August 4, 2014

Are the big three's bonds in danger of fraying?

If Australia come after India on the field the way James Anderson allegedly did, will the triumvirate be able to hold together?

The Anderson-Jadeja incident shows that cricket boards will only act on national self-interest © Getty Images

Is cricket healthier than it has ever been globally? In the aftermath of the FIFA World Cup, which probably attracted the highest TV audience for such an event in mankind's history, what can cricket learn from it to help expand its market?

In a competitive sense, I would argue that it's healthy - in that in all three forms of the game, it is now a genuinely open playing field. The West Indies dynasty of the 1970s and 1980s, followed by the ten to 15 years of Australian dominance, has now been replaced by five or six teams that are all equally capable of winning games, even away from home. Teams that are trounced one day can win equally resoundingly a week later.

England were humiliated at Lord's by India's pace attack on a green pitch. A few days later, Moeen Ali, a modest spinner playing for England, took six wickets to send India crashing in Southampton. South Africa's pace attack blew Sri Lanka away at the dustbowl in Galle and then scrapped bravely to save the next Test in Colombo, barely recognisable from the dominant team of the week previous. Sri Lanka played an early-summer series in England and beat them on pitches meant to favour England's bread-and-butter seamers. New Zealand travelled to the West Indies and brought home the spoils, unthinkable a few decades ago. Afghanistan beat Zimbabwe in two ODIs away from home. Germany put seven past Brazil in a semi-final in Brazil. Has the world gone mad?

Off the field, the quality of leadership does an admirable job of resembling the moral vacuum that is FIFA. You only have to look at the way the Uruguayans reacted to Luis Suarez's suspension to realise that when it comes to national self-interest, there is no higher calling. It's all about your own bottom line. The ICC, of course, is a mere child when it comes to emulating the big boys of FIFA. Nonetheless it does an admirable job of running the global game with a similar ineptness, specialising in selective blindness and myopic tunnel vision, presumably a KPI for successfully running any international sport. Many of their match referees, serial sledgers in their time, presumably without legal qualifications, make decisions in quasi-legalspeak that tell of an organisation that understands that the tail wags the dog. There's more bite in the fleas than the dog.

Indians and Australians are now firm friends. Can those warm bonds survive the heat of fierce competition? My experience of Australians is that they are pretty good at separating one issue from another, but the Indian culture may not be as flexible when it comes to that sort of thing

For all the talk of football being the world game, it is still the exclusive domain of the privileged few and a few others prepared to allow that status quo to continue in return for a fistful of dollars. At least cricket has had World Cup winners (in all formats) from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. Of the genuine contenders, only Africa remains unrepresented in that respect. The football World Cup has only ever been won by South American or European countries. Watching the referees in matches involving any other continent made me genuinely wonder if this hegemony is ever likely to be altered. Cricket, in a different way, has now created a power bloc to match the FIFA fiefdom, led by India, and supported by Australia and England.

This triumvirate rejects accusations of being the global bully boys, reassuring us that they will govern for the good of the game. On the surface, the BCCI and the ECB have maintained a distance; one wonders if there have been behind-the-scenes conversations about what really happened and which witnesses are to be believed. It seems implausible that both parties can be telling the truth.

It will be interesting to see what stand India take when they tour their other "family member", Australia, later this year. It is almost inevitable that they will experience more of the sort of behaviour that they took offence to when it came from a repeat offender like Anderson. India have made it clear now that they will not sit back and cop it sweet, but Australia are equally adamant that their uncompromising style of play will not be tempered, especially if they smell Indian blood in the waters, on hard, fast pitches that will be a direct payback for the low, slow surfaces that were served up to them in India last year. If it blows up again, will there be a family feud that simmers and bubbles over?

This is perhaps the IPL's greatest gift to the game. There aren't any England Test players in the IPL, so there are no franchise friendships to soothe frayed tempers. The Indians and Australians are now firm friends; can those warm bonds survive the heat of fierce competition? My experience of Australians is that they are pretty good at separating one issue from another, but the Indian culture may not be as flexible when it comes to that sort of thing. Football too has those same global friendships from the various club competitions in Europe, but judging by the gamesmanship and blatant cheating that was evident in so many games in the World Cup, perhaps cricket too will find it difficult to sometimes favour club cousins over blood brothers.

Speaking of brothers, is cricket ever likely to see that amazing situation with the brothers Boateng of Germany and Ghana? Perhaps it is not that far away, with all the cross-border traffic that is occurring, especially in England with Kolpak regulations. We've already had the Pattinson brothers play for different countries, albeit not against each other in an international. The IPL has had the Husseys, Pathans and Morkels in direct competition. When will we see this in an international? Imagine if that situation existed in the latest Anderson-Jadeja incident, where witnesses from each team testified for their own team-mate. At least one side must have known they were giving false witness, but they were clearly prepared to do it for their mate. Ask them to betray a brother (in blood or in an IPL/BBL/CPL context) and that will surely test those bonds.

Anderson's admission that he used the sort of language that is all too common when proudly representing his country in a Test match pales into insignificance when considered in the context of threats to break Jadeja's teeth. Anderson himself was the victim of a similar threat from Michael Clarke in Brisbane last November. And the ICC still pretends that there is such a thing as the spirit of cricket? Next thing we know, they'll claim to have seen the Loch Ness monster too but there's no footage of it because the video camera was sent to Nottingham, presumably to track down another mythical figure, Robin Hood. In the new spirit of cricket, Mr Hood is now stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. How very FIFA.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane