The decline of a sport

The decline of a sport

On the 1976 tour of West Indies, in the Sabina Park Test, Clive Lloyd, the Windies captain, unleashed his pace quartet on Indian batsman. His lead...

On the 1976 tour of West Indies, in the Sabina Park Test, Clive Lloyd, the Windies captain, unleashed his pace quartet on Indian batsman. His lead pace bowler, Michael Holding, nicknamed "whispering death", was living up to it. The Windies pacers bowled a barrage of beamers and bouncers. Anshuman Gaekwad, the Indian opener, stuck it out. He got hit three times on fingers and took multiple body blows, but did not flinch. Finally he got hit on his ear, near his temple, and retired hurt to the hospital, after a long display of guts and character.

To realise that S Sreesanth, arrested recently for spot-fixing in IPL (Indian Premier League), represented the Indian national team like Gaekwad did, is an insult to fans of the game.A Long before the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) became the master of world cricket, India was considered a lightweight member of the cricketing fraternity. In fact, Pakistan carried more credence and it had a long list of players who made a reputation in English county cricket.

The power shift of world cricket to India started in 1983. Along with India's win in the World Cup that year, there was one more incident that had a lasting impact down the years. NKP Salve, who was the President of BCCI, requested for some passes to the 1983 World Cup finals held at Lord's. The English authorities turned down the request.

Slighted by this high-handed behaviour, Salve vowed to break the Anglo-Saxon hold on the game. Along with his confidant Jagmohan Dalmiya, Salve managed to shift the next edition of the World Cup to India in 1987. Reliance Group was roped in as the sponsor and the cup was co-hosted by India and Pakistan.

There was a definitive power shift to the subcontinent, which was completed with the joint-hosting of 1996 World Cup by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. With an increase in its popularity, the game turned profitable and commercial. A This financial success of the BCCI resulted in genuine administrators like M Chinnaswamy, Vijay Merchant and Raj Singh Dungarpur from older days giving way to political or businessman-type office-bearers like Dalmiya, IS Bindra, Sharad Pawar and N Srinivasan.

The BCCI also made deft political manoeuvring. While our colonial rulers believed in the policy of divide and rule, the BCCI followed the multiply and rule policy. It managed to admit cricketing non-entities like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh as Test playing nations and full voting members of ICC (International Cricket Council), ensuring for itself a majority vote in the ICC. Most other associate and affiliate members of the ICC depend on the BCCI for their existence and thus the BCCI hold on the ICC is complete. It even managed to get the ICC headquarters shifted to Dubai. The reason given was tax efficiency but proximity to South Asia may have been the bigger reason.

With its monopolization of the game, the BCCI got arrogant and started throwing its weight around for every small incident. It bullied the Australian authorities to dilute the Monkeygate incident involving Harbhajan Singh. It stalled the appointment of John Howard, former Australian Prime Minister, as ICC chief, and, as per a recent report, manipulated the voting system to replace Tim May with L Sivaramakrishnan on the ICC cricket committee.

In its efforts to give a corporate identity and make the most of commercial opportunities, the BCCI turned to a brash character like Lalit Modi to start the IPL (Indian Premier League). Cheerleaders, after match celebrity parties and excessive focus on owner's and player's lifestyle, made it more of a sleaze-fest than a cricket tournament.

The last few days have seen further erosion of its credibility with spot-fixing revelations and the wide nexus involving players, ex-players, bookies, film stars and team owners. Earlier cases of fixing were taken as cases of exception, but it seems to be the norm now. The demand for barring non-sporting people from running sporting organizations has been on for a few years, but there has been no impact. It will take a new crop of administrators, deep-rooted in cricketing achievement, like Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, J Srinath and Saurav Ganguly who held Indian cricket together after the last major betting scandal, to get us out of this mess.

Meanwhile, the BCCI should stop the IPL for a season or two, complete the clean-up act and re-launch as a serious cricket tournament and not a frivolous entertainment show. As for the likes of Sreesanth, individual behaviour of hundreds of players cannot be monitored. Even in earlier times, players crossed the line and were punished for indiscretions.

In the 1974 tour of England, Sudhir Naik was arrested for shoplifting and years later Dilip Sardesai was arrested for foreign exchange violations. But violations become more widespread when the system and its administrators facilitate such behaviour.

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