Once more cricket shoots itself in the foot

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This morning, for the first time in a hectic week on and off the field, I found myself with a bit of time to spare. After a leisurely rise, I knocked off a few magazine articles over breakfast and then, as is my wont, decided to have a quick browse of YouTube to see what gems had been unearthed overnight.
I can hardly be alone in that. No-one who uses the internet to read these articles can be unaware of this online Leviathan. Founded by three geeks in Illinois in early 2005 and flogged 18 months later to Google for a cool US$1.65billion, YouTube is arguably the single biggest internet phenomenon of them all.

More than 100 million video clips are viewed through its portal every day, including - yes - cricket snippets. A veritable online emporium has been created in the past 12 months, with rare archive footage emerging of such historical gems as Sobers' six sixes, Shane Warne's ball of the century and much much more. Including, until the last few hours, highlights of the ongoing World Cup.

Seeing as it was Bermuda taking on Bangladesh in Sunday's match, I had decided to treat myself to what I already consider to be one of the classic cricket moments - Dwayne Leverock's astounding one-handed pluck at slip off Robin Uthappa. But instead of watching a fat man prove he can jump, I instead got this error message:

This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by ICC Development (International) Limited and Global Cricket Corporation Pte Limited
A game run increasingly by lawyers for lawyers, has deemed it necessary to go to war on the very online enthusiasts who can spread the word of a game whose reputation has been dragged through the mincer

Does this game know of any other ways to shoot itself in the foot? Only three days ago it was suggested on this website that the events of the past week might serve as a wake-up call for cricket's fiscally obsessed powerbrokers. Fat chance. A game run increasingly by lawyers for lawyers, has deemed it necessary to go to war on the very online enthusiasts who can spread the word of a game whose reputation has been dragged through the mincer.
It is an astoundingly short-sighted decision by a ruling body that has once again shown it is completely lacking in a sense of priorities. God knows that cricket could do with some good publicity at present. Only 24 hours ago, the ICC's Lawyer-in-Chief, Malcolm Speed, was telling Cricinfo how wonderful the match between Australia and South Africa at St Kitts was turning out to be. "Let's all just watch the cricket," he suggested when queried about the latest murmurings about Bob Woolmer's death. Mal, we'd love to. But 75% of your global audience have no means of tuning in.

Maybe I'm wrong to quibble. Maybe this tournament really is the "ICC Cricket World Cup West Indies 2007", as those interminable press releases implore us to call it, and we should feel privileged to be allowed access through the officially sanctioned channels. But it's not as if YouTube is about to start tapping into the rights-holders' feed and start leeching live streaming free-of-charge. That's not what it's about at all. The snippets that go up on that site are nothing more than snippets - short, sharp tempters that have the power to entice an untapped audience.

Wikipedia, that other giant of online information-sharing, quotes a US television executive on the subject of YouTube's copyright infringements. "If I found part of a successful show up on YouTube today, I'd probably pull it down immediately," says the source. "If I had a show that wasn't doing so well in the ratings and could use the promotion, I wouldn't be in a rush to do that."

How well is cricket doing in the ratings right now? A certain murder-mystery investigation is currently storming the charts, but in the absence of the slighted Indian audience, who else is rushing to tune in? Australian feedbackers to Cricinfo on Saturday night were in a fury that their domestic TV channels were not airing their showdown against South Africa, while England fans without a satellite dish are equally up the creek.

"Cricket has acquired a dangerous obsession with money," wrote Cricinfo's editor, Sambit Bal, on Thursday, "to the extent where it is not a question of a game needing the money to survive or grow but making as much as possible at any cost." At this precise moment, cricket does not need money to survive or grow. It needs publicity. Publicity of on-field exploits rather than off-field outrages. It's time to loosen up and let the spectacle be enjoyed by all who wish it well.