Cricket at crossroads

Written by Nishad Abdul Rasheed | Updated: Oct 30 2011, 07:36am hrs
Indian cricket, in recent times, has had its proud moments, of course, barring the forgetful England series on their soil. That proud moment when the Men in Blue lifted the World Cup in April this year was definitely something a cricket enthusiast would not like to have missed. On top of that, we have our own cricket boardBCCIcontrolling the whole of the cricket world which is, in fact, supposed to control only Indian cricket.

Gideon Haighs latest book Sphere of Influence covers all of that, plus more on matters related to cricket. Backed by a collection of essays written by him at different times, he tries to draw the real picture of the status of the game today in his Sphere of Influence.

Cricket enthusiasts, particularly those who follow Indian cricket, would not forget the role of Jagmohan Dalmiya in making the Board of Control for Cricket in India it is today. A Marwari from Calcutta, who had taken over his familys construction business at the age of nineteen and went on to become the ICC president in 1997, he was the real mastermind behind the shift of power. He also played a pivotal role in making BCCI the worlds richest cricket body. The same BCCI, more often than not criticised for its high handedness in matters related to the administration of cricket. With the introduction of the racy new formatTwenty20the game has been commercialised to such a dangerous level that Haigh doubts that cricket exist in order to make money, than vice versa.

Haigh tries to put forth answers to important questions such as: How did India come to run world cricket How did clubs owned by billionaires and Bollywood stars begin to shove international competition aside

Not surprisingly, BCCI finds itself the wrong guy in Haighs good books (and, of course, his book Sphere of Influence). The lengthy first part aptly titled What just happened, powered by well researched documents on the Indian board, the self-styled Lalit Modis sudden rise and sudden fall, the Allen Stanford saga and the spot-fixing, is surely a good read.

The modern, technocratic, turbocapitalist India incarnate Lalit Modis arrival was when the shorter format, which the Indians were initially reluctant to accept and later embraced wholeheartedly, started making commercial success. The former IPL commissioner, who leads a life in exile in London, introduced the word cricketainment through his highly successful brandthe IPL. Haigh was spot on in his description of Modi in the section titled Cricket la Modi. He understood Modi as a serial entrepreneur than an industrialist. He writes: Modi is young in an ancient culture, slick in a landscape, alternately rugged and exquisitely textured, and charismatic in a country identified with the spiritual and eternal. He speaks like a Westerner, but thinks bigger than the Western minds he is opening. And, of course, he comes with the authority of millions.

BCCIs clout in cricket world is the central theme in Haighs book. Being one of the richest sports bodies, BCCIs financial muscle gave them an unassailable advantage in cricketing affairs. Indias overwhelming economic heft means that every position a board member takes on an ICC policy must have at least half an eye on its effect on relations with the BCCI.

Haigh has given full credit to the commercial interests of the games administers for the decline in crickets popularity in its traditional form; those who constantly manhandle and mangle the game in order to wring out an extra dollar.

Not just the BCCI, Haigh also had a dig at the role of Cricket Australia, who too tries to sell cricket, with James Sutherland as its chief executive calling fans as cricket consumers. Above all stood the ICC, a weak, ineffectual, a sham democracy, a rubber stamp for the powerful. For him, the ICC is actually almost as nugatory as it always was: for decades a postbox at Lords, it is these days more like the BCCIs waiting room.

The worrying factor is the losing popularity of Test matches, which is further worsened by the measures taken by crickets administerscutting down the number of matches to facilitate more ODIs. In the race to meet the entertainment value of the product, Haigh feels, the game is losing its purpose.

Haighs compilation could be considered as one of the best written on cricket, and cricket lovers like me owe Haigh a big thanks. At a time when the game is feared to be severely gripped by the economic objectives of a selected few, Sphere of Influence throws light as to where the game actually stands. The timing of the effort is credible and the insightful nature of the book is a necessity in the current scenario.

Nishad Abdul Rasheed is a journalist based in New Delhi

Sphere of Influence: Writings on cricket and its discontents Gideon Haigh

Victory Books

Pp 272

Rs 399