Depending on what happens over the Champions Trophy, cricket fans might soon be part of a political game of tit-for-tat which will have one common casualty - watching the best players from all over the world in action.
Since Bradman became the first global colossus of the game, we've seen a few players who have been adopted by genuine fans who can truly put aside their loyalties and simply recognise wonderful cricketers for what they are. In my lifetime, I immediately think of players like Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Muttiah Muralitharan, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall. I'm sure other readers will have their own favourites from countries other than a blind allegiance to their own.
IPL may represent a watershed in this regard. A bit like what county cricket did for the great West Indians, Pakistanis and other overseas players, IPL's model of bringing the great players of the modern era to Indian franchises and global television coverage will hopefully bring about a cultural shift in the minds of cricket fans all around the world. Imagine a team that might one day have Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar bowling in tandem. Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh winning a thrilling run-chase and embracing in delirious joy. OK, OK, now I'm getting carried away!
Every four years when the Olympics come around, it reminds me that the world of elite sport is exactly that - the world! Sure, I get excited when an Australian is competing and I sit a bit further forward in my seat but that's only natural. When someone like Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps takes to the starting blocks though, the sense of genuine pleasure is palpable. I'm not sure why because I have no real reason to cheer on Jamaica or the USA except for the fact that these guys just strip away my sense of identity. For a few minutes, they make me a citizen of the world.
Likewise with cricket, I have never understood people who can't see beyond their own local heroes. I'm sure there are many Indians who loved watching Wasim Akram whilst at the same time cursing him for every Indian wicket he ripped out. When I was a young boy growing up in Sri Lanka, I adored Allan Border to the extent where I'd even wear my lucky shirt every time he batted (until he got out cheaply and I threw it away in disgust!). Later, after moving to Australia, I remember 'hating' Gower with a passion during the 1985 Ashes Series but was still unable to switch off the television at three a.m. on a school day.
When I lived in England more recently, I chanced upon an encyclopedic statistician who refused to acknowledge that Shane Warne was arguably the greatest spin bowler of all time. When that same person later announced that Ricky Ponting was a flat track bully who only scored runs against poor bowlers, I immediately discounted him as a credible companion. He was just a sad, misguided soul, carrying a Wisden Almanack who missed his calling as Minister for British Propaganda.
Watching Michael Phelps last week was an exercise in shedding prejudice and just embracing a supreme human being. It was just good to be a part of the same species. Likewise with Usain Bolt - for those 10 seconds (9.6 to be exact), Jamaica shared him with the world. Revealingly, Bolt himself confesses that one of his biggest heroes is Matthew Hayden. Anyone who accuses Bolt of being disloyal to his fellow countrymen just misses the point totally. Some things in life go beyond Passport Control. If cricket is to become a truly global game to remotely rival soccer or tennis, it's future lies in taking a leaf out of the Olympic spirit and start revelling in greatness, regardless of whether it hails from Brisbane, Bangalore or Barbados. How many of us care whether Roger Federer is Swiss? Perhaps he has an Australian uncle somewhere.
In view of the looming crisis on the Champions Trophy front, it behooves all parties involved to realise that cricket cannot survive a global split along party political lines. World cricket needs to find a sensible compromise or else the Champions Trophy might be called that in name only.
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane