Decade Review 2009

A crisis too good to waste

The ICC is struggling to remain relevant and also competing for players and money with its largest member board, the BCCI; and therein lies its possible salvation

Gideon Haigh

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Ricky Ponting and Mahela Jayawardene speak to the umpires about the chaotic scenes at the end of the final, Australia v Sri Lanka, World Cup final, Barbados, April 28, 2007
Annals of shame: 2007 began with a World Cup that culminated in a fiasco... © Getty Images
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Consistency is an elusive quality in cricket. Not at the International Cricket Council. It began the decade in crisis. It finished the decade in crisis. In between has been sandwiched one crisis after another, in some of which it has been the unwitting coat-holder for two nations duking it out, to others it has contributed by sheer ineptitude: who can forget the "database error" that last year led New Zealand judge John Hansen to believe that Harbhajan Singh had a choirboy's disciplinary record?

In some ways, you have to hand it to them: in absorbing punishment to its authority and credibility, the ICC has shown a chin like Jake La Motta's. But surely only the ICC could transform a source of celebration, like a World Cup final, into a debacle like the one at the Kensington Oval 30 months ago, then reward the perpetrators with further appointments, so that Rudi Koertzen, for example, could turn his 100th Test, at Lord's six months ago, into another fiasco.

Nor is the current malaise at the ICC merely a continuation of the same. Ten years ago, when the ICC was bumbling its responses to illegal actions and match-fixing, cricket was at least looking to it for leadership. Now the crisis is one of relevance. The ICC stands for a system of multilateral cricket governance at odds with the economic and cultural forces that have made India, and its board of control, the de facto locus of power in the global game. A problem just as great is that nobody seems to care.

The pity is that the ICC is as well placed as at any time to fulfill its mission: it has resources, professional personnel, a thoughtful chief executive in Haroon Lorgat. It has arrived at this capability, however, as its remit has been curbed. There was a telling exchange in May when Lalit Modi unilaterally announced the granting of "windows" in the ICC's Future Tours Programme for both the Indian Premier League and the Champions League. Lorgat responded that not only were there no such "windows", there could not be any: the IPL and the Champions League, as quasi-domestic tournaments, were not in the council's domain. Modi then denied having asked for the "windows" in the first place: "We have never propagated that we should be part of the Future Tours Programme for the IPL or the Champions League because I think there is a natural window for these two events." "Natural window"? Sounds a little like renovation by taking a sledgehammer to a wall, doesn't it? Which isn't a bad metaphor for the modi operandi, actually.

The greatest strength the BCCI enjoys is India - the fans, the viewers, the market - which it has done no more to deserve than by existing

Here is where the ICC's abiding public-relations problem kicks in. Rather like an International Monetary Fund or World Bank, the ICC is condemned to arrive on every scene last - after misbehaviour has taken place, after a diplomatic standoff has begun. This being so, it has become naturally associated with frenzies and foul-ups, which it can never resolve to universal satisfaction, and usually ends up resolving to nobody's. As such, it has been an endlessly convenient scapegoat, readily undermined by members, barely tolerated by players, cheerfully ridiculed by media and fans. Even when spreading positive news, the council has demonstrated a talent for ruining the effect, like last month when its five-year-old ICC Awards anointed as International Cricketer of the Year the one and only Mitchell Johnson - the only person to have had a lousier Lord's Test than Rudi Koertzen.

Lorgat is continuing the strategy of his predecessor Malcolm Speed by building a natural four-year cycle of ICC-controlled events, with a World Twenty20 to be played in even-numbered years, a World Cup alternating with a Champions Trophy in odd-numbered years - and if the ICC's financial statements are anything to go by, this has been effective enough. Irrupting disputes over intellectual property and clashing commercial deals, for example, seem also to be a thing of the past.

For the moment, anyway: because events have placed the ICC in very intense competition - for players, for time, for attention, and above all for broadcast and sponsorship monies - with its largest member, the Board of Control for Cricket in India. If perhaps not yet fatally, the ICC's jurisdiction over cricket's calendar has diminished. The situation is analogous to a local council striving to order and even out its city's central boulevard by permitting buildings only of determined styles and heights, but being powerless to prevent a particular developer every so often sending up a Burj Dubai or Jin Mao Tower.

This isn't all bad, by the way. After all, who wants a main street of Mies van der Rohe-inspired glass boxes? But if the shadows of the BCCI's super-talls cast the rest of cricket into darkness, and they in due course become the only places its population aspire to work, then the consequences could be considerably worse than the short-term gains.

Another crisis in the making at the ICC is the massive financial inequality of its members, the BCCI being so much wealthier than even its near neighbours, Sri Lanka Cricket and the Pakistan Cricket Board, but providing precious little encouragement to them - quite the contrary in the case of Pakistan. The more successful IPL franchises have probably extracted more money from cricket in the last two years than the PCB in its entire history.

Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds had a quieter day after their third-day confrontation, Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day, January 5, 2008
... and 2008 with the Sydney saga, which saw the BCCI use its muscle to get the ban on Harbhajan Singh overturned © Getty Images

The BCCI's gravitational pull is even felt in the faraway Caribbean: there is no way that Chris Gayle and his fellow refuseniks would have prolonged their feud with the West Indies Cricket Board had the IPL not offered rewards so ample for time so insignificant. Which is not to say, again, that players bargaining from financially firmer positions with their boards of control is an entirely malign development. But competition for the services of international cricketers, as during World Series Cricket and the rebel tours, has caused the game a great deal of pain, at least in the short term. The irony is that, at home, the BCCI is a perfectly brutal monopolist: witness its attitude to the Indian Cricket League. The IPL's effect, however, has been to subtly undermine boards elsewhere in a way the BCCI itself would never tolerate.

How does the ICC remedy that inequality? How does it renew its control over cricket's calendar, to guard against a repeat of this year's absurd and meaningless congestion, and distribute revenues from the game more equitably, so that the game prospers all over the world? There is actually a solution so compellingly simple, logical and obvious that you just know it can never happen: the BCCI cedes control over the IPL and the Champions League to the ICC, which makes them into genuinely global tournaments with franchises in every Test-playing country, and in due course perhaps some non-Test playing ones too.

Presto: the traditional monopoly of the official game is restored, although the players continue to benefit from any market growth, because of the competition for their services from the new franchises, and the fans in other countries are given a stake in the excitement, rather than essentially having to look over Indian fans' shoulder. Other boards can cease their so-far fruitless and essentially pointless efforts to grow their own Twenty20 attractions; instead they share the benefits via ICC distributions from a properly constituted and multilaterally governed worldwide competition. Lalit Modi accepts the thanks of a grateful cricket world, and sheers off to star as himself in a Bollywood biopic.

The obstacles? One is the ICC's reputation, reminiscent of a jest told at the Australian newspaper giant John Fairfax after its ruin in an ill-starred leveraged buy-out led by impatient heir Warwick Fairfax: "How do you create a small business? Give a large business to Warwick Fairfax." Who would trust ICC to run a corner store after the shambles of the last World Cup, of which those final nocturnal meanderings were somehow a profoundly fitting culmination?

The ICC has become naturally associated with foul-ups that it can never resolve to universal satisfaction, and usually ends up resolving to nobody's. As such, it has been an endlessly convenient scapegoat, readily undermined by members, barely tolerated by players, cheerfully ridiculed by media and fans

It's a fair question. By the same token, it's not as though the BCCI is exactly a streamlined model of commercial efficiency either, struggling with such complicated tasks as answering phone calls and delivering mail; were it issued a school report, meanwhile, the teacher would be obliged to make the comment "Does not play well with others". The greatest strength the BCCI enjoys is India - the fans, the viewers, the market - which it has done no more to deserve than by existing.

No, the chief obstacles to this proposition would be as straightforward as the proposition itself: ego, personal and national. The IPL is about India as much, if not more, than cricket; about the country's status in its own eyes and those of others; against that, even the welfare of cricket is perhaps a paltry concern.

Yet the influence and significance of India would hardly be diluted at all: the economic epicentre for an International Premier League/International Champions League would still overwhelmingly be where it is now. The only change would be that certain individuals very powerful today would be somewhat less so, even if they would in a sense be yielding their power to a countryman in the ICC's president-elect Sharad Pawar, and that the indigenous pride engendered by the IPL might in the short term be diffused, to perhaps be rekindled in due course by the prospect of Bangalore Royal Challengers v Durban Dik-Diks or Kolkata Knight Riders v Cardiff Kojaks. Whatever the case, cricket's increasingly divided house must be put in order. The ICC's crisis of relevance is, to borrow a line from Barack Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a crisis too good to waste.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer


Comments: 61 
Posted by Supratik on (December 24, 2009, 1:14 GMT)

Mr. Haigh is a cricket romantic but a little impractical. Try asking the English FA to 'cede control' over the EPL to FIFA and see what the response would be. Quite simply the best way to save cricket from itself at the moment is to ensure that it is taken to more and more newer markets. The first step is to re-vitalise domestic cricket in the way the IPL and Champions League are doing. In terms of playing standards the gap between domestic and intl cricket is not as big as people think, but in terms of marketability there is a massive gap. When the domestic and international game then bridge their current gap in terms of commercial viability we would then have a large enough pool of top class players to satisfy the current demand for top class cricket. It would also allow cricket to then look beyond its current test playing nations and spread the game into new markets.

Posted by Arvind on (December 23, 2009, 15:26 GMT)

There has been an increase in the number of people frustrated by BCCI's domination of world cricket. Let me ask some question: If the BCCI wants to make profit, what is wrong with it? Why did everyone assume that they are obliged to do charity? What was ECB/ACB's contribution to other countries before BCCI's "takeover"? .... Note that Mr. Lalit Modi has repeatedly stressed that an IPL-contracted player should always put his national team first. He has also stressed that those who do not play the Ranji Trophy will not play for India. .... If the players put money before their national team, why blame the BCCI for it? .... When a player retires from cricket to pursue academic or business interests, nobody makes a fuss about it. Why is it then a crime to leave the national team to play in the IPL? Moreover, why is the IPL blamed for it? If other boards don't like the IPL, let them not give the NOC to the players. Stop pinning all evil in the world to the BCCI.

Posted by Aalok on (December 23, 2009, 10:40 GMT)

ICC is ineffective, BCCI is a bully. What a decade it was! Gideon Haigh, take a bow! Your line of thinking in reviewing the past decade is so insightful and one-of-a-kind that it has left many cricket fans wondering why this topic has never been discussed before. Surely, cricket fans have been lazy not to have spotted this crisis. Or maybe they have been blinded by the new range of strokes unfurled, deafened by the buzz that is T20 cricket and left speechless by the increasing number of exciting test matches, all of which have put international cricket back on the radar, especially in England and the West Indies.

Posted by diwakar on (December 23, 2009, 6:58 GMT)

Though your articles in the past have generally been up to the point, I must say this one has fallen out of place. Your article, from the very beginning, does seem to suggest that you are writing this piece with a notion that may be you could enlighten the world cricket with "What you need to know about the current cricket world"? Sorry, but with such a hint of singular thought, and without realizing how things are now and back in those days, you are again digging the past. It's just baffling how one of such repertoire could have thoughts that seem so simple, yet it takes so hard one has to produce an article Cricinfo could never deny.

Posted by Vijay on (December 23, 2009, 6:41 GMT)

First of all, I am great fan of Weather there is a match or not I visit the site every day. I go through all the stories, comments, articles, etc.., this kind of nonsense will kill the interest of people like me. The above comments confirmed how silly this article is. I suggest you should think before publishing.

Posted by Edward T on (December 23, 2009, 2:27 GMT)

The issue is that the BCCI uses bully boy tactics (remember the Symonds v Singh run-in during the Sydney test) to get their own way. The IPL is just another example of this. The international cricket calendar is already too full of meaningless ODI tournaments and T20 games and there should be a greater focus on Test cricket. Tell me how India is supporting that when they play a grand total of three Test matches between now and the 2011 World Cup. And this is while they are number 1 in teh world. Give me a break!

Posted by A on (December 23, 2009, 1:58 GMT)

"The IPL is about India as much, if not more, than cricket." This is a very astute observation. If India hadn't won the inaugural World Twenty20, would there have been a market for the IPL? If non-Indian teams continue to win the Champions League Twenty20, will the market remain? Perhaps if those who are attracted to Twenty20 are so attracted because of the desire to only commit an attention span that is short in duration, can we also expect this mode of the game to be short in duration-of-existence, as the stimulus-hungry audience searches for its next 'fix'?

Posted by Ashok on (December 23, 2009, 1:55 GMT)

First of all, why is this article in the decade review section? There is no review here. Its just someone again complaining about BCCI and its power and IPL. And what a solution!! BCCI should donate IPL to ICC. Hahaha!! Next time you will say donate Sachin Tendulkar to ICC because he is scoring too may centuries.

Posted by saurabh on (December 23, 2009, 1:37 GMT)

Continued from my previous post ========= 4) the BCCI being so much wealthier than even its near neighbours, Sri Lanka Cricket and the Pakistan Cricket Board, but providing precious little encouragement to them - quite the contrary in the case of Pakistan.

Ha lets see who has more tours to Pak or SL than India in the past 5 years...when did Aus / Eng last play in Pak or SL....As far as relationship witrh Pak is concerned is India advising England or Australia to tour Zimbabwe or more pertinently is Mr. Haigh worried about developing Zim cricket. The analogy is perhaps weak but at the moment Pak is to India what Zim is to Eng and Aus. However I can assure you the once the 26/11 court case in Pak is completed you will see a tour.

Posted by saurabh on (December 23, 2009, 1:36 GMT)

Some points 1) Seems to be fixated with that Lords test in particular - baba there are many more tests...Johnson just did not play in that test alone.

2) The greatest strength the BCCI enjoys is India - the fans, the viewers, the market - which it has done no more to deserve than by existing - Partially true; BCCI is inept, dictatorial and archaic (like many boards I might add) but 20-25 years back cricket was not the mass powerhouse in India it is now. BCCI had some astute leaders like Wankhede etc who worked hard and were helped amongst other things like the surprise 83 World cup. Dalmiya for all his faults realized the monies that could come from mega sponsorships and TV rights - how they can monetize this asset of growing fan base just as the country was starting its economic growth.

3) If perhaps not yet fatally, the ICC's jurisdiction over cricket's calendar has diminished. [/b][/b] - BCCI was ofcourse aided in this by ECB, CA and SAF...well but since this is a BCCI bash

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Gideon Haigh Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.
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