ICC’s proposal makes a mockery of the spirit of the great game, writes Nirmal Shekar

What do you do if you cannot stand up to the neighbourhood bully? You just join him instead — it makes perfect sense, both from a practical standpoint and from a Darwinian perspective.

In the event, you cannot fault either Cricket Australia (CA) or the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for agreeing with the game’s most unabashedly autocratic administrative body — the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) — to clearly divide the world of cricket into one of haves and have-nots.

The so-called ‘position paper’ drafted by the International Cricket Council’s financial honchos — or should we just say a few greedy Indians plus one or two others from the once mighty cricketing powers, England and Australia — is so flawed that it is not even wrong!

The 21-page document, which will be presented to the ICC Board at a quarterly meeting in Dubai on January 28 and 29, makes a mockery of the very essence of what we have come to believe as the spirit of the great game.

One of the most abiding memories — I still get goose pimples every time I think of it — of three and a half decades of watching sport and writing about it is of Nelson Mandela, in a Springbok jersey and cap, walking up to present the 1995 Rugby World Cup to the captain of an almost all-white South African team.

At that moment, at least, everything wrong with the world, everything divisive and cruel and abominable, was forgotten as all the people of the great man’s Rainbow Nation stood as one to cheer an epochal event.

Now, barely a few weeks after the passing of one of the greatest visionary statesmen we have known — the man who dismantled a wretched system under white rule in his country — the ICC wants to introduce its own version of the apartheid.

For over a hundred years, civilised souls in the cricket-playing world have been used to inhaling in horror, uttering the words ‘It isn’t cricket,’ whenever they thought something that was taking place was not fair.

Today, what isn’t cricket IS cricket. If no sport can rise above the meanness of the age, then ICC’s latest proposal pushes a great sport that has always been a metaphor for fairness into a moral cesspit.

For what the ‘position paper,’ if it is given the nod at the meeting, will do is to concentrate all power in the hands of just three cricket playing nations at the expense of all others, including — not so ironically in this day and age — the No.1 ranked nation in Test cricket, South Africa.

“Cricket South Africa has requested the ICC to withdraw the draft proposal emanating from the ICC Finance and Commercial Affairs Committee working group to allow for a more consultative and constitutionally-ordained process to take place,” Cricket South Africa said in a statement.

But then, you cannot fault India, Australia and England for not consulting. They have done a lot of it in the recent months, among themselves, that is. And it was done in proper conquistadorial — or should we say imperial — spirit to keep the weaklings in their place.

Financial clout rules

And cricket’s minnows are not just Zimbabwe and Bangladesh but every team that does not fit into its billionaire club. The new hierarchy will have nothing to do with cricketing ability and everything to do with financial clout.

Of course, Indian cricket fans — not to speak of its grotesquely idolised and hugely overpaid cricketers — should be happy because the BCCI will always be at the very top of the new order, no matter what happens.

But now all the pompous but empty sloganeering about turning cricket into a mighty global game stands exposed. And it may not be long before the game is found flourishing in just three or four countries, at best.

Perhaps in the mass-market driven world of modern sport, what has come to pass in cricket is something that is inevitable. But any sport will lose its heart and soul when commercial considerations turn out to be the only things that matter.

And the best of sport, or what provides it emotional heft, is an engrossing battle between David and Goliath.

Remember Cameroon and Roger Milla in the 1990 football World Cup? Remember the Australian journeyman Peter Doohan dethroning Boris Becker at Wimbledon in 1987? Or, remember, closer to home, Bangladesh denying India a place in the Super Eight in the 2007 World Cup?

The best of sport is not always about India versus Australia in cricket or Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal in tennis. We become urgently alive to sport’s inherent greatness and endless charm only when Mr. Nobody takes on Mr. Superstar and offers us the tantalising prospect of witnessing the impossible.

But the ICC appears to believe all this does not matter — only one thing does: money.

Keywords: Cricket AustraliaECBICCBCCI

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