A thorny passage
"Aussies Dead in Mumbai Massacre." Thus the poster for the Australian the day after the attacks. Aussies? Well, yes - among nearly 200 others. But at times like these, all the gab of globalisation goes by the board, and concentration routinely becomes kith and kin, home and hearth.
Yet there is something shockingly new to the mayhem in Mumbai for distant foreigners, not least of the cricketing kind. Hitherto, terror in south Asia has been seen as a feature of Pakistani and Sri Lankan landscapes, where, especially in the case of the former, it has been regarded as confirming the destination as a bit of a hardship posting.
By contrast, India generally and Mumbai especially have been cricket's candy mountain, offering ever-tastier enticements to the star player - not merely money but excitement, attention, and a sense of importance. Non-Indian cricketers love cricket, but in their countries not everyone does; India offers a culture that values the game as much as, if not more than, the most enthusiastic professional practitioner.
Of course, the distinction was never quite so crisp. India never stopped being a country of extremes, with the possibility of violence. On May 11, bombs detonated in Jaipur, killing or injuring 250 people; three days later, Cameron White, Shane Watson, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis played an Indian Premier League match there. At the time, though, everything somehow seemed far rosier. Now confidence is more fragile, and more susceptible to sudden shocks, and India's economic and technological advances work curiously against it.
Almost four decades ago Australia toured an India wracked by civil unrest and economic austerity following the split of the Indian National Congress and bank nationalisation, aggravated by Charu Mazumdar's Naxalite terror. They were hemmed in by riots in Bombay; in Calcutta every window of the Australia hotel was broken by demonstrators against the presence of Doug Walters (who was thought, erroneously, to have served in Vietnam) and the team bus was bombarded with projectiles on the way to Dum-Dum Airport.
Yet their countrymen knew next to nothing of this. Mirabile dictu, there was not a single Australian journalist or broadcaster accompanying the team; team manager Fred Bennett was indifferent to complaints; and the attitude of Australian players was laconic resignation. Accordingly to Ashley Mallett, when the players were under siege in their Eden Gardens dressing room they simply drank tinnies, waiting for the violence to subside. Bennett burst in at one point and said agitatedly that the crowd were after captain Bill Lawry's blood. "Hand him over and we'll get on with the drinking," Walters suggested.
Today Mumbai is a centre of global commerce, tourism and media that reports itself assiduously and comprehensively, for internal and external consumption. When it burns, the radiant heat is felt thousands of miles away. Thus the shock and disorientation of seeing locations familiar to western tourists in flames and under fire, and the distress of knowing friends and colleagues may be involved.
When the smoke of burning hotels clears, some other signs may be seen in clearer aspect. Dazzled by the efflorescence of the Indian Premier League six months ago, observers have ignored less exciting but perhaps more meaningful phenomena since. The salient index of stocks on the Mumbai exchange, which rose six-fold in five years to the end of last year, has this year shed half its value. Offshore institutions, which bought a record US$17.4 billion of stocks last year, have sold $13.5 billion of stocks in 2008. The Indian middle-classes, so fundamental to the IPL's success, have been the chief sufferers.
Just two months ago, the right to broadcast the Champions League were sold for $900 million to ESPN-Star Sports, making it the highest-valued cricket tournament in history on a per-game basis. Since then, the financial services industry worldwide has had a nervous breakdown, and once-bankable deals have been redefined as wild flights of fancy. When BHP Billiton gave up its pell-mell pursuit of rival miner Rio Tinto last week, the surprise was that it had taken so long.
|So far the BCCI has relied on money to solve everything, to open every door, reconcile every difference, silence every doubter. In the face of such horrors as Mumbai has endured, however, money is muffled almost to muteness, and little use to anyone|
Sponsors for the Champions League have been far harder to find than for the IPL, while the tournament has occupied more dates than the Queen's Birthday. In the minds of many fans, in fact, it remains blurred with the similarly benighted Champions Trophy - so many champions, it seems, so little time. Nor, apart from those domestic cricketers for whom it loomed as the biggest payday of their lives, has it been obvious who exactly benefits from the tournament, or exactly to whom it will appeal.
Postponement saves us from pondering, for now at least, who next Saturday was going to watch Western Australia play the Dolphins at Chinnaswamy Stadium, having not watched the world's top two Test nations duke it out there last month.
The BCCI itself is embroiled in a legal battle with its former chief, Jagmohan Dalmiya, expelled from the board almost two years ago, but now intent on the administrative equivalent of a victory after following on. Just days ago, the High Court in Calcutta ordered criminal proceedings against the board president, Shashank Manohar, administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty, secretary N Srinivasan, and ICC president-to-be Sharad Pawar for swearing false evidence. Pawar's power base may be further eroded if the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party can parlay its tough stand on terrorism into votes at the polls early next year.
In the near term, one jolt may be particularly felt. So far the BCCI has relied on money to solve everything, to open every door, reconcile every difference, silence every doubter. "Money doesn't talk, it swears," Bob Dylan sang famously, and for the last year it has carried on like Sarah Silverman. In the face of such horrors as Mumbai has endured, however, money is muffled almost to muteness, and little use to anyone.
The BCCI philosophy, hitherto, has been to tell the rest of the world: "We are changing everything. Get on board or be left behind." In future, however, the board may need to win friends as well as merely influence people.
Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer