The battle for the ownership of cricket

BENEATH the chaos that seems to rule world cricket is one of the oldest truths known to man. When the progress of society is faster than that of the legal system that should police it, turbulence is the inevitable result. We have seen that in history with the march of religions, the arrival of science and most recently with the explosion in technology. Invariably, societies settle down and there is progress but we need to be patient with turbulence.

Cricket is evolving like never before. Purely as a game it remains largely unchanged, still a riveting battle between bat and ball. But beyond the boundaries of the cricket ground, a temple to so many, the forces of evolution are taking it way beyond the reach of administrators. There is more money in the game than could have been dreamt of five years ago and, expectedly, the battle for its ownership has begun in right earnest. A social scientist might have predicted it but that species is looked down upon in our cricket. "How much cricket has the social scientist played?", our closed society will ask.

The latest manifestation of this turbulence is the dispute over contracts and problems with crowd violence, both by-products in some form of the amount of money in the game. In this era of uncertainty, each side is trying to hold onto its turf fearful that its authority will get eroded. And so, when the cricketers decide to form an association in India, the BCCI will seem to encourage it while taking steps to ensure that it does not get powerful. In New Zealand the players have had to go on strike, an activity hitherto associated with poorly-off blue clothed workers.

New Zealand is in many ways the strangest case of all. No fewer than two months ago they were calling for India to be banned from the ICC if the best team wasn't sent to Sri Lanka. In terms of short-sightedness and ignorance, that was a beauty. Quite apart from the fact that world cricket stood to lose far more money than it could afford in the event of an Indian pull-out, New Zealand, with a weaker following, probably had more to gain from that money than most other countries.

Two months later, New Zealand Cricket seemed quite happy to scout around for players from outside the pool of 128 that are affiliated to the players' body. Had the dispute continued, and it was never going to for it was no more than pompous posturing from both sides, would New Zealand have called for its own removal from the World Cup? In course of time people will realise, like they did in New Zealand when they took a couple of steps back, that there is a slice of cake for everybody. But in seeking to grab the largest slice, they run the risk of losing it all. Society has a beautiful way of correcting itself.

While New Zealand may have called for a temporary truce, and both England and Australia have gone through the posturing process, it is in India where the path is getting most clouded by the chaos. A solution was possible in these three countries largely because of the financial openness. Everybody knew how much money there was in the system and so the dispute was restricted to a formula on how to share it. In India, little princely states within the kingdom know how much money they possess. The players have no idea for the honesty of that reporting is very questionable. In an atmosphere of ignorance, of forced ignorance, there can be no open understanding. I am afraid, we are going to have to go through the process of rebellion, of posturing and some form of appeasement. In India the real issue is only just starting to be seen.

It is going to be that way on the security issue as well. We saw that in England last year, it has long been a problem in Pakistan and India has had its share of history too. The brown nations run the risk of being typecast and it won't help their cause if they have the worst record. The experience in England showed how unprepared the authorities were when it comes to tackling crowd trouble. There is a big change in the demographics of people watching cricket there. The crowd is now younger, more volatile and from a wider class of society. The polite ripple of applause is gone, the way logarithm tables and top hats did. But with smaller populations, and I suspect greater will, the problem was successfully tackled this year. It is now up to India to show a similar will amidst more difficult odds.

The problem with crowd violence in India can only partly fall at the door of the cricket administration. The greater share of the blame must go to the general ineptitude of the police and their inclination to get caught in the star system themselves. The policemen ogle at the players as much as anyone else, they want to watch the cricket as much as anyone else and so, watching the crowd becomes a secondary occupation. If they looked the other way, towards the crowd and away from the cricket, the problem would solve itself for the culprits could be easily identified. In all fairness they also have to deal with a new, aggressive form of nationalism in the stands. Indian crowds have always been biased, almost all audiences in the world are, but the acknowledgement of the opposition has diminished alarmingly, especially in the one-day game. It could be a factor of where the game is played as well for it was only three years ago that the crowd in Chennai applauded the Pakistanis and in 1998, Shane Warne received resounding applause everytime he came to bowl. With the one-dayers played in smaller towns, where the cricketers are show-biz stars rather than batsmen or bowlers, the objective of coming to a cricket match can sometimes be different. Everybody, including the police and the administration, want a day out with the stars.

Denying matches to such centres is only part of the solution, fining the local administration too is only another part. Don't forget that in its quest for the vote the BCCI nurtures the very administration that causes the chaos. If the BCCI were conscious of its image above all else, they would look upon the way matches are staged as a genuine problem. But the BCCI, like a poor salesman is more concerned with dumping the product and picking up the cheque. You can also see that in their complete indifference to the manner in which the telecast of the game has been shredded by commercials this year. They don't care and the change must begin there.

On our road to progress there are still too many pit stops to traverse. If the will is not strong, it will take longer.