January 28, 2014

Cricket fans don't pay to watch administrators

Andy Zaltzman
"Fans needn't worry their little heads over the structure of the game. You guys just smile and wave"  © Associated Press
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It is a commonly acknowledged fact of existence that the strong, wealthy and powerful generally want only two things in life: more, and more.

This immutable truth lies behind, for example, the testosterone-fuelled cataclysms in the global economy; the energetic wanderings of Silvio Berlusconi's unrestrainable donglerod; Lance Armstrong riding the Tour de France on a Kawasaki 350, or whatever the latest allegation against him is; and the lunatic skyline of Dubai. To this illustrious list of human strivings may, in time, be added the overhaul of the ICC that has put a truckload of irascible cats amongst a caravan full of cricketing pigeons, and which is being discussed amidst that lunatic skyline this week.

I cannot claim to be fully abreast of all the drafts, proposals, machinations, squawks, countersquawks, smoke, mirrors, giant flashing $ signs, earnest sonnets of love written to the future of Test cricket, and whatever else has, has not or might have possibly been involved. Far better-informed cricketologists than I have given their carefully considered opinions on the matter, on these pages and elsewhere. I have little to add, other than that I feel a creeping sense of unease about the sport I love, and an intangible suspicion that I would not like Messrs Clarke, Edwards and Srinivasan all to come round for dinner at my house on the same night.

To be honest, whenever I read about cricket politics, after about two paragraphs I drift off and start thinking about David Gower finessing Ray Lindwall through extra cover, or Harold Larwood bouncing out Inzamam-ul-Haq. One minute I will be concentrating feverishly on percentage breakdowns of revenue from putative future TV deals, or on which sub-committees can recommend what to whom. Then my focus will dissolve and I will imperceptibly segue into pondering how the ECB earning more money will indirectly help Darren Sammy bowl 10mph faster, or whether it is technically possible to scrap something - for example, a Future Tours programme - that has basically already been junked, or at least battered into an unrecognisable pulp. I might then find myself contemplating the difference between an unmissable once-in-a-lifetime special offer and blackmail.

Before long, my mind will have strayed so far from cricket that it will mull instead on whether I have left the Bolognese bubbling for too long on the cooker, or whether Frankel the superhorse (a) is happy in his post-racing stud-farm career as an equine gigolo who has impregnated more than 100 lady horses for money, or (b) feels exploited for his body, emotionally hollow, and increasingly unable to relate to mares on a genuine horse-to-horse level. Then I will snap back to reality and look up a stat about eighth-wicket partnerships in 1930s Test matches, and all will be well again.

In short, I do not follow cricket politics closely. There is enough politics in the world. Sport is an escape from it. My only interest in cricket politics is in its success or failure at facilitating the playing of good-quality cricket, which, with regard to the international game, is its primary, perhaps sole, raison d'ĂȘtre. Cricket politics is like a worm. It fulfils a valuable function, but should preferably remain unseen and unheard, and when it is too visible and too audible, it is probably not doing its job very well. And rapidly becomes extremely disconcerting.

What I do know, however, is the following:

* Money talks. And it is particularly eloquent when it is changed into coins, melted down, cast into the shape of a giant medieval cannon and pointed directly at someone's head whilst a man in a pinstripe suit standing next to the cannon says: "Wouldn't it be a shame if this went off in your face? Now, what was it we were talking about?"

* It is often the case that, in negotiations, a party that wants a ridiculous outcome will put forward a rampantly idiotic proposal, in order to facilitate the achievement of that merely ridiculous outcome under the illusory cloak of "compromise". Such negotiations are generally tricky for the weaker parties. As the old saying goes: "Give them an inch, they will take a mile." The problem is, if you do not give them the inch, they will take the mile anyway. So you might as well give them the inch and hope that at least they smile at you whilst shoving you into a ditch on their way to taking the mile.

* No cricket fan has ever paid to watch an administrator. There have never been queues around the block to watch Giles Clarke send a fax, or Wally Edwards check his email, or N Srinivasan sit in a large swivel chair stroking a cat. These people should be servants of the game with whose livelihood they have found themselves temporarily entrusted. Albeit that they are not on servants' wages. History will judge the quality of service they have provided to cricket. This week will probably define their legacy.

* There are times as a cricket fan when one is assailed by a nagging sense that the sport is in the control of a strange cabal of brigands, charlatans, egotists, half-wits and lunatics. Including some who can claim to be all of the above, in a five-for-the-price-of-one smorgasbord of nuttiness. Hopefully the sense will dissipate over the next few days. Hopefully.

* Since the T20 bonanza kaboomed into being, cricket and cricketers have enjoyed the benefits of Big Money. When Big Money knocks at your door, it is difficult to turn it away. Often it may fund some long-overdue home improvements. However, it is a house guest that seldom leaves empty-handed.

* Beware what comes out of the rear end of a golden goose. It may not be quite what you expect or want. Particularly if you are aggressively badgering the goose to lay you another one of its nice shiny eggs.

* Cricket can learn from America. American sport is rampantly commercial. Its player contracts, media-rights deals and merchandising operations are vast. Its Man-of-the-Match awards are for the Most Valuable Player; trophies are awarded to franchise owners, not team captains; clubs can be moved from city to city on an economic whim. It expresses American capitalism and consumerism with unashamed brashness. However, it is also aware that its financial and popular success is dependent in large part on the protection and promotion of its history and heritage, and, above all, on the deliberate nurturing of genuine, unpredictable competition. To a significant extent, it nurtures the weaker teams and restricts the stronger.

Thus it has avoided the plutocratic tedium of the major European football leagues. When the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks contest Sunday's Super Bowl, they will be the ninth and tenth different teams to have appeared in the last five editions of sport's most lavish, money-licked showpiece.

As the old saying goes: "Give them an inch, they will take a mile." The problem is, if you do not give them the inch, they will take the mile anyway. So you might as well give them the inch and hope that at least they smile at you whilst shoving you into a ditch on their way to taking the mile

There have been 12 different winners of the last 20 Super Bowls, and ten more franchises have also made it to the NFL's season-ending final. In baseball, nine different franchises have won the World Series in the 13 seasons since the moneybags New York Yankees' run of four titles in five years was broken in 2001.

A half-minute TV commercial during the Super Bowl costs around $4 million (which explains why the Confectionery Stall will not be featuring in this year's advertisement roster). Top baseballers happily rake in $20 million a season or more. So big money and striving for the collective good are not mutually exclusive in top-level sport. If anything, they can be mutually dependent. I am fairly sure that TV companies will pay more for a sport with eight, ten or even 12 competitive teams, than merely three or four. This should be international cricket's goal for the Test game.

* The status quo is rubbish. ODIs are regularly played between teams denuded of first-choice players; back-to-back Test series have become commonplace, bringing a lack of anticipation and variety, and sometimes a feeling of contractual obligation; from January 2010 to October 2015, England and South Africa will have played the grand total of three Test matches against each other; Tests are condensed into a needlessly short time frame, whilst ODI series are dragged out over several interminable weeks, and World Cups over months, sometimes seemingly years. It would be simple to rectify all these issues. Simple, but perhaps a little less profitable.

* In 21st-century cricket administration, no one trusts anyone. Generally with good reason.

* There is, comfortably, enough money in cricket for the international game to be well-organised, competitive, and sensibly structured, in all three formats. There is enough interest, passion and will, amongst players, fans and (I think and assume) administrators, for Test cricket to survive and, relatively, thrive.

If these basic goals are not achieved, some powerful and well-remunerated people will have failed. I do not care who they are, where they come from, whom they support, who supports them, what their specific responsibilities are or are assumed to be, or what motivates them or their employers. I do not care who likes whom, or who once said what to whom, about whom, or behind whose back. I do not suppose many cricket fans or cricket players do either.

I do care that, whatever happens with the horse-trading and power games this week, cricket's movers and shakers move in the right direction and shake the appropriate trees. They have the resources, opportunity and duty to succeed. If they do not, then they deserve to be haunted by the ghosts of cricketers and cricket lovers past, all dressed in cricket kit, screaming in their most spooky available voices, "What have you done? What have you done to something that was not yours?"

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by ferngully on (January 29, 2014, 18:26 GMT)

First of all, the comment about Silvio Berlusconi's dongle rod had me howling on the floor laughing.

Secondly, "There is enough politics in the world. Sport is an escape from it." - BRILLIANT! We can never escape sports and money, but if we can't at least pretend to while at the cricket, it is no longer the game we all have known and loved since the first crack of ball on willow.

Posted by Rufus_Fuddleduck on (January 29, 2014, 15:12 GMT)

Would that cricket flourishes, and not other games under its aegis. And would that a year or two later all this nonsense goes away and we read your article on more profound topics like why Bangladesh should aim for at least one batsman to have a king pair against them and so on.....

Posted by PlaySafeus on (January 29, 2014, 14:31 GMT)

To Haunt Cricket administrators, ghosts will be reading this article to them on daily basis. So they may understand how they have messed up a GEM that was supposed to be taken care of.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (January 29, 2014, 8:05 GMT)

" I do not follow cricket politics closely. There is enough politics in the world. Sport is an escape from it. - sez it all......nice one Zaltz :)

Posted by gaindballa on (January 29, 2014, 4:32 GMT)

@ rushhour i like the proposal of India England and Australia being in the World Cup semis all the time. I would like to go one step further though. Even if India looses in the semi they get to be in the final. After all that would make the most financial sense. @ muhamed nazi, You are up man. Looks like WICB is in with the big 3.

Posted by Insult_2_Injury on (January 29, 2014, 2:35 GMT)

Nice one Andy, I almost fell asleep reading the heading because it had the word administrator in it, but glad I faced up to the article!

Funny how 'high' level functionaries always bleat about their service to the cause. Cardinals always give sermons on their service to God and Parish as they have their destitute parishioners stacking barrels of gold & myrrh in the catacombs of their castles.

I'm sure I'll love the 'product' put forward by the three wise men of cricket, I just think I might need a bit more than a patrician pat on the head and season tickets to the IPL blockbusters before I endorse moving their thrones into the Dubai Cathedral of Cricket.

Why haven't South Africa (number one in nearly all forms) been admitted to the inner sanctum? Simple really, they employed an administrator not on good terms with the BCCI. That's how short term these people think, while bleating about the future of the sport.

Posted by KPWij on (January 29, 2014, 1:51 GMT)

Cricket is now resource rich with the T20 competitions being played around the world. The sport has money, popularity of the shorter forms of the game are increasing and the lesser teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are starting to show improvement and are starting to compete against the traditionally powerful nations. The idea of creating a tiered system now is incredibly counter-intuitive and in my view counter productive. People actually don't want to see more Ashes contests and India v Australia series, they want to see an emerging NZ play a formidable Australia, they want to see if Zimbabwe can compete with England... If we want to see cricket develop, more teams coming into the international area we need to make sure the 10 current test teams fall in one tier and the new teams being integrated get an opportunity to play these top 10 teams. We are finally seeing some close contests around the world and administrators want to stop this... seems self destructive to me!

Posted by jimbond on (January 29, 2014, 0:33 GMT)

If one remembers cricket from 20 to 30 years ago, the intensity and seriousness was at least that of current levels, and the spectator interest was at least this much. So what has really changed? Its just that with Packer and learning from NBA etc, the administrators have learnt to milk the game better. As a result, there are more formats and more matches, players are (also willing to be) worked like horses or donkeys, and their pay cheques have risen substantially. Everyone is happy, they are getting what they want. But people have forgotten where the money is coming from- and with money comes power. The current revenue model is largely from TV and sponsorship based on TV exposure- which implies larger revenues from more populated (albeit poorer populations) in India- a clear example of wealth at the bottom of the pyramid. People need to realise- if they want to get a share of the money, they have to put up with the tantrums of those in power, else learn to live with less.

Posted by EashwarSai on (January 29, 2014, 0:13 GMT)

You forgot to mention that all the NFL teams are from the same country. Very different from the ICC which is composed of different 100 countries. Why should a very poor country like India subsidize cricket in much richer western countries like NZ and SA? If more money will stay in India by playing the IPL instead of the world cup, why shouldn't India do that? Since winning the cricket world cup or a test series isn't going to eliiminate poverty or generate world headlines like the FIFA world cup, the time is better spent playing your own competition.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.

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