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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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