Board Games

In the Godfather, when Michael Corleone pitches the idea to his older brother Sonny and the family’s Consigliere Tom Hagen that if a meeting could be arranged between him, Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo and the New York Police Captain Mark McCluskey, he would kill them both. Sonny laughs it off by saying Michael was taking things too personally. Michael calmly outlines his plan and sternly looks at Sonny and says through gritted teeth, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”

However, the audience can sense that it wasn’t just business for Michael, the war hero. His father, The Don, was gunned down in an open market and left for dead by The Turk’s men and Michael himself had his jaw broken by the police captain. It had to be personal.

When a BCCI source mentioned the paucity of home series and the need for the home board to schedule an ad hoc tour by the West Indies to generate revenue, and thereby cutting in to India’s tour to South Africa, it was plain to see it just wasn’t business, it was personal.

The BCCI has had issues with the current CEO of Cricket South Africa (CSA), Haroon Lorgat going back to his time as the ICC’s Chief Executive. Whether it was Lorgat’s open support for the Decision Review System (DRS), or the ICC’s Woolf Report (initiated by Lorgat) which recommended steps to correct for the imbalance in power amongst its member boards (which would have curtailed the powers held the top officials of the BCCI), or the replacement of a friendly Gerald Majola by the CSA, BCCI hasn’t felt comfortable working with Lorgat. So much so that there were reports of BCCI expressing “concerns” over the possible appointment of Lorgat as CSA’s CE replacing Majola.

Lorgat was at the helm of the ICC when it rejected Eden Gardens as a venue during the Cricket World Cup 2011, since the stadium was not up to scratch and the pleas from Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) for further extensions were denied. Losing a much lucrative India-England world cup fixture must have financially hurt CAB. Jagmohan Dalmiya, who is acting as the caretaker President of BCCI now due to the spotfixing shenanigans that happened during IPL6, is also the President of CAB. Voila, this has got to be personal!

Source: The Daily Mail, UK

Source: The Daily Mail, UK

BCCI is now flexing its muscle to let CSA know that they really meant it when they said they had concerns with Lorgat taking over as the CE. But Lorgat is no slouch either when it comes to politicking. The news leaked out before there was an official acknowledgement by CSA officials that BCCI is anti-Lorgat before his appointment as CSA’s CE. This could very well have come from people close to Lorgat or Lorgat himself, putting public pressure on BCCI that they are meddling with another nation’s board matters. If Lorgat weren’t appointed, it would have reflected bad on CSA officials who have gone through an internal clean up. If he were appointed – as it happened – he comes off as someone that can resist even the biggest, baddest cricket board. Win-Win for Lorgat.

The general practice followed by boards when announcing tours is that they propose an itinerary to the visiting board, and upon mutual agreement, the tour dates are then announced. Considering the pressure CSA must have been feeling since Lorgat became their CE, and the public posturing by BCCI (including possibly ending CSA’s stake in the lucrative CLT20), it was a shrewd move by CSA to announce the itinerary of India’s tour to South Africa without actually consulting with BCCI first. If BCCI balk at it (which they did), they’d cop negative publicity for pruning a much-anticipated clash between two top teams (which they have).

BCCI has since announced the dates for WI’s tour to India, and also the dates for India’s trip to New Zealand. It is almost guaranteed that India’s tour to South Africa will be a short affair with only 2 Tests, 3 ODIs and 1 T20I. In the process, BCCI have also ensured the sure-fire publicity/TV ratings bonanza that is Sachin Tendulkar’s 200th Test Match will happen in India and not in South Africa. It has been mooted that the venue for that Test could be the Eden Gardens!

This has been a brilliant exposition of power politics by the cricket boards. Of course, the fact that BCCI have with them the financial muscle to dictate terms meant Lorgat (and the CSA) was going to be in a disadvantaged position, and ultimately overmatched. The Godfather move by the BCCI to put cherry on top in this exercise would be to make an offer CSA can’t refuse. Even with the reduced tour, offer to play 3 Tests and eliminate the limited overs matches (which typically have drawn more viewers to the ground in SA, and more TV viewership and sponsorship). If CSA refuse that, they’d come off as the ones that finally put the kibosh on 3 Tests that cricket romantics would have enjoyed!

But all this politicking: at what cost? It is of course petty, silly and downright wrong of the BCCI to hold a tour hostage to personal affronts – as minor as they all seem to be. This further skews the already imbalanced powers in the cricketing world. If a national board, as big as the CSA is – both on and off the field, could be so blatantly cut to size, because the BCCI is not happy with their Chief Executive, what chance do the other minor players like Bangladesh or West Indies have? Cricket administration has become an imitation of the current geopolitical scenario with one true global superpower (USA) and the fundamental philosophy seems to be “My way or the highway”.

This overreliance on Indian markets for sustenance of a ‘global’ game is unhealthy, both in the short and the long term. In the short term, bullying tactics become commonplace (which it already is) and the boards have to abide by what is dictated to them, sometimes at the cost of what is good for their own domestic game. In the long term, the game ceases to be global, and is only played by a select few nations who can make it worth the BCCI’s while in terms of revenue generation.

It isn’t much of a surprise or shock that the dates for India’s tour to England in summer of 2014 have already been announced, and FIVE Tests will be played along with 5 ODIS. When was the last time India played a 5-Tests series in England? 1959. The one and only time. When was the last time any one but Australia played 5 Tests in England? Exactly.

The ECB have also announced that there will be not be any Tests scheduled in the month of May in 2014. May Tests, which were the norm in the last several years, which made it inconvenient for the English marquee players such as Kevin Pietersen to take part in the IPL. With BCCI pondering already the ouster of CSA from the Champions League, ECB seem to be well positioned and have sufficiently ingratiated themselves to the powers that be, to take over from CSA.

“Every single decision made in running the game, you will be able to trace it back to somebody’s self-interest” says Mark Nicholas in the promo for the upcoming documentary “Death of a Gentleman”. Giles Clarke, the chairman of ECB says, “I have every right to put my board’s interest first” in that same promo. He of course has shown that beyond a shadow of doubt when Allen Stanford helicoptered his way to the Nursery ground at Lord’s with a Plexiglas box of fake money in tow.

So, in a world of filthy, dirty money, where every board is out to protect its own interests, it isn’t surprising the position cricket finds itself. Of course, one can make the claim that this isn’t how cricket should be run. It shouldn’t be a race to the bottom for the worst behavior, but that is how cricket is being run. The moment cricket stopped being just a game and became a product to be marketed and sold, it was inevitable that we would find ourselves in this juncture. In a world where money and power talk, the ones with it will never have enough of it.  Because, as Hyman Roth succinctly put it to Michael Corleone when questioned about a mob hit on Frank Pentangili, “This is the business we have chosen.”

From a purely numbers point of view, If India do play just 2 Tests in South Africa, the Indian team would be playing 6 Tests this winter (2 each vs. WI, SA and NZ) instead of the 5 Tests as originally scheduled. So, if you are a fan of Tests, that is a straw you can clutch on to.

But the popular notion currently seems to be that it would be a travesty if India plays anything less than 3 Tests in South Africa. If that is so, the Test series versus WI and NZ, are they a tragedy too? Sambit Bal, Editor of Cricinfo, mentioned in a video show (and certainly he isn’t the only one to echo the sentiment) that it would be okay for India to play 2 Tests against the West Indies because they are not a top side but not playing a minimum of 3 Tests in South Africa would be a tragedy.

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 11.20.15 PMBefore ICC introduced the Future Tours Program (FTP) last decade, cricket tours were randomly arranged between nations, based on availability, convenience and more importantly, profitability. How can one forget that Australia did not tour India from 1986 till 1998 except for a lone Test in 1996 (in Delhi)? The FTP that all full member nations of the ICC agreed to, guarantees that a tour would constitute at least 2 Tests and 3 ODIs and would operate in a 4-year cycle. But a look at how that exercise has gone so far, shows the tale of how world cricket has been shaped in the last decade or so. The table to the right shows the number of Tests each full member of ICC has played since January 1, 2001.

Even with the FTP in place, the disparity has continued for various reasons (security, geo-political, and just plain financial). The table below shows the head-to-head Tests played between the 10 Test playing nations since January 1, 2001. Australia has not played Bangladesh in a Test since 2006. Bangladesh as a Test playing nation have never toured India!

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 11.20.02 PM

It is clear as day the demarcation between the haves and the have-nots, and that’s without even launching in to the shabby treatment meted out to the Associates and Affiliates. Not only are the cricket boards perpetuating this imbalance in the schedule, fans and journalists seem to be okay with it, you know, as long as we get our marquee matchup to fill up our inches and romanticize about the game.

The malaise is deep – deeper than we would like to or want to believe. The BCCI ought to be roundly criticized and censured by one and all, for trying to settle personal scores with CSA, using their position atop cricket’s financial pyramid built on the backs of the Indian fans. However, if we choose to raise our voices only when it’s opportune, convenient and only when one of the ‘haves’ get jobbed, and willfully turn a blind eye to the inherent inequities, the current oligarchy and hegemony will continue, and we will be at fault of the same hypocrisy and inconsiderate behavior that’s ruining cricket we are blaming the BCCI for.

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