July 14, 2011

Will more Sangakkaras stand up and be counted?

Players have more power than they think. More of them need to take a stand for the good of the game

Silence can often be a conspiracy against justice. Many things stay wrong not because the world is full of bad people but because good men choose not to get involved. Kumar Sangakkara has done his duty to cricket, and Sri Lanka, by raising his voice against the rot in the country's cricket.

Cricketers have a duty to the game that extends beyond the playing field. It is a reasonable argument that they serve the game best with bat or ball in hand, and that their skills are ill-suited for business off the field. But they have an obligation to be the moral custodians of the game. They have the affections of the fans, and their voices carry credibility. They can make a bigger difference than they often imagine.

The silence of the leading international cricketers during the match-fixing scandal in 2000 was unedifying and unbecoming. Perhaps they were unsure; perhaps they were afraid, but character is tested at such times. Those who spoke up - Steve Waugh and Sourav Ganguly among them - distinguished themselves, but far too many big players retreated to their own corners while the game bled.

In recent times players have spoken their mind to address personal grievances. Simon Katich spared no words in slamming the Australian selectors for dropping him. A couple of his mates sprang to his side. Paul Collingwood, though not in terms as severe, said what he thought of being dropped from England's limited-over teams after having led them to victory in the World Twenty20. Shahid Afridi took on the Pakistan Cricket Board after being sacked as captain. And Chris Gayle has launched nothing short of a war on the West Indies Cricket Board.

Occasionally players have let their positions be known on matters like the Decision Review System or scheduling. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an open critic of the DRS, but then he has his board's support in the matter. Complaints about excessive cricket, though, have been somewhat muted since the inception of the IPL and subsequently the Champions League.

The most significant aspect of Sangakkara's speech that it was made after he had voluntarily surrendered leadership. It can be argued he was compelled by circumstances, but by no account was he pushed. And the speech wasn't made in haste or in the pique of the moment: he had taken his time to deliberate the contents of it and the likely consequences. Even the most cynical evaluation of the event will not yield an ulterior motive. Sangakkara had nothing to gain personally from it; if anything, he was risking retribution - a fine, or worse.

As the game has grown more and more commercial, cricketers have found themselves bound by more and more disciplinary codes. Through the ages, cricketers have been expected to be ambassadors for their nation and role models for their fans. But increasingly they are expected to safeguard commercial interests more than the ideals of the sport.

Cricketers are better remunerated than they have ever been in the history of the game, and they shouldn't be grudged their wealth, for they are the reason the game prospers. However, as the stakes rise, so does the temptation to conform to the wills of those who control the purse strings. But principles should count for something. They must.

Governance represents the biggest challenge to a game that finds itself at a crossroads. Lack of leadership is palpable. So are lack of vision and accountability. Most cricket boards are run by people who don't really care about cricket. Some are ruled by proxy by politicians, some are run by personal agendas, and some are plain incompetent. Cricket is in perpetual crisis in the West Indies; the PCB is a joke; Sri Lankan cricket is insolvent and is permanently governed by interim committees; Cricket South Africa torn by a power struggle between the board and the executive; and the Indian cricket board, which controls the largest share of cricket's riches, cares only about itself.

The obsessive pursuit of money and power has drained cricket of its moral voice. Principles count for nothing; few dare to stand up for what is right. The game needs to find its true leaders

But while it is undeniable that the BCCI imposes its will on the game, the rest are complicit by their silence. It is simplistic and convenient to lay all the blame for the ills of the game at the doors of the BCCI. If the BCCI has hijacked the global cricket agenda it can be only because the rest have played willing victims.

The reality is that they are all chasing the same thing. The IPL is held responsible for subverting the global cricket calendar, but if they had the wherewithal every cricket board would have its own IPL. The England board bent backwards to woo Allen Stanford, the Texas billionaire now in jail for financial fraud; Cricket Australia is desperate to make the Big Bash, the franchise-based Twenty20 tournament, the showpiece event in its domestic calendar; and cricket boards like those of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have simply resigned themselves to doles from the BCCI.

The obsessive pursuit of money and power has drained cricket of its moral voice. Principles count for nothing; few dare to stand up for what is right. The game needs to find its true leaders.

If they so wish, cricketers can provide that leadership. It's not naïve to suggest that the game could find its own Arab spring if Sangakkara's fellow players take his lead. Cricketers mustn't underestimate their own strength. Along with the fans, they are the true owners of the game.

By standing up, Sangakkara has shown courage and honour; but it will amount to nothing if he is alone. It is for the rest to show that they care. They owe everything to the game.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Aditya on July 17, 2011, 14:51 GMT

    It is another matter that Sangakkara accepts remuneration from the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. Isn't it a bit odd, that he is complaining to those who pay him, about their conduct towards the game? There is not one party only, which is the cause of the problems of cricket. How many citizens in Sri Lanka have given their voice to Sri Lankan cricket? If there are processions on the street, for Sri Lankan Cricket in Sri Lanka, then that will put a scare in the Sri Lankan cricket board. Sri Lankan society is responsible for Sri Lankan Cricket, as Indian society is responsible for Indian Cricket. But, how do citizens monitor their sports bodies all the time? I believe Sangakkara is a lone voice in Sri Lankan Cricket. Those associated with the Sri Lankan board, who make a noise, are deemed to be speaking because they have personal vested interests. But then, so does Sangakkara.

  • chandana on July 17, 2011, 6:49 GMT

    @ anuradha_d : mate if ur SRI LANKAN listen or read the WHOLE speech and incase have difficulty with the language seek an expert to explain the contents. One swallow dont make a summer and one line quote does not make a speech! this is the best speech outside srilanka since Lakshman K spoke at Oxford, a speech that dignified the country and gave due respect to our valient forces for the freedom now people enjoy. his speech did more than any ass of a diplomat to counter the Cannel 4 issue and show the world we are still a multi ethnic, religious, cultural country that allows pluralism and tolerance. Anyway i doubt if there are any speakers capable of such eloquence in our parliament or the diplomatic service to fly the lion flag high and hold an english speaking audiences' attention for one long hour !!! pity we could not repeat the same king of performance in the back yard and bring the ODI cup at least :)

  • V.L on July 16, 2011, 0:04 GMT

    Right! See where his "Courage" is gonna put him when he returns to SL. No country can afford to lose their cricketing heroes who lambast against the board in front media to show their heroism. Imagine what would have happened to us if we lost Sachin, Dhoni, Dravid etc., to such things. Its just not worth it. Considering the fact that BCCI is the richest cricket board and our team is performing exceptionally well and is not involved in any contreversies like some of our neighbors one can say they are doing pretty good.

  • Ashok on July 15, 2011, 23:33 GMT

    Good balanced article by Sambit Bal. Though it does fly against the solely anti-India articles that have started to come up in the recent months. May I suggest that cricinfo restrict its editorialising to one person (my preference is Sambit Bal but then I dont own the portal) and have the rest of cricinfo stick to cricket reporting. Cricket is being treated like a morality play by too many columnists on cricinfo.

  • Siba on July 15, 2011, 16:22 GMT

    Tremendous stuff, Mr Bal. Sad, in India, nobody - barring a few, of course - has the willingness or even courage to speak up. The biggest and most successful of them speak in unison with the BCCI because it suits them and vice versa. UDRS was one example. So are IPL and excessive cricket.

    Sangakkara is different. The fine speaker that he is, this cricketer has guts and gumption. He has served cricket well. The game needs more of his ilk.

  • anu on July 15, 2011, 15:40 GMT

    stand up and be counted? for what? to wash dirty linen in public? and to give media the masala to to continue their tirades against Asian boards.

    Sangkarrra should be disciplined for expressing his opinion in an inappropriate forum

  • Alex on July 15, 2011, 15:16 GMT

    Ok Ok i am biased against Sanga because of his over aggressive caught behind for everything even ball did n't even touch the pad and he does that knowingly. He has tthis method if you appeal 10 times ...umpires sooner or later will raise his finger. He is only wicket keeper who does this often. I am fan of more polished jayawardene than sanga. Sanga is more attention seeker to my mind. Sanga is a tough cookie though. ifdhoni speaks his mind BCCI will dump him. Sachin speaks his mind , they will listen to him and ignore him. BCCI people listen to who has the money and who has the votes. first Dalmiya , then Pawar now Srinivasan show. These people not gona listen to any cricketer. They dumped Kapil dev , dumped gavaskar also.

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2011, 9:24 GMT

    lol venkatchalam why should Sachin or dhoni or whomever complain just for the heck off it.I mean BCCI has its flaws but atleast it has financially kept the players well rewarded.Just for the sake of raising voice why should one do it.I mean just imagine during 70s when players had to pay their own laundry bills and now.I cant understand holier than cow attitude in these comments.I mean we all want money in life and want to be riich but yes if someone else becomes we feel they are immoral greedy or what ever

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2011, 5:55 GMT

    Hope this article serves as a wakeup call for superheroes like Sachin, MSD and others.

  • Clive on July 15, 2011, 3:04 GMT

    Sambit, of all your many fine columns, this is the very best. I concur with every word.

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