August 8, 2008

Split wide open

Cricket's clash of cultures is now more pronounced than ever, and money lies at the root
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India and England find themselves at opposite poles and the ICC won't be able to bring them together in a hurry © Getty Images

Cricket, like much else, can only be a product of the world it operates in. Few things exist in a vacuum and cricket isn't one of them. The world we inhabit today is polarised and split. Lines have been drawn, sides taken and wars begun, geographically, culturally, religiously; between injustices of the past and redressals of the future, between haves and have-nots; this world is divided. Perhaps it was never united.

The same can be said of cricket and no matter how deep into Dubai's sands the ICC sinks its head, it cannot run away from this truth. How else to explain the funk cricket finds itself in over Zimbabwe, or the Champions Trophy, or over Twenty20 leagues? Over each matter cricket has fought within itself - a battle not of ideas, visions, morals or principles, but between cultures and geography, power and money.

Mostly but not always, the Asian countries have come together. They continue to back full membership for Zimbabwe, for example, despite doubts over whether there is any cricket worth its name being played there. Australia, England, New Zealand, and now even South Africa, want Zimbabwe out, yet Pakistan's academy side will soon be touring there. Ostensibly the quibble has been over whether sports and politics should mix, but the issue essentially is of realpolitik for the Asian bloc: in a ten-member body, each vote, no matter how dysfunctional the body that casts it, is crucial.

Similar lines have been drawn over the issues of security, though here it is more difficult to sit in judgment. The non-Asian bloc is not willing to travel to Pakistan for the Champions Trophy, for they don't think it safe. Yet, not two months ago, the Asia Cup was played not only in Pakistan, but mostly in Karachi, without so much as a second thought about the security situation. One visiting security official wanting to interview Indian and Sri Lankan team members is believed to have had difficulties chasing players, so often were they out of their hotels. In contrast, teams from England and South Africa worry about cabin fever and not having anything to do apart from keeping safe inside the hotel room. Some countries are more attuned - and immune - to instability than others.

The most blurred battle is the one being fought over money, about power: who has it and who doesn't, and these are the splits most difficult to patch up. India currently has it all with the IPL and a leading stake in the Champions League. England once had it all and is riled. Stanford and plans for another Champions League are their counters. Those two may not seem like much now, but ultimately if either offers players more money, the IPL may not be the only sugar daddy around. Asia, predictably, is bending over backwards to accommodate the region's big brother. Australia, strangely, is not as riled as England and is happy to throw their lot in with India. Money breeds strange loyalties.

Can the ICC bring all this together? Doubtful, for the ICC is what it is: it represents only the stakes of each member and nothing more. Its decisions are dictated only by its members. So it is up to individual boards, particularly the big three, to act, and not just in their own interests.

Australia are the game's leaders on the field, but off it they are curiously reticent. They will follow the BCCI gladly to where the money is, and why not? The market is big and India provides them with a luscious, lucrative modern-day rivalry. Yet, elsewhere they are backwards in coming forward. Shamefully, they haven't visited Pakistan in over ten years, in which time they've visited even Zimbabwe once. What that says for the FTP is too rude to print here. If Australia are brave and take the plunge by coming to Pakistan this September, countries such as England, South Africa and New Zealand will surely follow. If Australia are smart they will also mediate more actively between India and England, who also provide them with their highest-profile contests.

England must understand that cricket may have begun with the Ashes, but it no longer ends with it. Their obsession with it to the exclusion of all else is frightening and demeaning. Kevin Pietersen has barely begun in the captaincy before hopes and fears are being expressed over a contest 11 months away. Tours to India and West Indies - vital, important, tough tours, which take them into the Ashes - suddenly have all the significance of an invitational 12-a-side tour game. Both have been rejigged, one for the IPL and one because the BCCI said so. Instead of trying to ensure another Test against India, perhaps to build a sustainable rivalry from a magnificent contest last summer, they complain that the venues are a pain in the ass. Acknowledging that India now is the financial power might allow England to focus more on the role for which they are suited: shaping the game's character and development.

 
 
Can the ICC bring all this together? Doubtful, for the ICC is what it is: it represents only the stakes of each member and nothing more. It decisions are dictated only by its members
 

To all their power, India need to add grace, as well as some of the humility for which they were once renowned. And stop thinking of each victory on and off the field as a righting of past wrongs. They need to work with the game, with other countries, and recognise the need for compromise; because no matter how much revenue they generate, playing by yourself isn't much fun. A superpower in a world of one is not so super.

So the house of cricket stands divided. Maybe it has always been; after all when England and Australia ran the game, only the roles were reversed. Cricket remains a confined, claustrophobic sport. That one country ruled over most of the rest - in fact planted the game in those countries - till recently complicates matters. Colonial wounds are fresh enough, so ensuing relations are complex.

And if the sport were a social class, it would be nouveau riche. Big money has come to it only recently, and there are signs it could get bigger. As with the class, the acquisition of money, and not necessarily the able handling of it, is more notable. The truth that more money brings more problems wasn't realised only by Biggie Smalls.

The imbalances are also now graver, as most of the money comes from one country. The longer this remains the case, the more splits will fester. For now, Zimbabwe is not going anywhere, neither is the civil war in Sri Lanka or the war on terror in Pakistan. Men such as Stanford and competitions such as the IPL are not running out of cash soon.

Lest this period of disquiet be labelled a one-off, it is not. For a time in the summer of 2006, a similar polarisation occurred. The Test formerly known as the forfeited one; South Africa leaving Sri Lanka after bomb blasts (India played on); Dean Jones' ignorance in stereotyping Hashim Amla, all brought out cricket's ugly divisions.

To pretend they don't exist is to add to the problem. Cricket is moving hastily into a new age. To do so successfully it needs to heal its wounds and first find peace within itself.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dogevpr2 on August 10, 2008, 14:32 GMT

    Whilst I might disagree with taking no action in Zimbabwe it's fitting that BCCI should strive to balance the longterm dominance by the Britsh and Australian of the ICC. Cricket not being in the Olympics is an example of a policy which does India (and Pakistan,Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) no good.There is Volleyball and Beach Volleyball but no cricket? If China can host the Olympics Cricket2012Games.com can't understand why the world would deny India,the world's largest democracy, the chance to win a Medal in cricket in 2012. As for the T20 IPL/ICL type leagues-they are great for the game and can happily coexist with Test cricket. It's also neccessary for the survival of the game as it faces competition from basketball,baseball and golf.

  • michaelfernando on August 9, 2008, 20:06 GMT

    IPLFan (Posted on Aug 8, 04:12 AM GMT) is correct. The time has come to move on from the country vs. country top level cricket. The cure for the imbalance is parity. Parity between teams, between population centers and what markets can sustain cricket teams. And, the top level of professional cricket needs a better structure. Once that happens, people will enjoy cricket for the game, not for the blind national pride. Expanded articles are at:

    http://inningsbreak.blogspot.com/ and http://blogs.cricinfo.com/inbox/archives/2008/08/first_icl_now_wcl.php

  • AsherCA on August 9, 2008, 18:44 GMT

    ICC's treatment of India & Pakistan -

    1. Human errors from ICC's "neutral umpires" against India every time Australia is in trouble.

    2. Visible inconsistency from even match referees who simply ignore code of conduct violations by Aussie / WI / SA cricketers, but apply the toughest permitted penalty when Indians / Pakistanis are at apparently fault. There is inconsistency in evidence requirement also. Blatant code of conduct violations by Keppler Wessels, Andrew Symonds, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting et al have been brushed under the carpet by ICC match referees who regularly hit Indians / Pakistanis with the toughest permitted penalties.

    3. The whole world saw that Indian Harbhajan Singh was penalised by an ICC match referee without sufficient evidence the first time round. On review with more evidence, Harbhajan's offence was at par with that of an Australian. There is no penalty to the Australian, Indian Harbhajan has suffered a penalty.

    WHO IS BULLYING - INDIA OR AUSTRALIA !

  • Kirk-at-Lords on August 9, 2008, 17:11 GMT

    Sometimes it takes a person with both wisdom and courage to identify the elephants (in this case both Indian and African) filling most of the room. Thanks to Osman Samiuddin for being that person. What is needed now is something beyond ICC action (if such a thing is even possible). Cricket needs a grand restructuring of its basic governance. Consider the case of the young USA, saddled with a hotch-potch "Confederation" government that was a laughingstock to its own citizens. The solution was a great Convention that produced a new Constitution. Having made no immense proposals recently, I herby offer one. Convene a Cricket Convention in Philadelphia USA, the birthplace of the US Constitution. Hold the Convention at America's one historically well-established cricket centre: Haverford College, which happens to be in Philadelphia. Have delegates from each cricketing nation (Test, Affiliates, Candidates, everyone!) attend. Let them create a "cricketing republic" worth keeping.

  • jaskaranjw on August 9, 2008, 15:50 GMT

    I fully agree with redneck here,IPL sucks(and I couldn't care less about ICL),I as an Indian am not hesitant to say it out loud. IPL was exciting for like the first week or so there was no national pride in it,I'd rather see a well contested Test match between India and Australia(which was way more exciting,controversial but exciting,than the IPL's..enough of them already).

    The recent test series between India and Sri Lanka has been far better cricketing experience for me and I feel that the upcoming ODI's(with SL) and the Test series(vs Australia) and the series against England would be exciting to watch as well.

    Although I fear that Modi is going to come up with some more idiotic plans in the near future which would include more crappy IPL and less international matches....I'd love to see 3 test matches,5 odi's maybe 3 T20 series as opposed to the two whole seasons of IPL.

  • JackJ on August 9, 2008, 13:14 GMT

    Osman sums up the situation well. That there are divisive forces in the ICC is obvious. I discern two major problems: Firstly the BCCI and India trying to dominate, and then the excessive hype over T20. T20 cannot be allowed to dominate or disrupt cricket. Being a purist, I see this format as naked money-making, in catering for non-cricket fans. Cricket was the favoured sport in India long before T20! The best way to handle it is to have all T20 controlled by the ICC and have one gap time when its played. Get the money-making over quickly. The other issue is more intractable. Just because England/Australia once dominated is no valid reason for India to try to follow suit! England invented cricket and they and Aus have by far the longest history in the game. In any case, these 2 long ago showed their maturity by giving up their ICC vetoes. Its time BCCI grew up and stopped trying to bully the others. If they don't, they will become outcasts! 2008 is not 1948, the world has moved on.

  • asim1 on August 9, 2008, 5:35 GMT

    I enjoyed reading the article , however i believe that the politics and the divide , are not always visible, and they tend to evaporate once the games actually begin...... clear the air, play cricket (well) and no one will care about what the boards are trying to do ... id like to remain oblivious to all of the nonsense , I'm a fan of cricket, not its administration.

  • vswami on August 9, 2008, 2:20 GMT

    Its incredibly funny to see whats happening now where every board wants to publicly attack BCCI and then send an official soon after to negotiate with BCCI to send a team over to play and earn some money. ECB takes the cake in this .. firstly denouncing all things organised by BCCI in the strongest terms and then begging BCCI to play in its Champions League. Its the biggest laugh I have had in recent times.

  • fataquie on August 8, 2008, 23:07 GMT

    Truth is always bitter, especially in ICC's case. I found Osman's article to be very balanced. But again, it seems people commenting on Osman's personality should either contribute to the discussion's topic as opposed to the writer's personality.

    Truth hurts and that is why, I believe most people commenting are making irrational comments on the writers personality......Where is the moderator?

  • Sky-Walker on August 8, 2008, 22:59 GMT

    I like the way Osman writes as most of the time he provides true picture of what is going on in Pakistan team as he has more information and knowledge about each player and their culture. However in the above article I did not get clearly what he wants BCCI to do ?, can he explain little bit what he meant by " Grace and Humanity" Is Indian team disgraceful and inhuman ? What does he meant by "righting of past wrongs"? Is BCCI not working with other Boards ? Are they arrogant to other boards ? Yes, they are very very arrogant to ICL , to media , to other state associations but not to other Countries as they need players for IPL! . If any other reader picked up Osman's mind pl. pl. explain it to me the meaning of the above ,thanks.

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