Thursday, August 11th, 2022 11:02:10

Why India Rules International Cricket And So It Should!

Updated: October 20, 2012 4:33 pm

Put simply, India runs globalised cricket and must continue to do so. India’s cricketing leadership—Jagmohan Dalmiya, Lalit Modi, and Sharad Pawar—has transformed the game from a semi-amateurish one that was poorly financed and uninclusive to a professional globalised sport. The fact that the game is now financially lucrative and is open to new possibilities is thanks to the leadership and vision of a country that was shunned as a touring venue till about two decades ago.

BACKGROUND

Cricket was a semi-amateurish game that was steeped in elitism, corruption and, till the 1990s, winked at racism. In the 19th century, the game was played by the English elite and was marked by high levels of corruption. Derek Birley has written about how the English elite used to bet on games and bribe professionals to throw matches.

Cricket, as Brian Stoddart has pointed out, was also a tool of British cultural imperialism. Stoddart argues that British imperial power was not just based on military force but more importantly on soft power the power to persuade the colonised about the legitimacy of British rule. Cricket reinforced soft power by suggesting that British rule exemplified fair play, honesty, sportsmanship, just leadership, and a commitment to a greater interest (the team or the nation). These sporting values were embedded so successfully in the colonies that the Australians during the bodyline series were shocked that the mother country was willing to engage in unfair play (ironically, the main villain of the bodyline series, the fast bowler Harold Larwood, was eventually to find redemption as an Australian citizen).

Cricket was an elite game that also had racial overtones. The game was played in the white countries, by white expatriates in the West Indies (it took till the 1960s for the West Indies to have a black captain), and initially by the elites in India. The Imperial Cricket Conference (now the International Cricket Council (ICC)) was set up with the decision making authority resting with the white countries who sought to exclude non-western countries (or as they referred to it, black nations) from the highest levels of the game. Thus while for decades English teams visited Colombo, England did not push for Sri Lanka to join the test foldit would have swung the vote in the ICC in favour of the “black” countries. Similarly, little encouragement was given to develop the game in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh. Had such encouragement been given in the 1960s and 1970s one wonders how many more test playing nations would have entered the fold?

In this period, India was considered a terrible place to tour with adverse climate conditions, poor hospitality, and raucous crowds. Players sought to skip tours to South Asia and getting teams to come to the region required great persuasive skills. The official history of the Australian cricket board recounts how in the 1960s the BCCI sent a Maharaja with a suitcase full of cash to try and entice the Australians to tour India. As the official history recounts, the amused Australians had to explain to the maharaja how business was conducted in the cricketing world.

In part, such reluctance to tour India was justifiable since transportation links both to and within India were bad. The cricket boards tried to short change their players by putting them up in unacceptable accommodations and India in the 1950s and 1960s was a country that faced severe developmental challenges. In his autobiography, Ian Chappell alludes to the harsh conditions that made the 1969 Australian tour of India such a difficult one and may have in fact contributed to the subsequent whitewash at the hands of Graeme Pollock and Barry Richard’s South Africa in 1970.

Further, even within the white nations there was a clear pecking order with Australia refusing in the 1950s and 1960s to play its trans-Tasman Sea neighbour New Zealand in test matches. England added insult to injury by playing three day tests against New Zealand in the 1950s. Additionally, within England, the amateur-professional divide remained till the early 1960s reflecting Britain’s continuing obsession with class differences. Also, in these countries the administrators were largely unpaid and upper-class reflecting the semi-amateurish status of the game and they had a hard time understanding the changing financial realities of global sport.

CRICKET AND RACISM

The overt racism of the white countries was most visible in their attempts to keep South Africa in the international cricketing fold. The push to isolate South Africa in international sports began seriously in the early 1960s and by the late 1960s South Africa had been pushed out of the international Olympic movement. At the same time, however, both England and Australia, the main power brokers in the ICC, worked hard to retain South Africa as a test playing nation. Thus the South African tours of England in 1970 and Australia in 1971-1972 were only called off because of large scale anti-apartheid protests (the Australian and English cricket boards stood solidly behind the tours with facile remarks like the need to separate sports from politics) that made the tours a law and order issue.

Even after South Africa was banned from international cricket, the English and Australian authorities responded weakly to rebel tours to South Africa slapping the errant players with three year bans and then welcoming players like Gatting, Gooch, Border and Alderman back into the test playing fold. The Australian government, however, was hypocritical enough to ban for life the rebel West Indians who had toured South Africa under the captaincy of Alvin Kallicharran.

Lastly, cricketers, even after playing the game for a couple of decades generally retired poor. Some major talents like the Australian Paul Sheahan retired at 28 while India’s first modern captain, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, initially retired at 29 to pursue business interests. Some lucky cricketers like Donald Bradman and Garry Sobers actually made a living out of cricket but they were few and far between. Even in the 1970s when series like the one between Clive Lloyd’s West Indians and Greg Chappell’s Australians drew record crowds, the players were poorly paid.

The game of cricket was, therefore, begging for major changes because in its traditional form it was unsustainable in the modern sporting world. This was perhaps best seen in the West Indies where talented young Jamaicans and Barbadians gave up the game of their fathers to pursue athletics, baseball, and basketball in the hope of cashing in their skills in the lucrative North American sports market. The current decline of the West Indies and the paradoxical rise of Indo-West Indian players like Ravi Rampaul must be attribute to this shift. In England, cricket was by the 1970s supplanted by football as the national game. Change, when it came, therefore, came rapidly.

HOW CRICKET CHANGED

The first major blow to western dominated cricket was the Kerry Packer circus which in 1977 took away power from the national cricket boards and established player power. Packer also modernised the way the sport was presented on television with more cameras, a better connection between the players and the fans, and, perhaps most importantly, with the introduction of day-night cricket, which made the game more accessible to office going crowds. Players from every country except India joined the Packer circus with the BCCI having enough control over its players to prevent Gavaskar and Bedi from joining the rebel tournament. After two seasons the Australian Cricket Board bowed to Packer’s demands and his World Series Cricket organisation was disbanded. But the damage had been done to the cricketing establishment and the next challenge to it came from Asia.

The initial challenge from Asia came in 1983 because of Abdul Rahman Bukhatir’s organisation of the Cricketers Benefit Fund in Sharjah. Based on a series of one-day games, the series exploited the diaspora fan base of Indian and Pakistanis in the Persian Gulf and was a huge success. All of a sudden the most lucrative place to play cricket was not a traditional powerhouse like Lords or the Melbourne Cricket Ground but the tiny Gulf emirate of Sharjah. But what really changed the fortunes of international cricket was that India won the 1983 World Cup. This coincided with the growth of television in India and Doordarshan finally waking up to the fact that cricket was not only a nation building force but a cash cow. Cricket, always popular, became big business in India.

As India slowly began market reforms under the Rajiv Gandhi government the country was rapidly flooded with different types of consumer goods. The One Day International with its frequent breaks became the perfect vehicle by which to promote the new brands that had hit the Indian consumer market. This link between cricket and advertising was reinforced by the market reforms of 1991 that now saw foreign media broadcasters showing an interest in the region.

By 1995, the power structure of international cricket had begun its inevitable change as India by then had hosted two world cups and shown its economic clout in cricketing terms both because of advertisement revenues and the huge fan base. Indian cricket, thanks to Jagmohan Dalmiya and Lalit Modi, signed a lucrative deal with ESPN to broadcast cricket from India. The ESPN link was particularly interesting since by the early 1990s, thanks to globalisation, we had witnessed the rise of 24 hour sports networks that were desperately in need of programming. This saw television networks put on the air everything from Sumo wrestling to Australian Rules Football. There, however, were niche sports and what was required was sports that had a huge international fan base. Football was one logical choice but in cricket crazy South Asia Indian cricket became a major selling point. With the growth of India’s cricketing presence on the small screen came the realisation that India unlike England or Australia was where the real money in the game lay. Jagmohan Dalmiya’s accession to the presidentship of the ICC only confirmed this. India’s domination of international cricket had begun. So why should India dominate international cricket? There are several compelling reasons for this.

INCLUSIVE VS. EXCLUSIVE

Unlike the western cricketing nations, India has sought to include as many countries as possible in the cricketing system. Thus in the 1980s it fought for Sri Lanka to be included in the test fold while in the 1990s it successfully pushed for the inclusion of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Since then, the Indian board has sought to add to the number of Associate nations and increase their presence in international cricketing competitions. When the move was made to restrict the number of Associate countries that could play in international competitions, it was Sharad Pawar, as the ICC president, who overturned the decision.

Second, the Indians have introduced modern business practises and operations to the game. The much maligned Lalit Modi based the IPL on soccer’s English Premier League (EPL). Much like the EPL, Modi brought in players from around the world to make the Indian league attractive to both domestic and international viewers. But his true genius lay in basing the teams around cities thereby creating the sort of inter-city rivalries that are foundation of fan interest in the European soccer leagues. Modi also added glamour to the sport by opening the game to investment by Bollywood superstars.

Further, by tapping into India’s enormous fan base, Lalit Modi and the BCCI were able to offer astronomical salaries to attract global talent something that other T20 leagues like Australia’s Big Bash cannot do. The story goes that after getting a $600,000 contract, Daniel Vettori sat in his car for 20 minutes and honked the horn to celebrate his windfall. Such rewards would not have been possible if Modi had not linked cricket to the rising global business clout of India.

Third, the BCCI has perfected the policy of rewarding those who play by the rules (Indian rules) while punishing those who defy its dictates. When the second IPL had to be moved from India because of the Indian elections, several countries were interested in hosting the tournament. The BCCI, however, awarded the tournament to South Africa because of its good relationship with that country’s cricket board. Similarly, the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was denied the vice-presidency of the ICC when India backed away from supporting his candidature. Howard went on Australian television to make his case vehemently, stating that he could not understand why India had voted against him since as prime minister he had supported the sale of Australian uranium to India (a decision that the Julia Gillard government rescinded and only agreed to after considerable pressure from the Obama administration).

Fourth, the BCCI has learnt to exploit the new technologies that allow fans to maintain constant links with the game. Thus cell phones, You Tube, and the general internet have allowed Indian fans around the world to stay in touch with their teams fortunes and to follow the latest news and drama about their favourite players.

Fifth, the BCCI has been proactive in seeking new frontiers and the most lucrative of these will be the United States and Canada. The Indian-American diaspora in the United States is wealthy with a median income of $90,717. It used to be a Bollywood crazy diaspora but now, with the most successful Indian-Americans being professionals and not Gujarati hoteliers, the emphasis has shifted to cricket and politics. Before the 2007 World Cup there was the proposal to play some of the games in Orlando, Florida but it fell through. The next time the World Cup goes to the West Indies, however, venues will have to be found in the United States to make the tournament lucrative since the Caribbean countries are too poor to make a World Cup a financial success. By including the United States, however, the financial success of the cup would be assured. The BCCI needs to explore this avenue since success in the United States will open up a new market.

Indian rule over global cricket has made the game financially successful and broadened its appeal. But for the game to remain healthy outside South Asia several steps will have to be taken to making it more appealing at the global level.

THE FUTURE

Cricket is a multinational game, like Rugby, in that it is only played by 10 test status nations and over 35 associates. To become a globalised game the sport will have to be popularised in the associate countries and the best way to do that will be to allow them to play at the highest levels where they are comfortable. In the case of associates that could most likely be T20 and India should be instituting triangular series where two test playing nations and one associate compete because this would give promising nations like Afghanistan and Ireland the chance to mature Ireland’s cricket board has stated that it wants to achieve test status in the near future. If another five associate nations could be moved up the chain it would help broaden the appeal of cricket.

Further, the IPL itself should take on a South Asian character thereby removing the need for the Bangladesh and Sri Lankan leagues both of whom have had financial problems as well as trouble attracting the best players. The IPL could either play some of its games in other South Asian countries or set up franchises in those countries. Kolkata Night Riders has a natural advantage here because of the strong cultural ties with Dhaka and the presence of Bangladeshi players on the team roster. Night Riders could easily play half their home games in Dhaka. Alternatively the expansion of the league could include teams in Colombo and Dhaka with one eventually going to Chittagong.

The other crucial move to make is to ensure that the ICC remains outside Mumbai. Member countries remain concerned that with the Indian domination of cricket the next logical step will be to move the ICC headquarters to Mumbai and ensure permanent Indian control of the game. Such a move should be avoided because the BCCI needs an independent body that can oversee the game. The accusations of corruption that have swirled around cricket since the Hansie Cronje affair have been centred on South Asian and particularly Indian cricket. The ICC because of its independent stature was able to restore respectability to the game but corruption continues to show up from time to time with disastrous consequencesas seen by the jail sentences given in England to three Pakistani cricketers. For the BCCI to be viewed as being above suspicion it cannot be seen to be hand in glove with the ICC and physical distance facilitates administrative and legal impartiality.

Lastly, India needs a winning team and that means developing fast bowlers. In a country where 46 per cent of the children are undernourished that may be a tall order but the BCCI has to build a youth system like modern football does. Barcelona, Ajax, and Real Madrid are three famous examples of football teams with under 12 youth squads that bring talented youngsters into the system—one Lionel Messi is a good example. Similarly, Australia invested a lot of money in developing both Shane Warne and Mitchell Johnson and in the case of Warne succeeded spectacularly. Australia may not have as much cricketing money as India but it regularly produces talent because it spots them early and develops them. Investing in kids, increasing their nutrition levels, and making them more competitive is the way to go. The other easy method is to recruit from the Indian diaspora that now numbers over 25 million people globally. Canada, the United States, and certainly the West Indies would be the places to look—imagine (as in the case of Robin Singh) if Ravi Rampaul could be made to play for India.

Why does winning matter? Put simply Indian fandom requires a team that performs well consistently and without the bowlers India will not be a competitive team in test cricket. As other sports proliferate in India there is a chance, slim for the time being, that another sport will come to match cricket’s popularity. This might be the case if an Indian football premier league can catch on in the country (though every observer would say that at present that is a long shot). But with globalisation anything is possible and more and more countries are eyeing the Indian sporting market as well as the lucrative consumer base of over half a billion Indians.

By Amit Gupta

(The author is an Associate Professor in the USAF Air War College and has written on the sociology and politics of cricket in academic journals like Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Sport in Society, and the International Journal of the History of Sport. The views in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of Defense or the United States Air Force.)

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