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By Gaurang - 30 April 2004
May 1 2004

The recently concluded tour of the Indian team to Pakistan was a huge success for Pakistani cricket, particularly off the field, where it brought an unprecedented financial bonanza to the cash strapped Pakistani cricket establishment. The post 9/11 financial trauma inflicted on Pakistani cricket by Australia, England, West Indies, and others, who either canceled tours or had them relocated to Colombo and Sharjah was wiped clean by one tour by India, and thanks in particular to her brave cricketers and her cricket crazy fans. The Pakistani players and fans too deserve a lot of credit for their wonderful spirit and hospitality and behavior in making this happen. What’s more, the excuse, paraded out by countries such as New Zealand, England, etc., about player safety, has also been put to rest, at least for now, so the PCB should be solvent for the foreseeable future.

India's influence has been similar elsewhere. In 2002 the West Indies Cricket Board was rescued from near bankruptcy by the Indian Team's tour. In New Zealand, the Board earned an amount greater than its entire annual outlay on cricket from India's visit, which for the sake of maximizing the financial value had a record seven ODIs.

Indeed except for the Ashes series, and possibly the England versus West Indies clashes in England, no other cricket event makes anywhere close to the money any series played by India, let alone a series between India and Pakistan.

That being the case, it would seem India would be wooed and courted by the ICC and its bureaucrats who clearly understand where their bread is buttered. But the reality is very different. The ICC has a basically exploitative and extractive relationship with India that harks back to colonial power structures, where the colonial power sought to extract the wealth of its colonies in as efficient a way as possible.

ICC officials need India’s financial clout to pay themselves handsome salaries and travel in style around the world. They also count on India for the trickle down flow to other cricket playing countries, except for Australia and England, which have basically self-financing systems, though with the waning interest in England, that too may not be true much longer. But the mandarins at the ICC fear India becoming too powerful and influential, to the detriment of their hold over the purse strings of the international games, which in turn would hurt their privileged position and vested interests.

The dispute over Indian player’s contract rights, the aggressive ambush marketing protection, where fans got kicked out of ICC sponsored events for drinking the wrong brand of cola, the step-motherly treatment meted out to Indian players, on issues such as biased and incompetent umpiring and refereeing, is all symptoms of this love-hate relationship.

The Indian side is not entirely innocent either. The British were able to enslave a nation as vast as India because its rulers were corrupt and self-serving. That has not changed much. The semi-feudal organization, which is the BCCI, has a structure which is a remnant of the British Raj. This structure is used as the means by which the ICC siphons mega-money from the Indian market into its coffers. And each day the amount available gets larger because of the rising sponsorship and advertising revenue that companies selling to Indians and the Indian Diaspora who love to watch cricket on TV are willing to pay to reach them.

Like the Maharajas of old the BCCI is fabulously rich, though the same can’t be said about its subjects, except for a lucky few “princes”. The current head of the BCCI, Jagmohan Dalmiya, is a slick business man, who would give the ex-CEO of Enron a run for his money in his single minded devotion to personal power and wealth building. He even seems to understand that some of the money needs to be plowed back into Indian cricket to keep the pipeline working. Witness the recent scheme announced to pay all living Indian ex-Test cricketers a monthly pension of Rs. 5,000. In one move he as also neutralized the players union and flexed his muscles to those who would oppose the BCCI.

In addition to this scheme BCCI has done a decent job of spreading some of the largesse around to improve the infrastructure, including organizing Junior and India A cricket, as well as strengthening the Domestic game financially by increasing match fees paid to players. All this enhances the “bench strength” of Indian cricket, which Dalmiya has said publicly, is his goal. Of course with greater "bench strength" comes expanded year round play by the Indian cricket team. And this can be done without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, since there will be a large flock of such egg laying geese around.

What Dalmiya however does not seem to understand, is that with the proper approach, he can parlay his position as the head of the BCCI into de facto control of World Cricket. Of course, nothing like this should be uttered by him in public. However soft power behind the scene as befits the financiers of 70-80% of the $ 1 billion plus annual market for cricket globally can be asserted to make India the center of the global game.

If this was being done then Indian cricket’s interests would be at least on par, if not higher than that of the old powers, England and Australia. The proof would be that whenever Indian players, or fans find that there is a problem with the game that falls with in the ICC’s purveiw, be it poor design of rating tables, poor pitches prepared by host countries, clear double standards in refereeing, biased and incompetent umpiring, or any other issue, the ICC would and should respond with as much alacrity and effort that it does currently when one of the old guard countries complains. The most recent example of the difference in the speed of response to complaints was the speed (pun intended) with which the ICC responded to complaints by Australians about the umpiring abilities of certain members of the umpiring panel, but the total non-action over India’s concerns about certain other panel members' poor and biased umpiring.

What I am suggesting is that if BCCI understood its unique position and more importantly understood how to use it, India could take the lead in running the game internationally. This would not mean that other countries would not be involved in very important ways. Nor would it mean the demise of the game globally as some hidebound traditionalists entrenched in London or Melbourne may argue. Instead it would mean injection of fresh blood and new ideas and initiatives to take the game to greater heights. The two big markets that remain unconquered by cricket are the United States of America and China. Both these markets can be brought into the fold by new leadership targeting the Indian Diaspora, one of the most dynamic communities in both the United States and Hong Kong which can be used as a gateway to China. If India took over stewardship of the game, the chances of the game conquering the United States and China markets would be much higher. After all it took Dalmiya and his colleague Ehsan Mani to take the game from the backwaters and convert it from a fading colonial pass time to a sport with a global audience. If the BCCI can do a Wipro and transform it self from a local seller of cricketing (snake) oil, to an efficient and professional global entity with the vision to take cricket to the next level as a global sport, both Indian cricket and the global game would benefit.

With Mani now the nominal head of the ICC, and the cozy relationship that has been re-kindled between him and Dalmiya, after the success of the recently concluded India Pakistan series, the timing to make such a move couldn’t be better.

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