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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2011, 20:39 GMT

    The current situation can't be good for cricket. Even in this WC one gets to see more ads than cricket on TV. In the cricket stadiums, the stands are becoming higher and the pitches are becoming flatter. When the focus should be to develop test match culture in associate nations, the ICC goes the other way in trying to promote T20. Great efforts are being made to develop B'ladesh cricket mainly for the increased fanbase. The framework of the ICC must be pretty cracked up if world cricket relies on the passion of the Indian fan. And it doesnt sound too good for the Indian fan as well knowing that he/she is being milked. But the question is to provide for who?

  • Satish on March 6, 2011, 12:51 GMT

    @Ravi Kumar Putcha, be careful, you will get yourselves banned from the Cricinfo pages if you ask such uncomfortable questions on Cricinfo's Golden Boy Haigh. Don't you know he is the greatest thing to have happened to World Cricket including the combined might of Cardus-Bradman-Sobers-Tendulkar!!

  • Jon on March 6, 2011, 11:02 GMT

    I think the issues that Haigh covers are the same regardless of which nation or nations dominates the sport. If you read the histories of Australian cricket including some scathing pieces from Haigh himself, there are numerous instances of arrogance and snobbery towards the so called "lesser" nations, India included. But these same histories show that Australia from the 1970's onwards matured and changed as a nation. We became more worldy, more multi-cultural and definitely more educated as a nation which resulted in us becoming a major supporter of both Pakistan and India and also supporting the introduction of Sri Lanka into the test arena. Don't get me wrong - we're not perfect, far from it (which nation is?) but people need to realise that Haigh's criticism serves to make people aware that the same greedy and arrogant actions performed by someone else are still greedy and arrogant.

  • Akber on March 6, 2011, 10:17 GMT

    india is following the american approach to sport marketing ... they are doing it nicely... the only way they can lose the power is when Dubai/Abu dhabi wake up and with american backing and marketing muscle put out a product which is free from biases which saw BCCI put the T20 champions out of the IPL ...

    pure merit and ability will always be more thrilling ... there needs to be a substitute ... dubai can be a perfect place... holidays there which would include a cricket match along with ferrari park rides and indoor skiing in the middle of the desert ... need some visionary invester for it come true ...

  • Daison on March 6, 2011, 10:11 GMT

    Might is not right when its not with me. That should have been the title for your article. All these years Australia, England and others had their way in the game. They invented "sledging" and still practice it. They have categorised sledging to "healthy and unhealthy". Only they know the difference between the two. Now before wrting all these "essays" about how the might of BCCI is spoiling the game, the writer should have started a piece on sledging. For the writer sledging may be "part" of game and so money too is. When you talk about the well being of the game please dont "pick and choose". Do something about the way the Australians behave on the ground - find an answer to why the australians were sooooooo agitated for a boundary in the srilanka game and try stop that first. It looks ugly when they show how much of a bad loser they are on field. Good luck on sitting and envying BCCI's "might" but too bad you can do nothing about it.

  • Bobby on March 6, 2011, 6:34 GMT

    I agree that a single board dominating world of cricket is not good for the game. BCCI is a cash cow that evenone seems keen to be milking. Problem with India has been that on the field India has been an average team for history of their cricket. Their 1983 win was based on a one day's good performance. Indian board somehow seems hell bent to make India as No.1 team in the world and they have manufactured the rankings. Special cricket balls, no UDRS and a lot of home test matches for sure will make any team a No.1 team. In reality, Indian team is a medicore team relying on top 3-4 batsmen. Dhoni criticised UDRS while ignoring how pathetic Indian bowling and fielding is and BCCI started jumping. Why can not BCCI get their act together to build stadiums and fix tickets.This world cup is being hosted in subcontinent due to Ehsan Mani's support but Indian ditched their biggest alliance PCB in time of need although current PCB admin is also incompetent. It all will soon end when India loses

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2011, 6:09 GMT

    Gideon Haigh laments the money might of the BCCI - he always does. And then he decides to go and make money from his rantings by making a book out of it! Go figure that one out. Abbasi started off on a promising note. But when he declared that Haigh has an "affection" for India, it was laughable, given that Haigh has rarely bothered to separate BCCI-IPL from India-Indian cricket.

  • Maitrey on March 6, 2011, 6:06 GMT

    Today every other popular sport is commercialized and commercialization is in the favor of the cricket. It will take cricket to the other level, where the nations you support cannot take. Cricket is trying to break the ground and entering in the countries like USA and China. With the IPL cricketers are getting more chances to earn. Why do you forget the countries where cricket is just bread and butter for players, for them IPL could be main earning stream. Mr. Haigh, My only message is to you is please try to accept india as powerful nation. I am sure you do realize in coming decade india is not just cricketing power but will rise as super power and one of the most influenced country. I back india and I am sure BCCI will take cricket to other level where England cannot. In India cricket is religion and we indian are united by cricket. So please respect us as we do you.

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2011, 6:01 GMT

    @TD_160 just because we aren't as far down the road as soccer or the NFL and AFL, doesn't diminish the fact that cricket will be in decline because of greed in 20 years. Player such as Pollard, Bravo, McCullum and Lee are already prostituting themselves to the highest bidder. The IPL is very similar, causing friction between Boards and trying to force players into making decisions to either play for their teams in their respective countries or to play for the money. The main aim for the boards should be to improve standard of cricket not to profit at the expense of the spectator.

  • John on March 6, 2011, 5:56 GMT

    Yes, the Test matches between Australia and England began more than a century ago. However, in the matter of "governance" of the game, Australia was probably involved less in those days than now. So to talk of this "duopoly" ruling the development of the game is nonsense; for that matter, the laws of the game were administered by a private club, the MCC.

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