Be alarmed, be very alarmed

Death of a Gentleman exposes how neo-liberal economics threatens the game, while also hinting at worse lying beneath the surface, leaving you feeling disillusioned and angry

Jonathan Wilson
Jonathan Wilson
A still from the film  •  Death of a Gentleman

A still from the film  •  Death of a Gentleman

When Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber set out to make Death of a Gentleman, their aims were vague. They wanted to make something that asked why Test cricket, the form of the game they prefer, was in decline. They ended up with something far more explosive, a shocking account of the process by which world cricket was carved up to ensure the domination of three nations: India and, to a lesser degree, England and Australia. They outline a nexus of self-interest at whose heart stands N Srinivasan, chairman of the ICC, former president of the BCCI, and the managing director of India Cements, which owns the Chennai Super Kings franchise.
The basics of the story, of course, are familiar to anybody with the slightest interest in cricket politics: the financial might of the IPL and India's exploitation of that, the craven submission of England and Australia as they gratefully gobble the crumbs from India's table, the weakness of the other boards unwilling or unable to fight for a greater share of cricket's revenues for fear of upsetting India and so missing out on the tours they depend upon.
How, for instance, can India's decision to reduce the length of their tour to South Africa in 2013-14, costing CSA an estimated US$20m, be seen as anything other than the worst kind of bullying, driven by the BCCI's dispute with the CSA president Haroon Lorgat? And that, perhaps, is the most shocking aspect of Death of a Gentleman: the refusal of anybody at the top of the game even to pretend they are placing the wider interests of cricket first. As Gideon Haigh asks, does cricket make money in order to exist or is it now the case that it exists in order to make money?
As other sports look to expand, cricket seems determined to contract. Far from investing in the Affiliates - Chinese cricket, the film points out, receives only $30,000 in funding - and seeking to become a truly global sport, the ICC has reduced the size of the World Cup.
That may ensure bigger television audiences for each game in the short term, but it means cricket remains the preserve of a tiny elite - which is, of course, why so many of its squabbles are still couched in an unhelpful post-colonial framework.
The contrast with FIFA is telling: blatantly corrupt as it may be, nobody doubts that football's governing body has, over the past 40 years, diverted huge sums from the top of the game to the bottom. There would have been more, of course, had it not been for all the kickbacks and backhanders, but at least some sort of intent was there. Cricket doesn't even have that. India revels in its role as a superpower without ever acknowledging the responsibilities that entails - and England and Australia blinkeredly go along.
There's a damning moment at which the ECB's Giles Clarke, asked about his opposition to cricket's possible inclusion in the Olympics, draws himself up to full sneer and proudly announces, "I've got every right to put my board's interests first."
There are a lot of damning moments with Clarke. You suspect it didn't require particularly selective editing to make him look bad: going in to the announcement of the Big Three carve-up, he walks by Collins and Kimber standing in a media area in the car park, then scoffs, "That idiot Sam's outside", apparently unaware he's being filmed the whole time by the ICC's own cameras. Yes, you think, that's definitely the sort of person English cricket wants representing it.
What's also revealing is the shiftiness of those Collins and Kimber approach: they act guilty, implying a recognition that what they're doing doesn't bear scrutiny. Clarke tells the pair that their fears for Test cricket are "straight out of Wisden 1909", which suggests a worrying level of complacency: just because disaster has been predicted frequently before doesn't necessarily invalidate present fears.
Ignoring the film because they deemed it worthless would be one thing, but cricket's authorities seem actively to have tried to scupper it. When a trailer was released to try to raise further funding, the ECB delayed* Kimber's press accreditation, while various interviewees were warned off. What were Clarke and the ICC so scared of?
And that perhaps is the most alarming aspect, the sense that there is something that is more than just murky going on just out of sight. The film might not quite get to the bottom of what that is, but it is a passionate film that asks the right questions. At the very least it exposes how neo-liberal economics threaten the game, making the rich richer at the expense of the poor, but it also hints at something far, far worse.
Perhaps these questions have been asked in various forms for over a century, but Collins and Kimber convince that they are as pertinent and as pressing now as they have ever been. It's hard to imagine how anybody who cares for cricket and has a sense of its values beyond parochial nationalisms could watch Death of a Gentleman and not feel disillusioned and angry.
Death of a Gentleman
Produced and directed by Sam Collins, Jarrod Kimber, Christopher Hird and Johnny Blank
Dartmouth Films
96 mins; 2015
*07:41:37 GMT, July 30, 2015: The review originally said the ECB blocked Kimber's accreditation

Jonathan Wilson writes for the Guardian, Sports Illustrated, World Soccer and Fox. @jonawils