Saturday, 18 January 2014

The object of power is power

I rarely get angry at cricket. As Australia slammed England on to the canvas for five torturous Test matches, I got annoyed, depressed, and even laughed at the ineptitude. It didn’t make me angry though. Cricket administration though? That’s making me angry.

In 1984 O’Brien tells the protagonist Winston Smith that “No one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” Unfortunately, that’s true for the cricketing power brokers. That’s why nobody should be surprised at the ICC reforms being proposed, to cede even more power to the three richest full members, making formal the system that was already in place, in the most brazen way.

The last few days have brought with them a flurry of stories about the future of Test cricket, as the World Test Championship looks set to be binned, after having been delayed once, and the ICC plans a look at two tier test cricket.

Those are both maddening developments, but under the surface lurks even more, as the ICC plans to create a new Executive Committee, above the various current committees, with three permanent members, Cricket Australia, the BCCI, and ECB, and a rotating chairmanship between the three. Those three counties, coincidentally, would be protected against relegation from the first tier of Test cricket, perhaps the most appalling suggestion of all.

Add to this the fact that the new distribution model aligns the ICC and national boards even more along the lines of being businesses, using cricket to make money, of which the big three create more, and therefore deserve more, and you have the perfect corrupt, corporatist oligarchy. To any reasonable cricket fan, the money should be there to sustain cricket

As if that wasn’t enough, the ICC look to abdicate - pushed off with a little help from the BCCI, ECB, CA etc. - from any role in scheduling Test series. Of course, this is a return to the genesis of Test cricket, ad hoc agreements between individual nations, the sort of thing that meant Australia played New Zealand just once between the latter’s elevation to Test cricket in 1930 and the first full series between the two in 1973/4.

It’s a clusterfuck of awful, corrupt administration. Have we reached the breaking point yet? There is no way now for cricket to be democratised, as little as there was any more. If any other nation wants to break into the threeway circle-jerk running world cricket they will have to become as powerful as them. Cricket South Africa’s ongoing tiff with the BCCI has pushed them out of the power circle, and allowed England to sidle closer to India, which of course is where the money is.

As an English cricket fan writing this, it’s easy for those in India to read this as whining for power lost. But it’s not. England are as powerful as ever, India have just jumped to a tier above that, and will allow England and Australia to siphon off from them, like the pilot fish swimming alongside them nibbling at their fins. It’s the other seven full members and 96 associates and affiliates that are being screwed.

What if though, instead of breaking in, the others broke away? The lack of the big three would hinder them, but that could be a chance to integrate Afghanistan and Ireland and form their own ecosystem, because if they keep swimming in the shark’s tank, they’ll slowly be starved to death.

That’s why, in cricket, as in every sphere of life, power needs to be seized from the hands of those who misuse it, but also why we should be wary of those who promise they wield their their power for the good of the rest. Until the ICC is fully democratic among its 106 members, it will never serve them all. We need a revolution.

Those beyond the Test world need something to aim for in long form cricket. In ODI and T20 cricket they have their chances to get to the World Cup, but still miss out on the regular bilateral series’ which bring cricket boards income. Still, that is changing a little; in the next six months, Ireland have short series with West Indies and Sri Lanka, along with the World T20.

Even a play off between the lowest ranked full member and the winner of the Intercontinental Cup would be an improvement. Even a minimum win percentage over 20 years to stay a full member, with an associate replacing the ones who fail to reach that, would be something.

Perhaps an even more radical suggestion is needed. Maybe the Test match needs to be a open to any nation that plays four or five day cricket? So far, the teams that have threatened the full members have done that through one day and t20 successes, World Cup shocks and the like.

If those nations could play Test cricket in ten team divisions stretching down through all the associates and affiliates, a clear promotion and relegation structure would add a clear goal, and the Test match name would give some prestige to the games, which the Intercontinental cup lacks. It would be, to misquote a well known saying, “Test cricket all the way down.”
International cricket isn’t a game which has been meritocratic over the years. The Test match is a private members club, only available to the very best - and those who have India’s ear after a strong World Cup campaign. This should change though, and in 100 years time, who's to say who the top tier would be made up of.

Maybe roughly the same make-up would persist, the countries with a long developed cricket culture would continue to dominate. But at least the rest could say they’d been given the chance to break in.

Some of the most successful sports leagues in the world have a somewhat socialist character. Major American leagues like the NFL or the NBA have a draft and salary capping, and sell their TV rights collectively. It’ll probably never happen, but if the ICC took over tv rights worldwide and split the money equally between teams in each division, a major hurdle towards equality would be jumped. Of course the big three would never allow that.

Lower divisions would get less, according to the basic needs of their level, but therein lies another motivation to get promoted through the divisions. Success from your team gets you more money to develop the sport at grassroots level and sustain that success.

Every time a new team becomes a competitive cricketing nation, that adds to the value of the whole game. The nation boards at the moment are content with taking the money they can get now, not realising that they can make even more by expanding the game to new horizons. 

The sticking point will be that, in the short term the BCCI and other cricket boards at the top of the pile will lose some money. If those boards were committed to cricket as a growing, global game, they would take that hit. They won’t, as yesterdays news has showed. And I’m still angry.
For more reading about the ICC power grab, Osman Samiuddin, Jarrod Kimber, and Gideon Haigh have written perceptively about it, and the original stories from ESPNCricinfo are linked to in the text.

No comments:

Post a comment