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Conflicting views on state of cricket

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Mihir Bose | 17:48 UK time, Monday, 8 December 2008

It is not often that the men in blazers get much credit but those of the England and Wales Cricket Board deserve praise for their handling of the situation following the attacks in Mumbai. Almost all the decisions they have taken have proved to be right.

The contrast with the shambles in 2003 prior to the start of the World Cup in Zimbabwe could not be starker. Then, with security fears again very much to the fore, England were holed up in a Cape Town hotel agonising about whether to play their group match against the hosts in Harare.

The ECB allowed a vacuum to be created on that occasion - a vacuum skilfully filled by the then players' representative Richard Bevan - but this time it has never lost control of the situation. Much of the credit for that goes to Hugh Morris, who has justified his position as managing director of English cricket.

This is not to deny that events in Mumbai put sport in perspective. In the face of such horrors, sport is shown to be the diversion it is. Yet it is worth emphasising that sport is played even in times of conflict. During World War Two, for example, regular cricket and football fixtures were suspended in Britain but games still took place in between the bombs. And when the United States joined the conflict at the end of 1941, major league baseball continued. India was also fighting for its freedom from British rule during that time. Yet Indian cricket prospered, with such greats as Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare setting records that stand to this day.

Vijay Hazare

During times of conflict, we need a sense of perspective. But what has struck me recently is how many cricket commentators appear to have lost the wider perspective of where the game has come from and where it is headed. Consider the argument some have put forward that international cricket is a shambles. In my view, that is nonsense. The fact is that, for the first time in cricket's history, we are witnessing the emergence of a truly international set-up, one that is not under the control of a western power. That's something quite unique in a major team sport.

These birth pangs are not without pain, but to confuse birth with death is astonishing. Cricket may be the oldest of ball games - indeed the English County Championship was the template for the English Football League - but as a truly international sport it is a mere child when compared with others, not much more than a couple of decades old.

Before then, cricket revolved around the Ashes series between England and Australia. Many of the greats of English cricket never played a Test in the subcontinent because B teams were sent between 1934 and 1976. Nigel Howard has the unique record of having played for England only as captain in India. As for Australia, they were so dismissive of their neighbour, New Zealand, that after touring there in 1946 their next visit was in the 70s. Essentially, India, Pakistan and New Zealand made up the B league, tolerated but not important.

Those who say Bangladesh are devaluing cricket should look back at the Test record of India in the 50s and 60s. Successive 5-0 defeats in England and West Indies and such a dreadful thrashing at home by West Indies resulted in four captains in one series.

Yes, there was the 'cricket, glorious cricket' of the West Indies. But the West Indies are a cricketing oddity. There is no West Indian nation - the idea of a West Indian political federation died in the 50s - while the players come from various islands, not all of whose governments share the same ideology. Even at its height, West Indian cricket did not generate much money. Their players survived by paying in English domestic cricket.

Then there was white South Africa. Not only did they refuse to play against non-white countries, they also dictated to England that they could not select non-white players. It was only in 1991 that South Africa, having shed its sporting apartheid, played India for the first time.

Peter Kirsten bats for South Africa in the second one-dayer in Gwalior

That same year also witnessed the start of India's economic boom - and the last two decades is the story of India's relentless Indian of cricket. Now every country wants to play them because they can sell their televised rights to the Indian market for huge sums.

The appetite for televised cricket in India has made the International Cricket Council, once a poor organisation, now quite rich. In recent months, Indians have founded a successful Twenty20 tournament in the Indian Premier League, done television deals worth billions, and attracted all the world's leading cricketers. The problem for cricket's international governing body is that it has not developed the sort of powers that would enable it to monitor and, if necessary, control this Indian takeover. That is because international cricket is still organised by the countries playing each other. The ICC finds itself more of a bystander than an active participant.

Unlike the French, who set up international sports organisations like the International Olympic Committee, Fifa or Uefa, the English model that cricket was based on was a club one. The MCC for cricket and Wimbledon for tennis, for example. The Indians, having long seen how England and Australia worked the system, have no desire to change it now they control the purse strings.

India are in a position to dictate, but their importance to world cricket in economic terms means all other cricketing nations are keen to ensure the country does not become a no-go area. World cricket cannot allow that to happen, just as a world cricket structure is finally emerging.

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  • 1. At 6:59pm on 08 Dec 2008, andruid wrote:

    It is true that whilst the game itself has taken an overwhelmingly global out look on the field, the boardrooms situation i the ICC is still trailing far behind and if that is not resolved these gains will

    it is not just test cricket which is is spreading the appeal all over the world but the 50 ver format of the game which is proving the most effective means to get nations playing cricket especially through initiatives like the ICC's world cricket league. However all this extra participation that smaller countries are getting is not coming with meaningful reprsentation.

    Those countries wit test status ,and full membership in the ICC, can each send a representative to lobby their interests whilst those that do not have test cricket, who are the vast majority of the membership of the ICC have to lobby through three officials they choose from amongst themselves, and therefore that leaves alot o potentially strong cricketing regions hugely underpresented when it comes to spreading the resources around. So it is no surprise that exclusive control of the right to host and play ICC recognised test matches comew ith it automatic qualification for all of the ICC's major one day events as well as most of the revenues these events generate irrespective of how well or poorly these teams participate.

    This give the unfortunate scenario where teams that do not belong in the high table like Ireland in 2007, or Kenya in 2003 produce playing XIs that produce marvelous results against all odds yet they do not get the sort of rewards that would help them keep closing the gap with the bigger nations especially now that the gap in terms of funding is so big with majority of the revenue generated from cricket being retained by the few team already at the top tier of the sport.

    Whlst nearly all current test teams went through patches where they were as uncompetitive as the Bangladeshis are in the test arena the fact that as you pointed out most of them were together in the same boat consisting of a 'B' league who could at least compete against each other and become stronger that way. Bangladesh do not have that priviledge as they are are alone in the Test arena and do not have B league rivals to compete against in the lonegr format the way Sub-continent temas could turn to each other back then.

    Quite simply the way the ICC is set up right now is still too much of a closed shop to allow the sort of mobility in terms of cricketing ability of national teams this new international set up needs.

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  • 2. At 11:02pm on 08 Dec 2008, dudepod45 wrote:

    Hey Mihir, from an English perspective cricket continues to revolve around the Ashes series. What do you know?

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  • 3. At 00:24am on 09 Dec 2008, AndieRae wrote:

    Mr Bose, As usual you write with intelligence and perspective. However, your apparently neutral view that: "a world cricket structure is finally emerging", is after all precisely what the old and new money are fighting over.
    Also, as you correctly state, the old power axis always had England to balance Australia's views and vice versa. The current Indian position is that of a virtual monopoly and we all understand how absolutely does power corrupt.
    You correctly point out that concerns exist and I hope most would agree that maintaining international presence in India is paramount for the benefit of all, (even if mostly for the BCCI) but the role of each format is also a dynamic which was already concerning many observers and I feel this new issue exacerbates the existing, which is why some may sense and speak of crisis.

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  • 4. At 03:41am on 09 Dec 2008, Parag wrote:

    Finally a good and sensible article from the sports editor.
    I want involvement of more countries in the international forms of the game. Just imagine Twenty 20 worldcup (in some few years) being played among 32 countries of the world. That will help cricket prosper in the other countries where it has not been able to.

    I am from Nepal (and i used to be a cricket player), and if you see why we don't have good players, its because you cannot live your daily life as a cricket player (in that sense as a player).

    But when we compare the results of our National Team against that of the under-19 and under-17 teams, it is pretty much evident that we have always produced a lot of good individuals. (Remember reaching the plate championship finals in the under-19/17 world cups and thrashing pakistan and england. This should be noted because many don't know that cricket is played in Nepal). But then these cricketers have priority to their life and careers first rather than cricket and just fade away in time in the same way as i did. (Corrupt cricket officials only help to further aggrevate this matter.)

    It is good to see that an international sense is coming to cricket. But i would want more countries participating in the cricket tournaments and ICC working towards that. ICC should work towards rewarding its "associate members" with the best league structures and encourage all the nations (i am referring to associate members rather that test playing nations) play 4 or 5 day series rather than 2 or 3 day that is the norm. I am saying this not only in the context of nepal, because, before bangladesh was given test status, only 3 day matches were played there. But things changed after that. I am stressing on 5 day version, beause, you need to play longer version locally to be good in the shorter version. If you can play the longer version you can play any other versions of the game.

    But it seems like ICC wants to keep cricket under the control of few countries and even those countries don't want others disturbing their royal status.

    To Post 2 : AndieRae

    You carry the same philosphy that the English and Australians cricket authorities carried for so long. Now, they have "tried to" educate themselves, its time you also try.

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  • 5. At 03:55am on 09 Dec 2008, Wilo wrote:

    As an avid, verging on rabid, cricket fan for 20 years (since I was big enough to hold a bat), I have to say I have never been more depressed about the state of the game.

    Affairs in International Cricket seem to be just one embarrassment after another, and things are steadily getting worse. Zimbabwe, the forfeited test, the BCCI's attitude to the ICL, the India/Australia racism rows and politicking, the Stanford Circus - the litany of disappointment with the way International Cricket is run is seemingly without end, and I can feel my enthusiasm for the game beginning to wane. I think part of me will die with it, if it does.

    I'm delighted that England are back in India - I wish teams would support Pakistan Cricket too - but with the state of Cricket as it is, it's difficult to see it as anything other than "doing the right thing for the wrong reasons". I enjoyed the cricketing aspect of the IPL very much - seeing multinational teams of superstars supplemented by young Indian cricketers fighting it out before enormous exuberant crowds was huge fun - but I deplore many other aspects of it, most of all the slavering avarice it engenders and the way it is used as a giant financial carrot-and-stick to compel obedience. This avarice seems to be the motivating factor behind almost every decision made in International Cricket today.

    Maybe, as you say, this is more about birth than about death, but I'm not at all encouraged by what appears to be being born. It seems to be guided only by egos and greed. If this is Cricket's New World Order, I think I'll leave quietly by the back door.

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  • 6. At 10:15am on 09 Dec 2008, manucastle wrote:

    Post 4: Parag

    Post 2 is written by certain charming Mr. dudepod45. But your sentiments are well expessed.

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  • 7. At 10:22am on 09 Dec 2008, hifirob wrote:

    Ordinarily I find Mihir's blogs dull and a bit of a waste of time - I only read them to see how much ire he creates amongst the comments - however on this occasion, this is well written thoughtful piece - I must disagree with the central tenant of the piece though - Cricket has always been an international game - it is just that now it has money attached to it. Tours and touring have always been a major part of the game we love and it is domestic cricket that has always been the "poor" relation. Before the advent of 20/20, other than finals, had a county match ever been sold out? Internationals almost always were and continue to be in England. Cricket is going through a major change - England and Australia are waking up to the fact that India is the powerhouse of the modern game and have to adjust themsleves accordingly.

    As an aside, all of those who've been applauding KP for leading England back to India might care to consider if he'd be doing this if an IPL contract wasn't in the offing? Lalit Modi won't be able to prevent England players playing for 15 days now - by going back, England have won a clever political game.

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  • 8. At 11:32am on 09 Dec 2008, WhatKatieDid - Wanderers No 65 wrote:

    Have been reading your blogs with interest for the last few months and I have to say you speak the most sense out of all the BBC columnists.
    That being no disrespect to any others, but your articles are always thoroughly well written, interesting and insightful.

    Must also say i agree with a lot of what you have written.

    "These birth pangs are not without pain, but to confuse death with birth is astonishing"

    That sounds more like a philosopher than a blog!

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  • 9. At 11:44am on 09 Dec 2008, Matthew Cain wrote:

    I loved the irony of your blog starting: "It is not often that the men in blazers get much credit" Because your blog consistently gives your dinner companions lashings of credit.

    Apart from that, this was a tedious and dull article. It's frustrating that you persist in failing to provide any evidence to back up your sweeping assertions.

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  • 10. At 12:47pm on 09 Dec 2008, sst210 wrote:

    it's always interesting to look for the bias in any article or blog but to state that india "control the purse strings" and "are in a position to dictate" totally contradicts the conclusion that a "world cricketing structure is emerging". yes, the balance of power has shifted and yes, it's all down to the money available in india .... but to suggest that cricket is now truly global simply because one's own country is controlling affairs, as usual, shows very rose-tinted glasses on mr bose's part.

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  • 11. At 7:20pm on 09 Dec 2008, badgercourage wrote:

    I wish I shared your optimism about the future of test cricket.

    The Golden rule is:

    "He who has the gold makes the rules"

    BCCI have the gold at the moment. Witness them imposing two tests and 7 ODIs on the ECB, until events overtook this.

    I'd like to think thhat Mumbai might lead to a kinder, gentler kind of world cricket administration, but I'm not holding my breath...

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  • 12. At 8:42pm on 09 Dec 2008, wombletiltheend wrote:

    With great power comes great responsibility...

    Someone tell Lalit Modi this please.

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  • 13. At 06:19am on 10 Dec 2008, levdavidovich wrote:

    The huge untapped potential in India for cricket support, and consequently for large income into the sport, has remained dormant for many years. Finally, Kapil Dev and his colleagues realised that change had to come and they set up the Indian Cricket League.

    All the other cricket administrators were caught short by this and so we have had a year of madness. The BCCI hurriedly formed the Premier League without taking too much care as to how it fitted into the international cricket calender, and then launched assault after assault on the livelihoods of those players playing in the ICL; Cricket Australian dutifully trotted along like an obedient puppy behind the BCCI with New Zealand, and the ECB? The ECB plows its own furrough as always.

    The Stanford nonsense has placated none of the complaints about missing out on the IPL; attempts to set up an English Premier League have been set back by some counties who really should have gone out of business a while ago.

    Enormous potential remains to make cricket a rich sport, but is being hampered by a lack of intelligence at the BCCI, and by the lazy, scrounging attitude of some county chairmen who know their time is up.

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  • 14. At 2:55pm on 10 Dec 2008, thinkstuff wrote:

    I wanted to leave this alone, but I can't.

    There are some big words in this article, not to mention some nice allusions to days of yore, but your argument doesn't make any sense.

    "Consider the argument some have put forward that international cricket is a shambles. In my view, that is nonsense. The fact is that, for the first time in cricket's history, we are witnessing the emergence of a truly international set-up, one that is not under the control of a western power."

    "Truly international" is the misleading term here - you intend it as "lots of countries now play cricket to some standard" rather than lots run it - in fact, the game is driven by India and the BCCI, and as such it is becoming something of a monopoly which has in effect stripped the ICC (note the 'international' in ICC is much more the sense of the 'truly international' which I would have thought you meant) of much of its power, and left it unable to check its progress. You say as much just a few lines further down:

    "The problem for cricket's international governing body is that it has not developed the sort of powers that would enable it to monitor and, if necessary, control this Indian takeover. That is because international cricket is still organised by the countries playing each other. The ICC finds itself more of a bystander than an active participant."

    It is not good to have one board supercede the ICC. I am not an apologist for either the BCCI or the ICC - they both have failures on their hands, some very detrimental to cricket indeed. That, in fact, is the point - why some might say international cricket is in "a shambles".

    The evidence for this shambolic state is piling up, and to ignore it is highly misleading. Forgive me that my thoughts are abridged, but I hope you will consider the following reasons that international cricket is not so healthy.

    1. The World Cup in 2007 - One particular commentator, Mihir Bose, said it was "a depressing example of how not to organise a major sporting event" - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/mihirbose/2007/04/how_the_icc_has_got_the_world_1.html

    2. BCCI's prescriptive behaviour on players who have played ICL cricket - most peculiarly to players effectively out of their jurisdiction - ie other nationals playing in other countries and other leagues - to the point that ECB sides would have been unable to represent themselves fully in the proposed Twenty20 Champions League.

    3. The call of the IPL being so great that a tour has been cancelled - Sri Lanka's visit to England in spring 2009. No boards could or did intervene - the players felt their obligation to the IPL was greater than to Test cricket.

    4. The cricket of the West Indies is in disarray, in spite of some promising cricketers, the standards are low and the organisation is riddled with lawsuits and in-fighting. You say so yourself in October:

    5. "West Indies cricket is not only dismal on the field but off it as well as was evident in the lead up to this series. Some of the Caribbean's leading lights fear for its future." http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/mihirbose/2008/10/ecb_should_be_wary_of_stanford.html

    6. That's to say nothing of the quality of cricket that Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are providing - it's well known.

    7. The Pakistan situation - how can a major side play no test cricket for a year? Will India be prepared to tour?

    8. Zimbabwe are still not suspended from Test cricket and money is disappearing from their game - Michael Atherton's last article in the Times covers this eloquently.

    The problems are administrative and financial. They are to do with the what and the how of playing the game, as well as the when and the where. There is no clear path that everyone is setting out upon - that is why the ECB are at loggerheads with the BCCI. Effective governance cannot be provided by the ICC because the BCCI have too much sway and nobody to rein them in - that's your point - how can it mean that the game is in rude health?

    That's an awful lot to ignore to make your case.

    As usual, I'll ask for a reply. I'd like to know how the above affects your thoughts. As usual, I know full well that if I do, it would be your first in two years of your bloggery here.

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  • 15. At 4:33pm on 10 Dec 2008, superjules77 wrote:

    I didn't think these blogs could get any more boring. How wrong I was.

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  • 16. At 8:49pm on 13 Dec 2008, invisiblenewsman wrote:

    Superjules 77. All BBC blogs are boring because of the constraints put upon BBC journalists. In the interests of 'fairness' they have to present a 'on the one hand, but on the other hand' approach. It is - as Mirhir's 'blog' frequently proves - immensely dull. But the BBC feels it has to do everything and can't just restrict itself to doing some things well. It needs a finger in everyone' pie. I'm sure Mihir actually has some trenchant interesting opinions...just don't expect read then on here

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  • 17. At 12:18pm on 15 Dec 2008, superjules77 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 3:41pm on 16 Dec 2008, Nick wrote:

    Mihir,

    I can't believe how you started this blog off. The men in blazers had nothing to do with the England team going back to India as they publicly stated that it was down to the players. You are right about it being just like Zimbabwe because it was put into the hands of the England players themselves. So to put in mildly the blazers bottled out on the decisions.

    So it was the England players who on both occasions said either Yes or No. Lets face it with the new IPL taking place and the huge salaries that the players are on it's no wonder that the amount of England players wanting to go back and play to show what they can do and hopefully become part of it. They are out there playing for their futures and not for their country.

    You may think this is a cynical view but it's hard to deny it. Remember that now it's going to be all to do with the IPL. Again you will have a club verses country situation but now it's in cricket.

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