When David Gower moves purposefully towards you, surprise is your first emotion. Not because he was once described as being so laid-back as to be almost comatose. To say that of one of the great batsmen and most graceful of sportsmen is clearly ridiculous. No, surprise because one assumed that if Gower wanted to meet someone, the world simply rearranged itself around him so he wouldn’t have to expend any energy.
“Congratulations,” he said, holding up the inaugural edition of Wisden India Almanack. This was at Lord’s, during the launch of the 150th edition of Wisden. “You know, of course, that this brings to an end free time as you know it.” And he moved on.
The message was simple: The editor is like a Field Marshal, always on duty. It is, though, the greatest job on earth. Where else can you bring together novelists, philosophers, activists, political theorists, essayists, players and scientists all under one roof as it were, united by nothing more than a love for cricket?
Surely Tariq Ali, writer and activist, and Justice Mukul Mudgal — who heads the committee investigating spot-fixing in the IPL — have never appeared together in the same volume before? Nor, I would venture, have Mike Marqusee and Syed Kirmani.
On the surface, Indian cricket might appear to be in rude health. In the period under review, they won seven of 10 Tests (admittedly, all at home), 21 of 28 One-Day Internationals and seven of 11 T20 Internationals played. They were the only team in the top three in all forms of the game and are the current holders of both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy. Their Under-19s are world champions too. And their A teams have won series both at home and away. So what’s the problem?
Consider the neighbourhood. All cricket boards seem to be in some disorder. The Board of Control for Cricket in India reflects this regional imperative, but, some will argue, at least its teams are doing well internationally.
So — to come back to the original question — what’s the problem? Is it better to have top administrators but a bottom-placed team, or vice versa?
If the actions of its players and officials have been the malady afflicting the governing body, the initial cure only made it worse. Players were banned without a hearing; a board-appointed committee gave a clean chit to officials. It was left to the Supreme Court to restore order by appointing a three-man committee to look into the spot-fixing and betting in the IPL.
That Gurunath Meiyappan, accused of betting (which is illegal in India), is the son-in-law of the BCCI president is only incidental; more importantly, he began as an official of the Chennai Super Kings till the seat got too hot for him. Enough material there, if proved, for banning the three-time champions from the IPL itself.
That the Supreme Court had to finally lay down the law — the committee’s report is to be submitted to the court, not to the BCCI — is the strongest indictment of a system that is democratic in theory but works like a feudal body, with the President saying, rather like the character in Merchant of Venice, “When I ope my lips, let no dog bark.”
There is too the loss of faith, and young fans being put off by the goings on. When cynicism replaces anticipation, sport is in trouble.
No to dissent
Dissent is not just discouraged, but punished. Cricket boards that do not toe the line are treated scurvily. Haroon Lorgat, Cricket South Africa’s new CEO — whose elevation was opposed by the BCCI in a cricketing version of extra-territoriality — was happy to apologise to the BCCI as soon as it told him what it was he had done wrong. Either the panjandrums of the board got their arithmetic wrong with regard to the number of home matches India were to play as contracted with the television channel, or the long drawn-out soap opera regarding the tour of South Africa was brinkmanship to teach that country’s cricket board a lesson. Neither paints it in good light.
Journalists who have an opposing point of view become marked men (and women), commentators who might embarrass with an opinion are dropped, board members who are tired of the system hold their tongues, or it is goodbye to their posts and all that goes with it. In India, it is not cricket that is a reflection of society, it is the cricket board. The connection between power and responsibility is not one that occurs spontaneously to those in charge, whether in politics or in sport.
Will the next BCCI president be able to handle the backlash from around the world? For, have no fear, backlash there will be. India’s money is the glue that holds world cricket together, causing otherwise proud men in Australia and South Africa and Sri Lanka and indeed the ICC to kowtow to their cricket board. But wheels turn, history repeats itself, and if responsibility is divorced from power, the fallout can be catastrophic.
(This is an abridged version of an article published in Wisden India Almanack 2014)