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August 13, 2008

Samir Chopra

Whose line-up is it anyway?

Samir Chopra
Anil Kumble in action on the third day, Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, PSS, Colombo, 3rd day, August 10, 2008
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In response to my previous post on the alleged linkages between national character and cricket, reader Ajax wrote (in part): "Who exactly are the 'national boards'? This is the greatest marketing gimmick in the Commonwealth. Is a player unpatriotic for joining the ICL?" If I've understood Ajax correctly, he is asking, "What makes the national teams playing today the 'official ones'?" In return, I'm going to be self-indulgent, and quote myself from a post I wrote on 'Eye on Cricket' a few months ago. Talk about subversion.

I'm watching the ICL India XI get their caps from Kapil Dev as I write this. This moment is one of those that philosophers love; it shows something we took to be a conceptual given, is actually a matter of convention or arrangement. For as long as we've known cricket in India, it was assumed there was only one 'Indian' team. And the BCCI was its lord and master. This India XI, for trademark reasons, I'm sure, is called the "ICL India XI" and not just the "India XI", but it's an India XI as much as the BCCI's XI is. Team India might be the team we call the "Indian team" but really it's just the "BCCI India XI", just like the English team at one time was the MCC XI (before the TCCB and then the ECB took over).

The point I was trying to make (slighly loosely) in response to watching a bunch of players taking the field calling themselves an India XI, is that when people say "That's my country's team", they are referring to the group put together by the organisation 'in charge'. And the 'in charge' just means "doing it for long enough in a situation where they are (or have become) the only ones". And over that period of time, the entities in question, both the organisation in charge and their selected group become identified with the game in the 'national representative' sense. But that is a matter of established convention, not some otherworldly linkage, and they remain 'official' only so long as they don't face competition.

Had Kerry Packer's WSC stuck around long enough to fully permeate the consciousness of a generation of spectators, the confusion over which team was the 'real Australia' would have been pronounced and genuine. Indeed, by the time the WSC Australian XI went to the West Indies in 1979 for the Supertests, I had become seriously confused myself. What I seemed to be reading about in the papers sure as hell sounded like Test cricket to me. (And I still consider Greg Chappell's batting in the series one of the finest performances against the "West Indies team".) This thought experiment is well worth playing out.

Imagine the Packer dispute had not been settled. How long would it have been before fans would have started wondering which side- the Packer XI or the ACB XI -made claims on their allegiance and support? Perhaps they would have supported both but the intensity of their nationalist ardour might have been dimmed somewhat. The raising of the question of which team was the 'real' one would have brought the awkwardness of the answer to the fore. There is no 'real' 'official' Australian XI. But to expect one is to expect that anything could be more 'official' than what is already at hand: a bunch of players selected by the (hopefully only) organisation in charge of the game.

The moment there is more than one organisation in charge, the confusion begins. Witness the situation in boxing, where it is not clear who the 'world champion' really is. Surely there must an 'official' world championship (or there must have been one in the glory days of Ali, Frazier et al). But there wasn't. There was just the championship of the dominant boxing council (Good Lord, what was that alphabet soup again? IBF, WBC, WBA?) When it lost its dominance, we had the spectacle of multiple world champions and the urge to find unification champions. The chess world championship underwent similar confusion.

The existence of the ICL India XI served to remind me of the origin of the Indian National Team[tm], the BCCI and the linkages between the two. The BCCI is not identical with some mystical entity called "Indian cricket"; the 'Indian team' just happens to be their team. And I sure as hell support it like a good Indian fan. Why wouldn't I? But still, it's worth acknowledging the convention at hand. (And conventional arrangements are nothing to sneeze at; think of how languages got to be the way they are!)

The ICL might not survive but hopefully, it will have reminded people of how things got to be the way the things are, and how things could change in response. Because when organisations act like monopolies, they have the bad habit of displaying laziness, complacency and greed.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by abhishek on (August 17, 2008, 7:24 GMT)

Why can't BCCI have a IPL like tournament in collabration with ICL this would improve the quality of cricket played in this country.

Posted by Ravi Kumar Putcha on (August 15, 2008, 7:38 GMT)

Sameer Chopra digs up yet another hoary old shibboleth which makes little sense.

Just as the BCCI is a private, non-governmental (?) body, so too are bodies like the IHF and the AITA, and for Ashish Bajaj to "get mad" when the Indian cricket team wears the tricolour is weird. Going by the rather simplistic argument that Bajaj provides, it is like saying that only teams that are selected by the SAI are truly representative of Indian sport.

It just so happens that the BCCI is the most convenient whipping boy around, and hence that sudden discovery of patriotism. I guess the result of the SL series does not help matters much either.

Posted by Sharath on (August 15, 2008, 2:52 GMT)

Though I don't think the article is nonsense, I agree with Sundar in all the other points he makes. The BCCI has not done anything wrong apart from flexing its financial muscle - and everyone who has muscles flexes them. That's life. If the BCCI decides it will not employ anyone who is playing for the ICL, I say it is their organisation and it's up to them to decide who works for them.

As for the point Samir was making in the article, can't the same question be asked of every sport in every country? Since it's olympic season, who made the IOC the "official" Olympic Committee? The answer is its members. And who made the members the official committees in their countries?

Besides, what is official, anyway? In business, whoever has the most dough is "official" (think of official sponsors), so going by that criteria, I think the BCCI has earned the right to be "official".

Maybe we're just philosophizing too much :-)

Posted by Sundar on (August 14, 2008, 23:46 GMT)

There has been enough talk about ICL. There is nothing wrong in not selecting players frm the ICL. Banning the ICL will be restrictive trade practice. The BCCI has not done that. It only says that it will not select players under its setup if they are with the ICL, which is perfectly legitimate as they have the prerogative in selecting the players thay want. Kapil dev says if mercedes and bmw can co-exist, so can the ICL and BCCI. Right kapil, but an employee of mercedes cannot be an employee of bmw at the same time and vice versa. So how can a cricketer play for two setups simulataneously. Similarly, you cannot take BMW or mercedes to court if they do not select you in an interview for any post. It is their prerogative. So is the BCCI's. The question is not of patriotism here at all. The question is whether ICL players can play under BCCI or not and the answer is a BIG NO. Anyway the ICL is not about cricket. If itg was they would have played 3 or 4 day cricket and not T20.

Posted by Sundar on (August 14, 2008, 23:37 GMT)

Nonsense aricle. There is only one way to settle this. ICC is the governing body of international cricket. The ICC authorized body to run indian cricket is the BCCI. So the BCCI selected team will be the 'Indian' team. If it loses that authorization from the ICC and ICL gets it someday(hopefully not!! I will stop watching cricket then), then the ICL selected team will be the 'Indian' team.

Posted by Vinícius on (August 14, 2008, 16:27 GMT)

Perfect.But this is also happening in Olympics nowadays...an example?Brazil Football NT had to take out their crest from t-shirts since COB (Brazilian Olympic Comitee) wanted, since Brazil made a bid to host 2016 Olympics. This almost started a fight between COB and CBF. It's all a matter of $$$.

Posted by R.Narayan on (August 14, 2008, 10:20 GMT)

Well said. It is ridiculous that a team that purports to represent India arbitrarily excludes ICL players.Are they not Indian? Whatever happened to that law suit against the BCCi for restraint of trade and breach of Restrictive Trade practices laws? Surely,if the BCCI is a private club, and won't pick 'non-members', it cannot claim to represent the country. Disgusting as the BCCI's behavior is, I suppose it is better than Indian cricket being run by the babus of the IOA!

Posted by Marcus on (August 14, 2008, 9:38 GMT)

Regarding the Olympics, I wonder if the boards will allow their best teams to go to the Games. I knows that in the soccer, the Australian Ollyroos team is made up of players who've never been capped by the "Socceroos" team which represents Australia everywhere else. If that were to happen with cricket, then residency may not even be a requirement. It wouldn't be without precedent, would it? Ivory Coast's goalscorer in the Ivory Coast-Ollyroos match plays for Manchester. Zimbabwean swimming star Kirsty Coventry lives, trains and works in Texas. So what would stop the South Africans from recruiting their olympic cricket team from the Kolpakers in the English Counties, thus giving their Test regulars a break?

One way or the other, if cricket makes it to the Games it'll be very interesting to see what happens.

Posted by selim sidva on (August 14, 2008, 8:58 GMT)

Hang on! I have a vague notion that there is something called the Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) that is the uber force that can empower ICC to sanction tours and tournaments, and also give bodies like Cricket Australia and BCCI a trademark right over the names "Australia" and "India". Therefore, ICL cannot have the names of cities or states in India without qualifying them with a "Tigers" or whatever. Does anybody know?

Posted by Devendra on (August 14, 2008, 5:51 GMT)

Only someone who hates Indian cricket can think about the possibility of the Union Sports Ministry taking over the sport. There is no point in even referring to our fantastic performances at the Olympics down the decades. It is amazing and amusing as to how the BCCI is used by one and all as a punching bag. Tiger Pataudi recently appealed to all the sporting bodies in the country to regard the BCCI as a 'yardstick,' but most of them opted for the easier, 'punching bag' option. Nobody seems to have taken note of the fact that the BCCI has joined hands with the Union Sports Ministry to set up a corpus of Rs. 50 crores, to help train sportspersons in five disciplines - Swimming and weightlifting being two of them - for the next three years.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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