July 2, 2010

Have power, will manipulate

That's how the world and its leaders work. But it would be nice if India took the lead in governing the game well

So cricket sits on the precipice again? Rabble rousers and respected cricket writers are sharpening their phrases, warning of the impact of a brown-white divide; there is talk of digging in heels and taking warlike positions. After a temporary lull, the peace flags are down. Is it us-and-them all over again? I fear we over-react, get blind to our failings and discover pure venom in differing ideologies and cultures. I suspect we need to be a little more realistic, a little more understanding of the decisive way the world is changing.

Remember, we are a very small sport, no more than 10 countries really, and with inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity it is not very difficult for power blocs to emerge. The ICC is a very political organisation but so is every single sporting body from the IOC to FIFA. To believe otherwise is naive.

It might seem, therefore, that on the surface Zimbabwe and South Africa led the opposition to John Howard, but that his nomination would not have failed had India supported him. Ah, India again! That is where I believe the resentment lies. It is not surprising, for India is seen in some countries as a nouveau riche brat flexing his muscles at every opportunity.

India has stumbled onto leadership through a combination of demographics and an unshackled middle class. A country long seen to be tame and accepting is now being looked upon as devious and manipulative. That should surprise no one because leaders around the world use their power to manipulate and to subjugate. It is not a worthy trait to possess, but India is neither the first nor will it be the last.

When they controlled the ICC, England were both condescending and manipulative. Having lost two series to India in 1971, at home, and in 1972-73 away, they forced through temporary legislation restricting the number of fielders on the leg side to five, thus negating India's spinners. They regularly looked down at our part of the world, and I have personally been at the receiving end of three instances of offensive and insulting behaviour at Lord's. This is not to say the English are terrible and villainous, perish the thought, just that power makes certain people behave a certain way.

The closest similarity to the financial power India currently enjoys in cricket is that which the United States had over world politics after the Second World War. The US openly took sides, openly protected its allies, created discord among those who dared stand up, funded rebellion, and through such manipulation maintained its leadership position. Like with India, it was the financial muscle of their markets that was at the heart of it. We in India know that well through 1971 and the crippling financial sanctions that were imposed because we thought we were mature enough to possess nuclear power.

Conflict of interest and lack of transparency, though they are global features as we saw post-Iraq, almost define Indian cricket. While many leaders are manipulative, the truly great are statesmanlike and India have that opportunity; one they are currently squandering

The East India Company was manipulative, so were the Mughals who inflicted rather more gruesome ends on those who opposed them, and indeed so were the Rajputs and the other Indian princely states. Indian politicians are deeply manipulative, as were George Bush and Dick Cheney and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and I would venture to say it is almost an inevitable outcome of possessing power. And so India's cricket officials are currently flexing their muscles, and should the cycle change again, as it delightfully does, Australia will flex their muscles too. Don't think otherwise. Power tends to create tyrants out of perfectly reasonable people. Mandela and Gandhi were exceptions.

And yet, I would love it if India was different, if it could indeed take the lead in governance and transparency, focus on making cricket a richer sport rather than dragging it through controversy. In recent times Indian cricket has been in the news for annulling signed contracts, for being in dispute with the income-tax authorities and other legal entities; every time the question of television rights comes up, it is accompanied by many battles in court. Conflict of interest and lack of transparency, though they are global features as we saw post-Iraq, almost define Indian cricket. While many leaders are manipulative, the truly great are statesmanlike and India have that opportunity; one they are currently squandering.

But the message for the erstwhile rulers is that the world is changing. This is not a catcall of joy, merely an economic fact, and I will be disappointed if it is misinterpreted. On Thursday the Group CEO of HSBC said, "… the shift from the West to the East is unstoppable... It starts in India and goes all the way down to Australia..." Cricket, a very tiny part of the world, merely mirrors that.

A group of 10 cannot afford to be at war with each other, cannot take up strident positions. There must be other ways. Acceptance and cooperation can open the doors to those.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chris on July 5, 2010, 22:41 GMT

    Gr8 article Harsah. Far too easily in this recent debate has the rasicm card been shown and emotions let loose to cloud what is a very important isssue. The ICC has an opp to be a gloabal leader in leadership and transparency and take cricket into the new age. But alas "with absolute power comes absolute corruption". As an Aussie I find it appaling Howard could be nom to such a post, given his cricketing qual, but looking at most boards around the world, including CA, that appears to be of little issue when selecting serving members. As a cricket fan there is nothing i enjoy more as the winter chill dissapears than the prospect of another summer of test cricket, the battle between bat and ball, the opportunity to see the class of a Tendulkar, Lara, Khan, Flower, Haddlee, Botham, Kallis, Muarali etc performing in their own backyard. Will cricket and its true fans be the winner out of all of this or will the game become a "product" and its fans a "market"? alas i think it already has.

  • Manju on July 4, 2010, 11:19 GMT

    You hit the nail on the head Harsha, I'm a big fan of yours and after this article I have become an even bigger fan. About time some one reminded others "What goes around comes around". "TASTE OF THEIR OWN MEDICINE". With so much bad blood I wonder even if Johnny muscles through, it will be an awkward place for others to work around him. Just imagine what Murali would have gone through when he was in Australia, being called as a chucker by a "PM". "No respect". He didn't even hesitate to voice his opinion instead of handling it professionally. Had this happened in any sub-continent country, there would have been a furore. If it was any one else from Aus it wouldn't have mattered, but him for ICC top position, it's a definite "NO". If he does become the head of ICC, it will be a dark day for cricket. Good that you mentioned about 1971 and lot of the new generation cricket followers now know something more about the Hippocratic England.

  • Suresh on July 4, 2010, 10:33 GMT

    Another boring article from Harsha. Trying to say what everyone knows. Pretty ordinary..

  • SWAMINATHAN on July 4, 2010, 7:35 GMT

    fairdinkum ... agreed I guess the immigration bit was wrong, I apologise .... but your calling India racist makes me laugh ... caste(ist) yeah, definitely ....... though this has blurred over the past few decades, racist, no ....... we've sheltered anyone who wants to make our country home ...

  • Param on July 4, 2010, 6:01 GMT

    The balance of powers will keep shifting. England yesterday, India today (accept us as your leaders for now, or stop watching cricket), probably Australia tomorrow. Harsha makes a good point about how its only natural that India appears as a musclehead power flexing tyrant.

    ICC needs to be independent, like Fifa, not be influenced heavily by one country board like ECB or BCCI today. We'll probably never see this happen. Cricket will always have that taint of lethargic and disorganized management made up of corrupt old politicians. The sport itself is strong, but fans really don't see ICC in the same light as soccer fans see Fifa. ICC has no presentation. Just compare fifa.com to that ICC official website hosted on yahoo.com or somewhere. Thank God for cricinfo.

  • TOM on July 4, 2010, 4:24 GMT

    theswami, you should temper your comments about John Howard. 2 facts about his record to consider: 1. Immigration increased during his government from 30,000 to 178,000 pa. 2. Demographic makeup of migrants for his last year in government was 60% african and asian. I accuse India of being one of the most racist/caste(ist) countries in the world, and fully in denial about it. Importantly, John Howard can devote himself full time to the job unlike the current President who has about half an hour per week.

  • Harsh on July 3, 2010, 23:50 GMT

    Can we all just shut up and move on ? I saw No Racism poster in football match today, more than 85000 attended match and millions watched on television, and Germany played as a team and they defeated one of the favorite team. Despite all the hypocrisy in Fifa they made billion $ in day or two. Can we learn something from this? And stop throwing stones at each other. Cricket TRP was going down thats why former president wasn't picked. It was pure business decision. Cricket is not suffering at the moment and its growing at very large rate. Let's not focus on this anymore. I don't even care who govern what. If our sport TRP is going down than it needs to be stopped. Well, every sports need controversy, why not cricket what do I know. I thought people who wanted Test Cricket controversy will come up with great article on SAvsWI or coming India vs Aus. but NO we all like to dig in. We are living on same planet always remember that, even a fart is responsible for change in whole planet peace

  • SWAMINATHAN on July 3, 2010, 21:02 GMT

    One can't foist a conservative WASP politician on a predominantly Afro-Asian grouping of countries & then cry wolf !!! ...... Gotcha CA ... no wonder the support only came from fellow WASP countries with Conservative - controlled boards. This person has a history of bad-mouthing Afro-Asian nations & nationals, whilst using a divisive protectionist policy alienating the ethnic Asian population & minimising immigration from Asia ....... His nomination would have brought a sense of deja vu in these countries reminscing of their past with Imperialism ... CA should have put up an earnest candidate ..like Sir Anderson or Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh or one of the Crowes (not Russell) .......

  • Manas on July 3, 2010, 20:07 GMT

    @wanderer1, while thankfully not making an ad-hominem this time, yet again makes a straw man argument. Readers will note that I had only stated Howard calling Murali a chucker as being unbecoming not as being an ad-hominem, as wanderer1 has tried to portray.

  • armaan on July 3, 2010, 18:38 GMT

    You have nailed it, Spot on, Well said.....

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