Gideon Haigh
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Cricket historian and writer in Melbourne

Cricketainment, eh?

The Stewart Regan email shows that cricket suffers from administrators frustrated with and contemptuous of the game they have been entrusted with

Gideon Haigh

May 11, 2010

Comments: 42 | Text size: A | A

Hampshire players John Crawley, Simon Katich, Shaun Udal, Lawrence Prittipaul and Alan Mullally wait in the dugout during the Twenty20 Cup match between Hampshire and Sussex, Southampton, June 13, 2003
Memo to Mr Regan: England were doing dugouts and popstars at the Twenty20 back in 2003 © Getty Images
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To extract the maximum hilarity from the email of Yorkshire chief executive Stewart Regan to his fellow county bosses, imagine it read with the accent of one of PG Wodehouse's upper-class nincompoops. "The IPL model relies heavily on 'star players' and this is why they have been so successful," pants Regan. "Matches include fashion shows, after-match parties and entertainment. They have launched the word 'CRICKETAINMENT' which I think is really innovative."

I say, that Lalit Modi is a jolly clever fellow, eh? He's launched a whole new word, dontcha know? In India, they have "star players" and whatnot. You can't miss what Wodehouse called the "certain what-is-it" in Regan's voice. Here's someone who seems to have just found out that cricket concerns more than the forward-defensive stroke. Perhaps this is news in Yorkshire, where they proverbially don't play for fun, tha knows. But is it any wonder that Modi looks like a genius when he keeps this sort of company?

Let's just refresh our memories. Because Twenty20 cricket actually started in England in 2003, and attracted no interest in India for the next four years. Indeed, the Board of Control for Cricket in India regarded the game's new variant with distinct unease. They had a nice fat 50-over racket running: why endanger it with anything "really innovative"? If anyone can be credited with the idea of "cricketainment", it's the England Cricket Board's marketing director Stuart Robertson, who enticed the ambivalent with all manner of entertainment epiphenomena - as enumerated by Hugh Chevallier in Wisden:

Jacuzzis, fairground rides, bouncy castles, face painting, barbecue zones, boy bands, girl bands - you name it, it was there as a sideshow. Rather more in your face were the banks of loudspeakers blaring out frequent musical snatches - "I Don't Like Cricket, I Love It!" from 10CC (remixed for our times by the United Colours of Sound) greeted boundaries, while Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" taunted dismissed batsmen as they sprinted for the dug-out.

And credit where credit is due - bank credit, mainly, in his case - but nobody out-cricketained Allen Stanford at Coolidge, with his carnivals, mobile discos, and hot-and-cold running WAGs. "The purists lose sight of that," lectured Stanford. "It's entertainment, that's it… Dancing, music, Twenty20, this is the way we play it, for entertainment." So it's a strange oversight for someone like Regan, suddenly so smitten with "fashion shows, after-match parties and entertainment", for he is actually detecting innovation exactly where it is not. The Indian Premier League does not succeed because of Modi's much-vaunted "cricketainment". It prospers because India has an economy finally growing fast enough to improve the standards of living for its 1.2 billion people, and because cricket is one of the few passions those people share, thus providing corporations with access to the country's growing consumer markets. You could scrap the fashion parades and celebrity self-celebration tomorrow - indeed, the BCCI has foreshadowed just that - and the IPL would be just as big, possibly bigger.

 
 
Does anyone talk about "footballtainment" or "golftainment"? No, because football and golf are confident enough of their own intrinsic excellence not to need "fashion shows, after-match parties and entertainment", or at least not to treat such juvenilia as evidence of Mensa-esque cleverness
 

Where Modi was genuinely innovative was in the matter of private ownership: that is, he basically bypassed the state associations composing the BCCI and sold franchises to big businesses and venture capitalists. But before English counties sign up for a system from which they extract a fifth of gross revenues, essentially running their game on the crumbs from the rich man's table, perhaps they should compare notes with the Indian state associations currently complaining about the two-thirds of three-eighths of not very much they're deriving from IPL. "They are absolutely convinced we are sitting on a goldmine!" chortles the excitable Regan in his email; it might just as easily be a shaft.

There's all manner of strains in the structure of English first-class cricket. It's hard to blame counties, however previously hidebound, for seeking solutions wherever they might emerge. But they have picked a peculiar moment to get religion. It is difficult to believe, too, that they truckled so cringingly to Modi during a meeting in which, if the minutes are to be believed, he advocated that IPL franchises simply desert official cricket "if governing bodies try to block the development of IPL20", talked freely of usurping the ICC's role by staging "IPL Tests and ODIs", and relying chiefly on the greed of players to achieve his ends. Oh, who cares if it helps us save county cricket, eh?

What's particularly striking about Regan's communiqué, however, is not its cloying naïvety, but its utter defeatism. It is swept up in the IPL fiction that cricket is really a bit of a naff old relic, and thank goodness Lalit Modi arrived in the nick of time with "cricketainment" to save it from itself. Does anyone talk about "footballtainment" or "golftainment"? No, because football and golf are confident enough of their own intrinsic excellence not to need "fashion shows, after-match parties and entertainment", or at least not to treat such juvenilia as evidence of Mensa-esque cleverness. Only cricket suffers from administrators who feel so frustrated by the game with which they have been entrusted that they must constantly be manhandling and mangling it in order to wring out an extra dollar.

Modi has at least the redeeming feature of a vision with a certain epic grandeur - folie de grandeur, anyway. It betrays the decadence of English cricket administration that its proudest county is now run by a desperate coat-tail rider like Regan. Time was when cricket administration was the preserve of rheumy-eyed reactionaries so besotted with the game they would rather it rot away than reform. Now it seems dominated by a caste who really wish they were doing something else, something with a bit more glamour, celebrity and money, and hanker to change cricket into a product more congenial to them, usually in the name of the fans, but in reality largely for themselves.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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Posted by RajaSw on (May 13, 2010, 21:38 GMT)

Excellent article. What I liked most was this part "The Indian Premier League does not succeed because of Modi's much-vaunted "cricketainment". It prospers because India has an economy finally growing fast enough to improve the standards of living for its 1.2 billion people, and because cricket is one of the few passions those people share, thus providing corporations with access to the country's growing consumer markets. You could scrap the fashion parades and celebrity self-celebration tomorrow - indeed, the BCCI has foreshadowed just that - and the IPL would be just as big, possibly bigger."

This is SO true. A lot of people do not realise this though.

Posted by IlMagnifico on (May 12, 2010, 18:51 GMT)

First up....Good article.

"...is not its cloying naïvety, but its utter..." Hmm..."continental enough to use the accent on "i", but not French enough to spell it correctly. It's either naivety or naïveté , Mr. Haigh. In closing, to paraphrase Jeeves, "Well done, Mister Haigh. I'm sure that your cool head and undoubted literary powers will see you through the day, Sir."

Posted by PTtheAxis on (May 12, 2010, 16:12 GMT)

20-20 began with a PC video game called allan border's cricket. used to play 20 overs a side in it in 1997. yes it did come with a 20 over a side option. my personal aim was to get to the score of 200. nothing has changed.

Posted by   on (May 12, 2010, 13:35 GMT)

Brasileiro, Engand have never shown initiative or creativity in sport? Arn't you forgetting we invented modern sport. We invented Cricket the first major organised team sport, also Football, Rugby and just about any other popular team sports, you must be having a laugh.

Posted by   on (May 12, 2010, 13:05 GMT)

It's ironic that while trying to point out what a how stuck in the past Regan is you say: 'Perhaps this is news in Yorkshire, where they proverbially don't play for fun, tha knows' a bit of an antiquated view.

Although I take the point about Regan no need to tar all us Yorkshiremen with the same brush Gideon.

Posted by jay57870 on (May 12, 2010, 12:57 GMT)

Steve Jobs did not invent the PC, but he created APPLE! Jack Welch of GE fame killed its inbred NIH (Not-Invented-Here) Syndrome by encouraging use of the "best ideas and practices from other companies." He called it "boundaryless": cricket purists might not like it (with their narrow worldview of 4s and 6s); but for entrepreneurs it means Vision. So, what does Lalit Modi do? He acts, while cricket historians are busy looking into the rear-view mirror of T20 and its origins. He sees the future in T20 and implements the IPL model: a hybrid copy of the NBA/NFL & US College Sports ("March Madness" and Bowl Games). Call it "Cricketainment": the fans love it and IPL has delivered. Reality: Cricket is a professional sport; purpose is to entertain fans/customers and make money (Remember Packer?). Yes, IPL has serious problems. But it'll bounce back reformed, alive and kicking. Seriously, ECB has to act. Just try: less Bollywood & noise, more Shakespeare & court jesters? Throw in Jeeves too!

Posted by umarsps on (May 12, 2010, 11:18 GMT)

Billa champion like this.

Posted by ww113 on (May 12, 2010, 7:05 GMT)

All the murky intrigues were so much more entertaining than the cricket itself.

Posted by Brasileiro on (May 12, 2010, 6:29 GMT)

Credit where credit is due. Cricket Max, Martin Crowe's invention, spurred Twenty20. So isn't it really New Zealand Cricket who are the innovators, rather than the ECB who, let's face it, stole the idea from down under and modified it? Let's face it: has England ever shown initiative or creativity in sports? This would be the first time, after being prompted by another country, of course.

Posted by Dusty72 on (May 12, 2010, 4:10 GMT)

The first ever test match in 1877 was played to the accompaniment of a brass band - and the players drank ale at lunch - maybe that's a future direction for the Yorkshire board.

H'ya Gid, Looking forward to the next MCA Season.

Cheers, Dusty

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Gideon Haigh Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.

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