India’s cricket elite: an indictment

By MIKE MARQUSEE, Hindustan Times, 10 April 2005

Now that Indo-Pak cricket competition seems to be settling into something like a natural rhythm, it’s time to address some of the outstanding domestic issues facing Indian cricket.

The recent judgment by the Madras High Court in the TV rights imbroglio was a an indictment not just of Jagmohan Dalmiya and the current BCCI office-holders, but of an elite which has dismally failed in its duties to the game and the hundreds of millions who follow it in this country.

The only parallel in cricket’s history is the similarly scathing judgment handed down by a court in London in 1979 in the Packer affair, when a British judge denounced the governors of English cricket as amateurish, arrogant, and irresponsible. Indian cricket lovers should note that one of the reasons for cricket’s eclipse in its native land was inept management by an unaccountable, self-perpetuating elite.

India now rightly claims to be cricket’s global epicentre, boasting its largest market and widest social base. But those incomparable advantages could be squandered unless the governance of the game is transformed. For years, Indian cricket’s brain has been befuddled by an indigestible cocktail of parochial pettiness and delusions of global grandeur. Again and again, the interests of those who play and watch the game have come a poor second to the vanity of administrators.

The ills of Indian cricket are frequently blamed on factionalism and divisiveness, and that these evils plague the game at both national and state levels cannot be denied. There’s nothing wrong, however, with disagreements or disputes and contests. The issues facing the game in an evolving and diverse society are complex, and they should be debated openly and with gusto. What’s disturbing is that the disputes rarely have anything to do with these issues and stem largely from a scramble for power and prestige. Worse yet, they are never resolved in a democratic or transparent manner – simply papered over and allowed to fester until the next crisis.

The loss of revenues as a result of the failure to sign a TV rights deal is bad enough. Far more pernicious is the way that the battle for power within the BCCI has become entangled with corporate rivalries. Indian cricket is now suffering the worst of both worlds: it’s become a battleground not only of feudal-style satraps, dispensing or withholding patronage, but also of cut-throat globalised capital, whose exclusive interest is how much profit can be squeezed from the game.

I can already hear the cries of protest: where would the game be without sponsors and broadcasters? Let me turn that question around and ask: where would the sponsors and broadcasters (not to mention the administrators) be without the millions who sustain the game at the base through their enthusiasm and dedication? Who speaks for them? Who ensures their interests are voiced and defended in cricket’s inner counsels?

Apart from the sheer zest for cricket, the one feature common to all is the absence of a decent cricket ball – and this in a country that is a major manufacturer of sporting equipment.

Despite the vast sums of money pouring into the BCCI treasury in recent years, very little has reached the grass-roots of the game. The trickle down theory – whereby, it is alleged, the unrestricted accumulation of wealth by the few eventually and inevitably benefits the many – is a bogus one, especially when it comes to cricket. In my travels across India in recent months I’ve watched kids playing cricket in an astonishing variety of locales – schools, maidans, gullies, urban wastelands, fallow village fields, road-tops and beaches. Apart from the sheer zest for cricket, the one feature common to all is the absence of a decent cricket ball – and this in a country that is a major manufacturer of sporting equipment. If Indian cricket is to reach its potential – both in the Test arena and more importantly as a dynamic and beneficent social institution – then the top priority must be the redirection of resources to the base of the game.

In South African cricket, part of the agreement that led to the transition from the old, white dominated structure to a more democratic one was the earmarking of a substantial percentage of TV and sponsorship revenues for grass-roots development. India should emulate this practise, and thereby overturn the current shameful situation in which the BCCI spends more on its own functioning than on local facilities and coaching. Earmarking revenues for development would also, at a stroke, transform the negotiations around TV and sponsorship rights, which would have to be brought out of the backrooms and conducted according to a clearly defined public interest.

There also needs to be an end to the complementary ticket racket. Cricket tickets in this society have become a currency of social status, much to the detriment of the game (and the atmosphere at the grounds). All tickets for international matches should be placed on public sale on a first come, first serve basis. At the moment, large numbers are either given away in advance or withheld until the last minute – endowing administrators with unaccountable powers of patronage that only serve to disenfranchise genuine fans and distort the social composition of cricket crowds. Why on earth should MLAs expect free admission and luxury seats? If they really want to see the game – rather than merely be seen at the game – then let them join the queue and pay cash like the rest of us.

In my years of watching cricket at Indian grounds, I’ve witnessed my share of lathi charges, but I cannot recall a single instance of a police officer actually facilitating a spectator.

Facilities for and treatment of spectators at the grounds need to be improved. Comfortable seats, protection from the mid-day sun, access to drinking water, functioning toilets (not least women’s toilets), and affordable, edible food should not be restricted to VIPs. What’s more, spectators who turn up on time should be admitted on time; the endless queues and prolonged delays, especially for admission to the cheaper seats, are entirely avoidable. Personnel issued with duty passes should have clear duties and lines of authority – and there should be fewer of them. In addition, the role the police play at cricket grounds needs to be reviewed. In my years of watching cricket at Indian grounds, I’ve witnessed my share of lathi charges, but I cannot recall a single instance of a police officer actually facilitating a spectator.

What’s most important, however, is the structural reform of the BCCI and the state associations. There will never be efficiency unless there is democracy, accountability, and transparency. All the game’s real stakeholders need to be enfranchised – players and spectators, coaches and students, women as well as men. It will not be easy to arrive at a formula for such a reform but the effort is necessary. In the wake of the Madras High Court judgment, the government should establish an independent, multi-member inquiry into the present and future governance of Indian cricket, which should solicit submissions from the most wide-ranging sources (i.e. not just those bodies currently concerned with cricket).

In the meantime, the media needs to raise its game. With a few honourable exceptions, cricket reporters are much tougher on players than administrators. This always seems to me a somewhat perverse bias. After all, the failings of the former are part of the fabric of the game, whereas the failings of the latter threaten to unravel that fabric.


Mike Marqusee’s most recent book is War Minus the Shooting: a Journey Through South Asia During Cricket’s World Cup, (Heinemann, £12.99)

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