Chishty Mu­jahid talks to Jave­ria Shakil in this exclusive in­ter­view.

Southasia - - CONTENTS -

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.

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