June 29, 2012

Is India a convenient bogeyman?

It's all too easy to lay the blame for all the game's ills at one door

The interesting thing about Tony Greig's Colin Cowdrey lecture was not that he took off on India - he can be quite predictable that way - but that it took so long coming. It's a pity, because Greig, whose stature as a player, observer and thinker is not in question, has gone after the easy target. Increasingly India has become the decoy, diverting thoughts from deeper problems that affect the foundation of cricket and come without nationalities

Yes, many, including me, disagree with the BCCI's position on various issues, but those relate to domestic cricket, scheduling and preparation for international cricket, utilisation of funds by state bodies, aspects of corporate governance and so on. Those are problems of Indian cricket. If they make Indian cricket weaker, it shouldn't really matter to those looking in from the outside unless it is to express glee. The DRS and anti-doping issues are relatively minor.

There are bigger issues - for a start, due to demographic issues and changing lifestyles, Test cricket is gasping. In the home of Test cricket (and I say this with all respect and no sarcasm) a Test series between the world No. 1 and No. 2 will be played over three games and a cash rich five-match one-day series has been slotted in. Also in England, first-class cricket is increasingly being played in April and May to allow T20 to be played in the middle of summer. In Australia last year, home batsmen who were out of form had no four-day cricket to go back to because the Big Bash was on in the middle of the season. It is happening everywhere. The greater issue of concern, therefore, is whether the same changes that saw the death of inland letters and long-playing records, that are seeing dangerous shifts from living within your means to living off your debt, are now encircling Test cricket.

There again, India is the enemy. But India is one of ten countries that play Tests. Even if India is the big bad wolf, that still leaves 36 encounters not involving them. Surely those should be in the pink of health. They aren't. Looking at India is fast becoming the lazy solution; there is a far more critical global problem.

But didn't the BCCI scuttle the World Test Championship? Now that is an interesting, if inconvenient, one. The WTC was not part of the television rights deal and the rights holders, who have invested a lot of money, and are not in the business of losing it, suggested that they would recover more from the Champions Trophy than from the WTC. My information is that they asked the ICC if they could make the relevant deduction in rights payable, and if so, they would be happy to include the WTC. The ICC was unwilling to take that stance; in effect, they wanted their share of the rights but wanted someone else to take part of the losses. In business terms that is untenable. If the ICC, and member countries, were so deeply committed to the WTC, they could have put in the money.

As they can with countries that cannot afford the expensive equipment that is needed for the DRS. So on that count, we now have a situation, agreed to by all, where the richer countries have access to what most believe is better decision-making while the poorer nations have to make do with what they have. It was budgets that came in the way of DRS for Sri Lanka versus Pakistan. It is an old issue. The ICC wants television companies to pay for DRS equipment.

On the DRS itself, there is a deeper issue. If the objective is to ensure fairer decision-making, it should be allowed on every decision, not one or two. As it stands today, it doesn't eliminate the howler for No. 9 or 10 if the two reviews have been used up. The lesser batsmen effectively live in a non-DRS system. We have created a hierarchy - haves and have-nots.

If India is indeed wrong, the rest of the world can come together and alienate India. But they don't. Because they want Indian money but not an Indian point of view

I must admit, my own stance on the DRS is to look at it as a work in progress. I thought it was a good idea, but in the three series I saw the most, the World Cup and India v England and later Australia, the DRS wasn't in top form. If it had been a cricketer it would have been dropped. I can see the merits but I am yet to be convinced that it delivers too much more than line calls and pitch maps can. But my point of view is not the issue. The other countries can isolate India on this front but they choose not to vote. They too put commerce ahead of conviction.

And then there is the IPL, the plague and AIDS combined, Genghis Khan and Idi Amin reincarnated, the evil monster that raids countries and steals their players, and which has this stupid clause that requires players to get a no-objection certificate from their home boards. Again, if the IPL is so bad, unlike Packer's WSC, which was such a breath of fresh air and reinvigorated world cricket, surely the rest of the world can fence India out. The IPL needs overseas players and it will be substantially reduced in stature, might even die, if they don't play or are not allowed to play. Again, you need to act not just complain. And I presume asking the IPL to share its time and revenues with other countries was no more than a little aside - like the Premiership sharing its profits with Luxembourg, Belgium and Iceland, the NBA with Honduras, Costa Rica and Cuba.

The truth is, and Tony Greig is both intelligent and shrewd enough to know it, that independent of cultures, civilisations and people, organisations with power behave similarly. Forget the global political reality, even in our tiny little cricket world, Australia has behaved that way, England has, and South Africa has too. (India, for example, was wrong in supporting those who were then running Zimbabwe cricket, as were England and Australia in supporting cricket in apartheid South Africa.)

The accent that power speaks in is not Gujarati, Midlands or Afrikaans, it is universal. But across cultures and civilisations, people have stood up and fought what they perceive to be wrong. If India is indeed wrong, the rest of the world can come together and alienate India. But they don't. Because they want Indian money but not an Indian point of view. Are they guilty of complicity then?

I am writing this because I am disappointed by the ingratitude of world cricket towards the Indian fan who spends hard-earned money, braves difficult times, and whose enthusiasm for cricket survives many ordeals. He, and indeed she, plays a big role in keeping global cricket alive. If Namibia and Bermuda, and Japan and Italy, receive assistance, the Indian fan contributes to it. A little occasional thank you from brethren across the world might be gracious.

I hope Tony Greig, and some others blessed with equal experience and insight, use their skills to enrich the game as they have in the past. They waste it now by taking the lazy option attacking someone they believe is an opponent. We are too small a game to be caught up and driven astray by an us-and-them attitude.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here