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Back in the hood, nothing's the same

Fifteen years after the last World Cup in Asia, the tournament returns to the region, but where previously a shared culture provided some of the bonds, now money talks

Sharda Ugra

February 18, 2011

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A

Pakistani spectators protest Australia and West Indies' boycott of their matches in Sri Lanka, South Africa v UAE, World Cuo, February 15, 1996
A time of solidarity: Pakistani spectators at the 1996 World Cup protest Australia and West Indies refusing to play their games in Sri Lanka © Getty Images
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Once upon a time there was a World Cup in the neighbourhood. Actually "once upon" was only 15 years ago, when there was a neighbourhood, of the kind that is unrecognisable today.

The World Cup turns up in the sport's most populous, tempestuous, and now richest, region, as South Asia's mild winter begins to depart. It returns to a continent that, for the most part, may look to the outsider as it did in 1996. It continues to pulse with strife and whirl around with the certainty of the unforseeable. What is actually coming back to Asia is a very different game, which will take place in an environment transformed.

Between 1996 and 2011 cricket has gone through its own climate change - one that has spread through the game, the players, their support cast, and been absorbed by its very ecosystem. A climate change is first noticed when, after a sizeable gap in time, we realise suddenly that the weather feels odd around us, that the seasons are neither when they used to be nor what they used to be. The World Cup is still a 50-overs-a-side competition, it is coloured clothes and white balls and black sightscreens, but something at an inherent level has shifted. The 2011 World Cup could be the event that demonstrates that shift.

Four countries, four stories
In the last 15 years the subcontinent's cricket has, mostly walked confidently. The Sri Lankans will always look at the 1996 Cup as the year that marked the time they could stand tall in the short game. In the next three Cups they made a semi-final and a final, a record better than any of their neighbours. Sri Lanka are also ahead of them in terms of current win-loss record and in performances at big events like the Champions Trophy and the World Cup. The country has put out two new venues for the World Cup, one of which is Pallekelle. The second, thanks to its president, intends to be a whole new port town and international charter-flight destination, built off a rural stretch of seaside, Hambantota. Sri Lanka has moved ahead from 1996.

Bangladesh's entry into the World Cup was only as recently as 1999, and in their third attempt, in 2007, they beat India and South Africa. In July 2009 there was an away series win against West Indies, and in 2010 they recorded their first-ever win over England and beat New Zealand 4-0 at home. Whatever else it may turn out to be, Bangladesh's first World Cup at home will be a coming-out party of a cricketing country that now believes.

It is, of course, India that has grown the quickest from 1996. Its cricket team in this time shook off match-fixing and took giant strides. It upset the old order and entertained audiences. At another level, however, the nation that first cleared its throat and then demanded to be heard by the Anglocentric powers, has now turned into the game's loudest bully, ready to flex its muscle and flaunt its wealth. India now remodels and control cricket's economy, and in the new order it chooses to play autocrat, not leader. On the balance sheet they would call that a 15-year profit.

Of the four countries it is Pakistan that can look at the interlude between World Cups with a heart turned to stone. In this period its cricket has in turns been vandalised, scandalised and traumatised. Every misfortune that could be brought or struck upon has been. Its team has oscillated between being a wonderment and a wreck, its future requiring both plan and prayer. In 2003 they were called the Brazil of cricket, but now even the witty lines about the "volatile Asians" have dried up. Even as Pakistan's talent supply continues to surface, its fabric wears out year after year. It is why the event that ended in Lahore the last time will begin for Pakistan in Sri Lanka.

Talk about subcontinental drift.

1996: community and sharing
Anyone over the age of 20 in South Asia should remember 1996, because it was the neighbourhood's event. Called the Wills World Cup, it travelled everywhere, uncaring about the fatigue and dread of teams or TV crews. To 26 cities in three countries. Patna and Peshawar, Kandy and Kanpur.

To the scorn of the sport's upper classes and the dismay of the pundits, it was the first cricket World Cup with double-digit participation: 12 nations, not eight or nine as had been let in until then.

A special hotline was set up between two offices in Karachi and Calcutta, to ensure a direct hook-up between argumentative neighbours India and Pakistan. It may have been all the better to have an argument with but actually it meant to bypass unpredictable telecommunication lines so neither middlemen nor pigeon post could become alternative means of communication.

 
 
Between 1996 and 2011 cricket has gone through its own climate change - one that has spread through the game, the players, their support cast, and been absorbed by its very ecosystem
 

Three weeks before the tournament began, when an LTTE attack on the Colombo business district drove away Australians and West Indians, and threatened to sink Sri Lanka's first-ever World Cup, the neighbourhood stood united. Two days before the tournament, a combined team of Indians and Pakistanis travelled to Colombo as the Asian XI. They played a solidarity match against Sri Lanka at the Premadasa Stadium. Since it was too late for a new uniform for the two-nation Asian XI (and neither would want to wear each other's colours), a simple solution was found: the players wore white. The sightscreen, painted black for the ODI against Australia that would never happen, was given a rushed early-morning whitewash. Sure, everything was patched together in a hurry - the symbolism, the teams, the game - but it was done. On a working day 10,000 turned up to watch.

Fifteen years ago the neighbourhood pulled together instinctively. Today it doesn't look the same. It certainly doesn't act the same. Linkages once made of a shared locality, a similar, sometimes shared, culture, are now made mostly by international bank transfers. Between then and now the game has been transformed technically, statistically, economically and politically. The equations between nations have also been altered, the power structures completely restructured.

Sure, the 1996 World Cup was far from innocent amateurism and pristine organisation. Its flaws went deep, well beyond its comically tacky opening ceremony, where the laser show bombed as a Hooghly breeze blew some screens off their moorings, and ushers and performers swanned around in civvies because their costumes were stuck in traffic. Deals done around the Cup led to court cases and a bitter falling out between Jagmohan Dalmiya and IS Bindra, once allies who had changed the finances of Indian cricket.

Yet to its hosts the 1996 World Cup meant something distinct. It was about community and a sharing - of history, status and a thirst for validation. At that time Asia was a cheeky arriviste in cricket, pushing at the gates. The Grace Gates, if you like, considering the ICC was still headquartered in London. Led by the Indians, Asia banded together and worked in a pack. In War Minus The Shooting, a carefully detailed and riotously vibrant account of the 1996 World Cup, Mike Marqusee draws out the region's common thread. The Cup, he writes, was "a global television spectacle, which all three nations hoped would boost their standing in the eyes of the world... especially in the eyes of financiers and investors... all three were opening their economies... building consumer sub-cultures in the midst of mass poverty... all three were racked with ethnic intolerance and in all three the question of national identity was hotly contested".

Yes, the 2011 event will be welcomed by Asia with all its enthusiasm and energy. It has a lovely logo, a goofily named mascot (Stumpy? Distant cousin of Dumpy / Grumpy?), it has a new co-host nation. Between the two events, 2011 could well boast that it is (to steal a pop album title) Bigger, Better, Faster, More.

Like with most advertising the full truth is in the small print. Marqusee's "all three" of 1996 now stand separated. In the scheme of things, the fourth host of the 2011 World Cup, Bangladesh, is now treated by its co-host and closest cricketing neighbour as a fringe player on the field and in the boardroom. The only country never to have hosted Bangladesh in a Test series is India. Other than ICC events, the last time the Indians invited them to anything was a 1998 tri-nation series. Should Bangladesh need some solidarity today, it is unlikely a joint India-Pakistani-Sri Lankan squad would be jetted off to provide solace. Even if the romantic idea arose, the teams' support staff would not stand for it, two days before the opening game. The "three hosts" of 2011 are, of course, an incomplete entity. As much as the idea might anger those slaving over the final logistics, the event is covered by a lopsided atlas, which has a missing part. Independent of the reasons that have led us down this path, cricket in the here and now, without Pakistan as one of the subcontinent's hosts is somewhat bereft.

Ehsan Mani, one of those involved in the PILCOM (Pakistan India Lanka Committee) for the 1996 World Cup, says he feels a "sadness" that Pakistan is not a part of what he calls a "festival of cricket". Mani was the ICC chief who had to calm the angry bid rivals, Australia-New Zealand, in March 2006 when the Asians were late in submitting their bid compliance documents for the 2011 Cup, asking for more time. Eventually the ICC granted the extension. It was the promise of India and Pakistan's participation in South Africa's 2007 World Twenty20 event that helped them win the 2011 bid with a 7-3 vote.

Mani says, "Asia will only remain remain strong if they stay together in the long term." In the short term, the events of Lahore on March 3, 2009 have scattered the subcontinent. "First there was the failure of the Pakistan board to stick to the protocol and then to try to blame someone else," Mani says. "We live in a dangerous world. What changed after Lahore was the public perception about cricket tours in Pakistan... " In just over a month Pakistan lost more than just the rights to stage the World Cup, it lost its home matches, its moorings. The spot-fixing controversy has only made it more of a pariah, its team now loaded with the double burden of displaying ability and proving intergrity every time it plays.


Mahendra Singh Dhoni looms large on the big screen behind Kevin Pietersen, India v England, 1st Test, Chennai, 5th day, December 15, 2008
India is now the big brother who looms over the game © AFP
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Money talks, money grows
The biggest tectonic shift in the World Cup has been to do with finances, brought by their move eastward. Asia's last two World Cups worked on contradictory cash registers. The 1996 Cup, officially titled the Wills World Cup after a cigarette brand (like its 1992 Benson & Hedges predecessor) was the last time any sponsor would earn the title rights to cricket's premier tournament. Title sponsors ITC paid approxmiately US$13m (about Rs 56 crores) and the television sponsorship went for over $10m (around Rs 45 crores). At the time those figures were the great leap forward for the finances on offer in the game - or rather, on offer when India was in the mix.

Nineteen ninety-six was the last "sponsor's World Cup" - every event till then and including 1996 had offered dissimilar winner's trophies and been conducted with varying marketing plans, financial ambitions, and a share of the profits to the ICC. The 1999 event was run by the ECB and profits were shared with the ICC based on a formula worked out in what then came to be called the "Mani Paper".

At one time a host nation's four-yearly pot of gold, the event was fully owned by the ICC in 2003, even though the now well-recognised 11kg, silver-gold trophy was instituted after 1996. The Cup is now the ruling body's biggest money-spinning event. Its first "property", however, was the 1999 ICC Knock-Out, now known as the Champions Trophy.

Following the 1999 World Cup, the ICC sold a package of global rights for the World Cup and the Champions Trophy to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp-owned Global Cricket Corporation for $550m for a seven-year period until 2007. The latest bundle of rights for ICC events were won by ESPNStar Sports for $1.1b, with sponsorship earnings rising to $400m from the $50m earned by the ICC in 1996.

Every World Cup will now look pretty similar in terms of signage and merchandising, the complicated business of "ambush marketing" breathing down every host's neck. The ICC says its millions are now used to develop the game outside the 10 Test-playing nations. From under 50 in 1996, the ICC has a total of 105 member nations. Yet the ICC intends to have the 2015 World Cup feature only 10 nations. Mani is not amused: "If you don't support countries that are struggling, they will go backwards. At one time two-three countries are always struggling, financially, in terms of resources in regard to the game. You can't run a viable international world sport with only three or four countries playing it."

Like 1996, maybe 2011 will also carry with it a message about Asia as well as a message to the neighbourhood. That the after-effects of climate change are felt by everyone, even gated communities.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by bhaskar77 on (February 21, 2011, 2:36 GMT)

It seems overtly critical comments have very little chance of making it to the forum, but I'll try nevertheless. The facts presented in this piece especially those pertaining to the economic changes are correct. However, there appears to be this insinuation that BCCI, is the de facto cause of all changes mentioned in the article. Overall political and economic changes are the real cause for the changes mentioned. The political climate in Pakistan has changed so much that any comparison of then and now is apples and oranges. If anything, I would say that things appear similar to last time. If BCCI is indeed such a bully why have the opening ceremony and match featuring India in Dhaka and not Mumbai?

Posted by AdityaUpadhyay on (February 21, 2011, 1:34 GMT)

In the past fifteen years the changes came in the subcontinent are india became World leaders in market capital , Sri lanka developed as a team with a great suppoet from murli , vass & jaysurya, bangladesh emerged strong in the modern cricket scenario & pakistan self demolished itself.

Posted by on (February 20, 2011, 19:24 GMT)

heart warming article, specially from the pakistani perspective.

@philip_gnana my heartfelt respect to you and to all those who think like you.

Posted by   on (February 20, 2011, 18:58 GMT)

Thanks for the brave article, Sharda. You will probably not admit as much but I can sense that such articles must be facing some tough moments of introspection, and maybe even challenge at times, before they see light of day...otherwise more sports journos would have been speaking out.

I would like to see you take up the case of bowlers in this world cup. As it is threatening to shape up, I see each innings of an ODI as a football match between 2 teams..a home match (batting innings) and an away match (bowling innings). In each match the away team plays with bootsstraps tied. We have a winner at the end of the two matches by way of who scored more...but that is what remains of it, a score. Now add to it the minnow factor (i.e. one of the team is better than the other even with bootstraps tied) in majority of the matches and you get a complete picture of what the group league promises to us.

Posted by nadeeka2 on (February 20, 2011, 2:08 GMT)

Great article. Some great points were made and eloquently said.

Posted by   on (February 19, 2011, 20:48 GMT)

Great article. Its like how u can buy cosy beds; but cant buy sleep. The ICC and BCCI may not have been that rich in 96; but there was joy in 96 WC. Not that joy is missing in 2011 wc., but its looking somewhere distant, cant explain how; as u said no unity. Another missed out point by the writer- DD was the main broadcaster then- with 3 channels- DD 1, DD 2 and DD 3- telecasting 3 matches at a time. Star, with a single channel telecasted important games everyday. Now its the reverse. ESS-Espn, Star Sports and Star Cricket- are the main broadcaster with DD showing Ind matches alone.

Posted by KishoreSharma on (February 19, 2011, 18:32 GMT)

To be fair, certain things have not changed. 1996 was also a purely driven world cup with the same ridiculous format as this one. The formats of 1999, 2003 and even 2007 were much better. Now we have the same meaningless month long preliminary rounds to identify 8 quarter-finalists and go straight to the knockout phase. Nothing has changed - welcome back to Asia, the mercenary soul of cricket.

Posted by RCBFan on (February 19, 2011, 16:27 GMT)

Great article as usual from Ms.Ugra. Pathetic of the BCCI to not to have hosted bangladesh yet and also pathetic of ICC to make future world cups and elite event.

Posted by Willowarriers on (February 19, 2011, 15:45 GMT)

I am not sure why Indians should not be proud of what we have achieved. I attended Columbia University. My dad wasn't able to and neither my granddad. Yes, economic progress has helped India. Indians pour money into cricket -- anything related to cricket we lap up. The BCCI wins.

I am sure all Indians respect other sub-continental teams, but Cric4world I am not sure what you mean by 'arrogance" - Yes our team is doing well. Your hoping and praying India will lose makes little difference. We are passionate about our cricket and we want our team to win. I am not sure what you want Indians fans to do about your teams.

Fact is: India is a bigger force in the sub-continent. The other countries feeling aggrieved about that -- well frankly I am not sure what you would like us to do.

Posted by Umair_umair on (February 19, 2011, 15:24 GMT)

Well Sharda, I became the fan of your writing after reading your article on IPL bidding and its going on and on. You write from your heart.

Posted by love_our_cricket on (February 19, 2011, 11:45 GMT)

yep it would be great if it could happen @xylo.. and @shehan kankanamge is rite...this is about countries not individuals. We love our country and our cricket...and no player(a legend or none) is greater than his country or the game itself

Posted by Philip_Gnana on (February 19, 2011, 10:06 GMT)

The more you read the sadder it gets. This is a touching, immotive and moving article. Truth comes home to rest. Truth does hurt. How easy it is to forget Pakistan. In the grander scheme of things (I am guilty of this) Pakistan has been totally left out. My apologies to the people of Pakistan. Time to reflect if you are a Sri Lankan, and spare a thought for Pakistan's cricket and its people. Thank you Pakistan for your help to Sri Lanka in the past, and your continued help.

I hope much of the Sri Lankans will turn up for the Pakistani games in SL and give them great support. Arjuna Ranatunga was a great believer in supporting the South Asian Nations.

Money is a fact of life, and the greed that is inbred is going to ignore political, cultural and regional ties..We cannot allow Cricket to suffer...can we bring back the gentlemen's game?

Philip Gnana, Surrey

Posted by   on (February 19, 2011, 8:05 GMT)

@Test_Cricket_Best_Cricket Sachin in the end is just a player...he will retire...then you will forget him....players come and go....the countries will remain there...the politics will change.

Posted by   on (February 19, 2011, 7:27 GMT)

this is one gr8 article... really liked it.. thanks for a wonderful read...Pakistan and India making an Asian XI to play and support Sri Lanka...and in 2009 Sri Lanka coming to Pakistan and supporting them at the time when no one was coming not even Pakistan's neighbors. i hope PILCOM comes back alive again.

Posted by   on (February 19, 2011, 7:14 GMT)

This was about the countries.. not individuals!

Posted by xylo on (February 19, 2011, 7:12 GMT)

This might be asking for lot, but a combined Indo-Sri Lankan XI playing Pakistan in Pakistan would set a lot of things straight.

Posted by Emancipator007 on (February 19, 2011, 7:10 GMT)

BCCI (let's delink the term India from this feudal-minded cricket body)should be hauled up for not hosting Bangladesh for 10 plus years-it's just ridiculously arrogant. At the next ICC meet, BCCI should be forced to host Bangladesh for a 3 Test series. It was BCCI's responsibility to hand-hold Bangla Test cricket (something which South Africa also failed to do for Kenya after Kenya reached the 2003 World Cup semis. Kenya always had/has a naturally talented cricket playing team). Actually the so-called 'War On Terror' has changed/disrupted Pakistan's politico-socio fabric-otherwise it was a safe place to play cricket in till the turn of the last century. Again BCCI as the subcontinental giant has to nurture Pakistan cricket (good for its finances too since India-Pak bilateral series will still generate the most sponsorship moolah) so that the incandescently talented Pakistan is not wasted away like the world-conquering Calypso cricketers of the 80s.

Posted by Test_Cricket_Best_Cricket on (February 19, 2011, 6:36 GMT)

After reading the huge list of differences betn 1996 and 2011 wc... Sharda might well have added one similarity.. the Omnipresent "SACHIN TENDULKAR" He was, he is and will be the biggest draw of the wc..

Posted by cric4world on (February 19, 2011, 6:23 GMT)

this '' i m the only king '' attitude of india will b a curse for them in future bcoz all other asian countries seem to hate indian cricket culture.pakistanis think if they cant win worldcup sri lanka should win, sri lankans feel the same for pakistan.even bengladeshis. but i havent seen anyone hoping for india to win.becoz we all know if they win they will b even more arrogant n big headed.let ur boards do wat they want but as a cricket follower try to respect each other, n each other's teams n their heroes.cricket has been a good source of unity n solidarity in this region, dont kill it bcoz of ur attitude.indians fans need to learn this before they become next australia. atleast australia had some trophies to boast, india has nothing more then tag of being ''one of favourites'' .

Posted by cric4world on (February 19, 2011, 6:14 GMT)

in past asian teams stood together bcoz there was balance of power between pak n india.but with time pak went down and power went solely to india.and same bias attitude that asian teams were facing , is now being shown by india against others.their board is only money minded, their fans arrogant n big headed.pak went down n instead of becoming a leader india became a bully.look in the picture above pak was world champion but still they sent out a message of love, humbleness n solidarity, but look at india now, they r only a favourite for this world cup n their fans dont miss a chance to insult any other team or players.everything was ready well in time for IPL including parties and concerts but when its about international cricket their admin is not able to even complete their stadiums.they have created so much hype for their team that they cant tolerate a defeat.biggest cricketing nation became a bully instead of becoming a leader

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (February 19, 2011, 3:15 GMT)

Is this supposed to be some post where we reflect on sad times. I think Sharda you and Indians forget that Pakistani's and their friends in Sri Lanka are made of stern stuff. A few bombs aren't gonna destroy the nations, nor the cricketing fabric. Heck Pakistan at times positively thrives under adversity. The Sri Lankan's saw off their darkest days, and I'm willing to say that so too will Pakistan. As long as the nations love cricket, the cricket will always survive.

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