Whatever Happened to Cricket?
This has been the sort of week that makes you realise just how much cricket has changed in recent years, and to wonder what the long term consequences might be.
Australia is in England to play just a series of one day matches, nothing else. An England tour always used to be an Ashes tour, but not anymore and at least some locals are concerned that this is leading to a decline in standards generally as cricket apparently searches for new audiences. In an epic rant, one MCC member railed against “the great unwashed” who had been admitted to the members’ pavilion at Lords for a county one dayer. He hinted darkly that he expected more of the same if the similarly unwashed were admitted during Australian games. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2165561/Kick-Great-Unwashed-MCC-members-plea-hallowed-Lords-Pavilion-invaded-Twenty20-cricket-fans.html ). Where might that possibly end?
Meanwhile Chris Gayle, still in search of a return to the West Indies test side despite a long stand-off with the West Indies Cricket Board, smashed New Zealand in a T20 match – staged in Lauderhill, South Florida, USA. Yes, Florida. (http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/570537.html ). The location of the match upset many Caribbean observers, believing it a desertion of local venues. Supporters of the move point out that many of those local venues have been eerily empty of late for many internationals, so at least Lauderhill is drumming up business elsewhere. Most of the spectators were expats from the Caribbean, and one of the organisers was the legendary West Indies off spinner Lance Gibbs.
The USA and more recently China have been on the minds of the International Cricket Council as possible sources of new support and, of course, revenue. The game’s culture has never made it easy to transport elsewhere, even if the old time representatives of Empire did their valiant best all those years ago. A conceptually simple game like football run under relatively straightforward rules is much easier to sell, to the point where Manchester United has more fans than in China than at home.
The ICC, meanwhile, had more pressing issues on hand at its annual meeting – held in the cricket powerhouse city of Kuala Lumpur. In part this is good for the promotion of cricket. However, it needs to be pointed out that for the past several years it has been impossible to hold full meetings in mainstream cricket capitals. That is because Zimbabwe is still a recognised member and its representative on the Board is Peter Chingoka, who has been banned from entering the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere as a result of fallout from both the Mugabe regime and his own connections in some alleged indiscretions with cricket finances.
On a cheerier note the ICC did ratify the Woolf Report suggestions about turning the President’s position into a more nominal role and turning over real power to an independent Chair. (http://www.thatscricket.com/news/2012/06/28/here-are-results-of-icc-board-meeting-063593.html ). Outgoing President Sharad Pawar, always controversial, will be succeeded by Kiwi Alan Isaac who is there because of the heated struggle that saw former Australian Prime Minister John Howard thwarted in his ambitions to become cricket’s supremo.
At the playing level, however, the ongoing stoush over the use and non-use of the Decision Review System (DRS) remained unresolved with India being told it would not have such use forced upon its team. Cricket is a game in which the umpiring plays a hugely influential role, and its rules are so complex that the use of emergent technology seems almost a given. India, however, has held out, and such is its economic power that its view has prevailed.
Back home in India this week, however, the news was even grimmer. The IPL season has come and gone, almost unnoticed outside the country itself, but one result of the series has renewed focus on the game’s vulnerability. The BCC has announced that five Indian players have been banned for involvement in or possible association with match fixing during the IPL series. T.P. Suchindra has been banned for life, others for five years and below, but the image for both IPL and cricket more generally is seriously poor. (http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/sports/01-Jul-2012/five-indians-banned-for-match-fixing )
The news of that ban came immediately after former Pakistan captain Salman Butt returned home after being released from a British jail, having served his term for match fixing that saw two of his colleagues put away. Butt is now seeking a new trial in Pakistan in an effort to save his reputation. (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-06-29/top-stories/32471980_1_open-trial-british-court-deliberate-no-balls )
The real problem for cricket is that this fixing story is now over a decade old and will not go away even though the ICC and other national organisations have established integrity commissioners and anti-corruption units. Former Pakistani leg spinner Danesh Kanaria has been given a lifetime ban by the ICC for his connection to fixing, and just recently an England county player was also
convicted. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/cricket/counties/9349842/Danish-Kaneria-lifetime-ban-the-key-players-in-spot-fixing-plot-that-started-in-Essex-nightclub.html ). The return of the problem to India itself is a clear reminder of where most of the bookies come from. In the original incident back in the 90s South African captain Hansie Cronje was banned, and former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin was banned for life for his connection for linking Cronje to the Indian bookies. Azharuddin is now an Indian MP, and the BCCI forgave him a few years ago while the ICC maintains the life ban.