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The changing face of cricket

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Mihir Bose | 12:37 UK time, Friday, 14 March 2008

Neville Cardus, probably the greatest sports writer of all time, once wrote that if everything about England was destroyed except for the laws of cricket, English society could be recreated.

Much has changed since then but one thing that has remained constant is that cricket is intrinsically English.

As George Orwell put it, our abiding picture is of an English village scene on a summer's day when, as the light fails, a ball hit for four kills a rabbit on the boundary.

Yet this weekend a meeting of the men in suits who run world cricket will take place in Dubai. Yes, Dubai, not Lord's, which emphasises that this very English game is no longer controlled by England, who may have to adjust its own cricket programme to accommodate the economic might of India.

For the first time in the history of sports, a major game is now controlled by a non-European power. How well cricket adjusts to such a development will tell us much about the game and also whether any sport, not just cricket, can accommodate such a major and sudden economic, cultural and racial shift of power.

We all know about the impact Bangalore call centres can have on our lives, but the significance of this development is equally far reaching. Until India emerged as the superpower of cricket, world sports was one area where Europe reigned supreme and the United States had very little influence.

The US may affect all our lives - in politics, economics and culture - but when it comes to world sports it is almost like a third world country. The nature and structure of world sports have remained constant for more than a century and a half.

Most of the sports the world plays were either invented or codified in these islands and much of the governing structure was devised by the French. Certainly, the bodies that govern football and the Olympics were French-created, probably reflecting an English preference for muddling through.

And the men who run these bodies have nearly all been European. In 114 years of the Olympic movement, there has been only one non-European president.

World football was governed for a long time by a Brazilian of Belgian descent and his tenure did not affect the essential power structure of the game.

And while some of the best players in the world come from South America, it is Europe that controls the economic power and dictates the shape and nature of the world game.

So much so that the Uefa Champions League is a showcase for world talent watched by millions round the globe and English Premier League matches are so popular round the world that it even thought of playing some of them overseas, a move which led some Asians and Africans to call it the second European colonisation.

Cricket is very different.

On the field, it is Australia not India that dominate. Off the field, however, India's economic power is so great that even Australia has had to come to terms with it.

Australia have just refused to tour Pakistan, but they would never dare not to tour India because they need Indian money far too much. Indeed, the newly-created Indian Premier League (IPL), where 20-over matches are to be played under floodlight, is so lucrative that Australian cricketers have been tripping over themselves to rush to India to collect their rupees.

India produces 80% of world cricket's income, largely through television rights to cater for the insatiable appetite for the game in this land of over a billion, which has a fairly well-off middle-class of some 350 million.

The auctions for the IPL demonstrated India's economic clout. The franchises for the teams, many of them owned by Bollywood stars, went for millions and the cricketers themselves can earn as much as £500,000 or more for five weeks work, the sort of money top Premier League footballers get but until now cricketers have only dreamt of.

Most of England's top cricketers have kept away because the IPL matches clash with the English season. But the Indians not only say that English cricketers would love to play in India but they also want the English board to delay the start of their season from next year to adjust to the new league.

All this illustrates one fundamental problem for world cricket: its lack of a proper governing structure.

The structure is so weak that I am told the retiring chief executive of international cricket, the Australian Malcolm Speed, will tell the Dubai meeting that cricket has become dysfunctional. His paper will produce much chat this weekend but there is no sign that there is any appetite to marry India's cricketing billions to a viable world cricket structure.

The Indian money juggernaut will just go rolling on and the danger for cricket is that it is not only rabbits that will be killed on the boundary edge.

Much else of what cricket has stood for could get trampled, too.

Comments

  1. At 04:27 PM on 14 Mar 2008, Josh wrote:

    Wow, someone has quite an inferiority complex. 20/20 is just not real cricket, it doesn't attract real cricket supporters. To others, it's just a fad and will disappear rather quickly once people find something else to pay attention to.

  2. At 07:40 PM on 14 Mar 2008, prasath wrote:

    Change is inevitable and I don’t think BCCI has got huge revenue all in a sudden it was a gradual process and it was Mr. Dalmiya who made it very fast than expected and why not cricket will adjusts if the control goes to different origin as it has been adjusting for ages. This game has got huge money involved and it was BCCI which has found it and helping the other cricket playing nations from ICC that are capable for more revenue.

  3. At 07:48 PM on 14 Mar 2008, VinegarS wrote:

    There's also that awkward issue of UN Security Council membership, but I digress...

    Cricket needs all of its test-playing nations to be healthy so that there is a steady supply of talented cricketers. The lure of IPL money alone won't compensate for weak grassroots structures in places such as the West Indies. But it does provide an accurate market signal to cricketers worldwide based on demand for the product. That's a very good thing for cricket, since the game can attract more talented players previously lured by better pay in other sports.

    The hang-dog attitude of the current cricket establishment is predictable. They also offer no other model.

    The development of leagues at some expense to international matches is also good. The game is more dependent on international matches than other sports are, and it's a shame given the demand among all types of fans(trying to get a ticket for the "2nd division" England-NZ series in England is nearly impossible for those not making bankers' salaries!), and the supply of cricketers ready to play for pay. The IPL represents a bold shift of attention (albeit just for 1.5 months) from the constant round-robin of 9 (sorry Zimbabwe) test-playing nations. In short, we need an infusion of funds and enthusiasm in domestic leagues. Hopefully the IPL can bolster the Ranji Trophy in some way as well.

    Players have every right to choose where they play. The less they are under the thumb of desk-bound administrators, the better. Just as long as we see the rise in funds translate into good grassroots programs that will ultimately sustain the game.

  4. At 08:57 PM on 14 Mar 2008, Ralph York wrote:

    As usual Mr. Bose is spot on and, Josh is wrong. The part of the game that attracts the most revenue is, unfortunately, the one that drives the game, especially in an era where cricket appears to have no direction and, in places, no audience for the 5 day game...

  5. At 09:05 PM on 14 Mar 2008, Gav wrote:

    Josh

    You will be surprised. When there's so much money at stake, corporates make sure it works. England is a small country which doesnt really have a say in world matters (esp cricket). Rest of the world is very keen to see it through(check articles in Aussie, S African newspapers about IPL). This is a storm and it will not end. Wait and watch..
    Gav

  6. At 12:24 AM on 15 Mar 2008, Raj wrote:

    That's just a one sided and pessimistic view of the current situation of the world cricket. Oooh now the Indians have the money and the power. Oooooh that's scary. "Much of what cricket has stood for could get trampled too". What are you talking about Mihir? What do you think will get trampled? What are you afraid of will happen that will be detrimental to the future of cricket now that the Indians are running the show?
    Given your Indian ethnicity are you afraid that unless you stand against Indian cricket you would not be taken seriously?

  7. At 01:16 AM on 15 Mar 2008, Sandeep Rao wrote:

    It was ENGLAND who introduced 20-20 cricket to world. If they did not have enough money to take it next level, why are they complaining India about it. Writer talks about Australia dominating on field and India off field. Engalnd have dominated off field for so many years. But for how manu years have they dominated on field. They have just dominated 1 series in last 15 years.

    Engalnd cannot digest the fact that they will not be getting cream lot of the players for their county cricket for lack of funds there. Whose fault is it? Just the way India is spending on cricket, England is spending on football 9about 100 times more probably). But how international tournaments have they won on field???

    Guys...it is time to move on....if you cannot digest that that another country is going to dominate some sport..plan to improve in your country...and not crib about money..and IPL

    Regards

    Sandeep

  8. At 07:15 PM on 15 Mar 2008, Avid Supporter wrote:

    It seems as though maybe the key issue here is one that stems from the potential shift of the power balance.

    Indian supporters are a passionate lot, I've watched many a game there at many a different stadium, and I love the way that they have taken these into grounds in the UK. (Shame Lords doesn't allow dhols, and flags...)

    Perhaps this is the reason, cricket should be made appealing to all, the crowd need to be involved as much as possible (look at football), but when you take this interaction away you are taking the fun away from the sport. Compare the Oval - capacity 23k, against Eden Gardens is 88k.

    And the cost is also comparable with this ratio.

    So the support structure (government are totaly behing it) is there in India, its strong, and they just cant get enough...even Bollywood stars are injecting their own wealth into the game, its the same as these wealthy premiership club owners...

    My point? Cricket has moved on its evolved, and whilst Lords may always remain the home of cricket - India will become established as the heart of cricket.

    Look forward to your comments people.

  9. At 07:26 PM on 15 Mar 2008, David McKay wrote:

    What I cannot understand about the issue is:- how can anything at all positive be taken from a development in the world-wide game which seeks to ban cricketers from playing cricket ?
    O.K. I suppose the BCCI can bring whatever sanction it likes against Indian cricketers in India, but more than that I can't see any justification for.
    Good luck to all of those taking part in the ICL and IPL.

  10. At 07:29 PM on 15 Mar 2008, Steven Lilley wrote:

    Interesting article - 20/20 is the future for the world game and probabaly more importantly its perfect for TV its quick, all action and over in four hours. It is a shame that the powers that be cant arrange this tournament to take place in March/April so that all cricketers from all countries can take part in it. I for one will be watching on Setanta

  11. At 08:24 PM on 15 Mar 2008, milly wrote:

    To have 80% of the game's money come from one country is a bad situation.

    Can someone who is more enlightened explain to me why we need all this money in the game?

    It can't all be lining the players pockets, surely!

    I love football and cricket as well, but it just seems more sad that cricket has sold it soul and lost the essence of what it was.
    I don't know why I don't feel like this about football, maybe it's because I have always remembered it that way.

    Does anyone else feel the same?

  12. At 11:52 PM on 15 Mar 2008, Brian M wrote:

    Mihir,

    You have again articulated the concerns of many, that the lure of money is set to influence the cricket that we will see in the UK over the next few seasons.

    I may be cynical, but the poor performances by some of our bowlers in NZ could be deliberate, to obtain release them from their central contracts, hence leaving them free to take up lucrative IPL opportunities when/if they arrive.

    Whom could blame them when the ECB has been guilty of the same, by removing test matches from traditional grounds (under the guise of spreading the game) when there is a clear objective of reducing the success of the northern counties, many of which have significant India communities and fill the grounds for test matches.

    The historical influence that the ECB had, has been erroded by their own incompetence, future influence will only be gained when the England team improves to a level that was fleetingly reached in 2005.

    Brian M

  13. At 08:07 AM on 16 Mar 2008, vikram tikoo wrote:

    IPL had to happen as ICC has been sleeping for so many years and not developing cricket as FIFA takes its responsibility in football. So instead of ICC, BCCI smelt it better and cooked a better dish to invite cricketers from all over the world to India and make money the same way soccer does in premier league. Malcolm Speed called the world cup a success but we all know what a hogwash it was with super priced tickets and not allowing the west indians to bring their sound instruments onto the ground! South Africans learnt from it and had a super T20! ICC need to wake up and make cricket more relevant to other parts of the world as FIFA is pushing football into India!

  14. At 10:22 AM on 16 Mar 2008, Param Iyer wrote:

    I regularly read Mihir Bose's article but cannot agree on his views this time.
    All this talk about Indian flexing muscles is not entirely true. IPL would do to cricket what EPL and Italian League has done to football. It would galvanize the best players of the world , being paid good money for their services to product some exciting cricket.

    That said, the game was controlled by English (read MCC) for years and the number of innovations was far less. The county cricket is not as popular as before and the allowing of Kolpak players has meant that some teams hav e more overseas players than English born players. IPL is designed to be entertaining, at the same time it would give exposure to young Indian and world talent to compete against the very best. If IPL succeeds, it would be good to the game in the longer run.

    To expand the game in more countries, 20-20 is the best way..its fast and exciting.

  15. At 04:57 PM on 16 Mar 2008, Chris wrote:

    Cricket must be careful not to fall into thehands of the moneyman, as football has.
    The T20's are a fantastic alternative to Test Cricket, and as we've seen in England, it's attracted a new breed of cricket fan. I applaud the IPL for taking this format to India, why should we stop the Indian population from watching? We also cannot stop players from taking the sums of money they're being offered (which still are miles behind compared to football).
    However, I hope that the ICC, and the IPL realise that to keep cricket special, the money, for no end of reasons, should not only stay in the game (ie not to agents), and should not go into silly millions. The minute this happens, like the Premier League (football), cricket wil lose it's soul, and be in the hands of the moneymen.

  16. At 05:28 AM on 18 Mar 2008, ramanujam sridhar wrote:

    Yes, the balance of power shifting is inevitable and bound to happen.That is not a worry, what is a worry though is that BCCI is not afraid of showing its clout,something that we saw often enough in the past whether it was the Harbhajan issue or the hosts of other contentious issues where the BCCI has shown its mettle.In fact players like Shane Bond have faced the fury of the BCCI and have had their international careers permanently ended.Test cricket is the real thing but to the BCCI money is the only thing and people who do not live in India or have not watched cricket in India will never understand that the BCCI does not care for the ultimate consumer- the cricket fan.

  17. At 05:54 PM on 18 Mar 2008, MalcolmW wrote:

    It is a sad fact of life that modern society wants instant gratification in everything; cricket seems to be no exception. 20x20 (T20 if you must) panders to that desire because it is fast and furious and it can be watched after a day's work under lights. There is nothing wrong with that (it may even be a good way of encouraging women and children to get an interest in cricket which they can hopefully develop into "proper" cricket), but it is imperitive that it complements and doesn't obscure the importance of the five day test-match form of the game. Sadly, as it generates a wall of money, there is a real danger that it will. India does not "run" cricket, but it does wield tremendous influence through the money that the huge fan-base can contribute. With this influence comes responsibility, and the BCCI must ensure that the marketing men in suits don't kill the golden goose by plucking it too much. The omens are not, to my mind, good.

    I have just returned to the UK from watching part of the England tour of New Zealand, and in every ODI and test match there were more travelling English fans that Black Cap supporters. How sad is that? The 20x20 games were a different story. It is the same picture in India, with test match grounds almost devoid of local supporters, ditto the Carribean and to some degree South Africa. It seems that only Australia and England can still routinely attract full houses for test matches. It is here, not in the development of a new competition in India that the real danger for international cricket as we know it lies.

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