Power above integrity, an Asian malady requires remedy
World Champions India dominating in the Caribbean, Pakistan cricketers shining in an English domestic tournament, Sri Lanka winning at the home of cricket, Bangladesh a full member of the ICC, all rosy in the garden of South Asian cricket? Rosy, that is, if you choose to turn your gaze from the weeds and parasites destroying this once thriving landscape.
An alternative analysis paints a bleaker picture. India dominating but damaging international cricket, the fabric of Pakistan cricket disintegrating by the day, Sri Lanka in the grip of politically motivated decline, and the cricket of Bangladesh no further advanced than in the days before full member status.
Worryingly, a gloomier verdict has been gathering momentum for years, and a fortnight of expedient words and some forthright wisdom has brought this important debate back to prominence. The cricketing powers of South Asia face fundamental challenges, as underlined by recent pronouncements by ICC officialdom and Kumar Sangakkara's libero performance, with the decrepit governance of cricket in the region being the unifying theme.
India's cricket board, the BCCI, faces perhaps the greatest test of character. Having established itself as the power behind the ICC, the BCCI must demonstrate that it is capable of exercising power with responsibility. That responsibility includes the long-term global development of cricket and the welfare of its member cricket boards, a remit that extends far beyond short-term profiteering and promotion of cricket as a national vanity project.
The power of the BCCI is such that criticism falls on deaf ears. What the BCCI wants, whether it is in relation to lucrative national Twenty20 tournaments or the use of technology to support umpiring decisions, is what the BCCI gets. Decisions are couched in diplomatic doublespeak and endorsed by a rubber-stamping majority on the ICC executive.
Whether this judgment is harsh or fair will be proven by the outcomes of the ICC's governance review and the initiative to depoliticise ICC's member cricket boards. If in two years time the BCCI is strengthened or merely unaffected by any reforms, these initiatives will have been a sham exercise. Alternatively, were BCCI to emerge weaker and less dominant, favouring a more consensual decision-making process, world cricket would be strengthened.
Power is a drug and the BCCI appears particularly intoxicated. Outside pressure is unlikely to offer detoxification. The onus is on Indians to speak up to reign in their own cricket board. Many do already, but those voices must be multiplied and amplified to divert the BCCI from its present hubristic course. A bitter irony accompanied ICC's announcement that politics must be separated from cricket governance since the BCCI has played an astute political game to secure its pre-eminent position in world cricket.
The damaging effects of political interference were underlined by Sangakkara's Spirit of Cricket Lecture at Lord's this week, and the disease of political interference is a pandemic that engulfs the whole South Asian region in every walk of life. Political interference and obsession with power isn't unique to South Asia but it threatens the future and integrity of international cricket on a scale unrivalled by any other cricketing country or region.
Sangakkara traces Sri Lanka's cricket troubles back to the World Cup win in 1996. The passion and clarity of his delivery was refreshing for a modern cricketer, and he helped explain Sri Lanka's failure to move on significantly from that victorious night in Lahore. A reasonable hypothesis is that as a new cricketing nation with a point to prove success was the primary motivation of all stakeholders in Sri Lankan cricket until that triumph filled people's heads with thoughts of power, fame, and influence. The politics of power devoured the unity that is a prerequisite for success.
Sangakkara's robust critique was impressive for its willingness to reproach his countrymen for the sake of the integrity of cricket in his country. Indeed, Imran Khan delivered last year's Spirit of Cricket Lecture and disappointed many of his countrymen by failing to speak up about the crisis that is engulfing the Pakistan Cricket Board.
Perhaps Imran thought that any criticism would be old hat? Certainly, the report of the ICC Pakistan Task Team has offered no new insights or new solutions to Pakistan's ills. But it is significant that the task team officially switched its focus to the integrity and governance of Pakistan cricket following the spot-fixing crisis; integrity and good governance first to stabilise Pakistan cricket, the issue of home fixtures a distant second.
In polite diplomatic tones the task team is highly critical of the PCB and its governance of Pakistan cricket. The pot calling the kettle black perhaps but considering the change in the task team's remit the recommendations are difficult to argue with since they are precisely what the PCB's critics have been demanding.
In short, the governance of the PCB and its administration of Pakistan cricket is an absolute shambles requiring root and branch reform. Anybody with any genuine affection for Pakistan cricket would agree with that conclusion. There is no mechanism for implementation of the task force's recommendations, however. More troublesome still is that rather than the report being helpful since the PCB may not even pay lip service, Pakistan cricket is now set up for two unwelcome outcomes.
The absence of a clear road map for the return of international cricket to Pakistan, understandable as it is given the current political climate and the bungling security record of the PCB, the task team has enshrined the policy of Pakistan's home fixtures being played on neutral venues. Far from hastening tours to Pakistan, the task team has shifted them off the agenda.
What's more, the Pakistan Cricket Board has been officially placed on notice that its ruinous governance is a major contributor to the crises that have damaged and continue to threaten the integrity of international cricket. Instead of the beginning of a journey to rehabilitate Pakistan cricket, were the PCB to ignore the Pakistan Task Team, this might turn out to be the first step on the road to the expulsion of Pakistan from the ICC.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here