March 6, 2011

When might isn't right

The power the BCCI wields is harming the game more than it is benefitting it. The essays in this book can't be ignored

India is the dominant power in world cricket. Boards quake at the might of the BCCI, and major decisions at the ICC are impossible without sanction from the representative of the game's wealthiest economy. Take last year's failed attempt by John Howard to secure the ICC presidency. Howard is the second longest-serving Australian prime minister, and a self-confessed cricket tragic. His ambition was to succeed India's Sharad Pawar. It was the turn of an Australian or New Zealander to head cricket's governing body and both countries chose Howard as their nominee. But India was not willing to support him. Nor were a host of countries, eager to earn India's patronage, including Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Howard and Australia were humiliated.

In a collection of essays from the last two years and a lengthy new piece written for this volume, Gideon Haigh explains how cricket's world has been shaped, and the spheres of influence that govern its past, present and future. The integrity and governance of our game have been hijacked by a short-term, short-sighted, short-form agenda that puts commerce before sport. Conflicts of interest, sensationalism and greed are rewarded and celebrated. The heart and soul have been sacrificed for power and financial return.

Naturally India is at the centre of Haigh's analysis, a country for which he has a clear affection despite his scant regard for its cricket board. But he ranges freely, aiming his guns at the ICC, Allen Stanford and spot-fixing, among other targets.

The BCCI is the chief villain of the piece. It is an organisation with the opportunity to lead cricket's development judiciously but one that instead prioritises self-interest and non-cricketing issues: television, business, "cricketainment" - a heady mixture fuelled by India's rapid population and economic growth.

Starring in the tale of India's supremacy is Lalit Modi. Haigh expertly documents his rise and fall and the pivotal role of Twenty20 and the IPL. Modi's vision, charisma and manoeuvring established Twenty20 as the entertainment of choice for the Indian market in the form of the money-spinning razzle-dazzle of the IPL. Modi, writes Haigh, "moved fast - faster, sometimes, than the eye could see". As IPL commissioner he operated in an atmosphere of impunity that would eventually lead to his downfall and cast aside the golden halo from all things IPL.

India's rise to dominance is easily assumed and little understood. It dates from the 1983 World Cup triumph, when Indians woke up to the attraction and revenue opportunities of the one-day game. Next were the World Cups staged in South Asia in 1987 and 1996. In the meantime offshore competitions blossomed in Arabia's desert and television money emerged in obscene abundance.

More significantly the Asian bloc started to understand the power it could wield, culminating in Jagmohan Dalmiya's appointment as ICC president in 1997. The 1980s and 1990s were decades that magnetised cricket's epicentre towards South Asia, eventually uprooting the ICC's headquarters from Lord's to Dubai Sports City and attracting the world's best players to the IPL. Initially the Asian bloc moved as a whole, sometimes calling on African friends to hold sway at the ICC. India was a big beast but one of a herd. Over the last decade, as India's economy outstripped those of its allies, the BCCI became king of the jungle. Haigh's analysis is a must-read, a warning shot to the BCCI, ICC and any other organisation that has a stake in cricket's future. Had Haigh stuck with his main theme, he would have entirely succeeded. But the coherence and thread of his argument are spoilt by inclusion of past articles on tangential themes.

Sphere of Influence: Writings on Cricket and its Discontents
by Gideon Haigh
Victory Books, pb
272pp, £27.50

Kamran Abbasi is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. This review was first published in the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here

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