Willingly embracing change

PEOPLE have different thoughts about making cricket a truly global sport. The most obvious way, of course, is to spread the game to new places and have more people play. There are clear advantages in this because numbers are important for enhancing quality and seducing sponsors.

Already, there is a move to enlarge cricket, have more teams participate. Test playing teams have expanded, to mixed results, because Bangladesh slumps to successive disasters. In one-dayers there is greater equality and teams are able to avoid humiliation; when Bangladesh defeated Pakistan eyebrows were raised, and questions asked, but only in whispers. The next World Cup will feature more teams and have more matches than in earlier competitions.

Globalisation is necessary for cricket to survive because when more nations play audiences increase and sponsors put money into the game. The ICC, perfectly conscious of this, is working actively to get more and more people involved.

But globalisation is not merely a matter of numbers or infiltrating into new territories. It is essentially an issue of attitude, of approach, of being connected and staying in tune with contemporary developments. It is about modern thought and discarding outdated concepts.

Judged by these yardsticks, cricket has already globalised because it has willingly embraced change. International cricket used to be governed by bilateral arrangements where two nations decided what they wanted to do. In the last few years this has changed, now all cricket playing countries are integrated - partly due to the staging of high profile, multi-million dollar tournaments which demand coordination and mutual adjustment. England and Australia still contest the Ashes every four years but have to look closely at the schedules of other teams as well.

International integration is more clearly reflected in commercial deals being put together in world cricket. Whether a match is played in Mohali or Morocco, at Baroda or Barbados the sponsors are usually the same, and the same ground panels are visible on TV screens. All over the world, cricket is supported by a set of companies who have opted to become long term partners.

Having learnt a lesson from this, the ICC is rapidly moving towards centralisation. Recognising this trend it announced a global Test championship, legislated on rules and constituted various committees to ensure the game is governed uniformally. This explains the appointments of ICC umpires and referees, the elaborate ICC Code of Conduct and rules of sponsorship. Nowadays, even the logo size on bats/shoes/shirts/pads/helmets is specified.

The ICC is taking control of cricket - it decides whether a player can talk to the press, who he meets at matches, what he wears. Test players are required to sign a standard declaration conveying their acceptance of provisions related to behaviour and pledge support to ICC's anti-corruption and drug abuse programmes.

Such controls are necessary to project a positive image, without these assurances there is a danger of disorder. In 2002, if Gatting was to confront Shakoor Rana, or Rashid Patel threatens to assault Raman Lamba with a bat, there would be serious trouble because modern sport must ensure its participants behave in a civilised manner.

Gradually, but surely, cricket worldwide is getting connected in so many different ways and nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in the attitude of players. In modern cricket there is a striking similarity between young Parthiv Patel and a youngster from Zimbabwe or South Africa. Cricketers train alike and follow the same fitness routine, which means endless hours of work in the gym, riding the bike, pounding the treadmill and lifting weights. That fitness is vitally important is understood by everyone who holds a bat.

One result of global connectivity is cricket knowledge has become universal, all teams adopt the same methods, they all know what is to be done. Tactics are pretty much similar, teams prepare the same way, what one does the others quickly adopt. Each team has a professional trainer, physio and coach, this support staff is backed up by a computer analyst who provides crucial tactical inputs. Cricket matches are planned like war, opponents are minutely scrutinised for weaknesses which are then ruthlessly exploited. Extensive TV coverage means everyone is in the loop - there are no secrets anymore.

Saqlain's mystery ball took everyone by surprise but only for a while because Harbhajan sorted it out in no time. Time was Waqar and Akram enjoyed monopoly rights over reverse swing, now schoolkids in Daryaganj and Dadar are doing the same though with less success. If Ganguly shows discomfort against the short ball or Afridi swings wildly, newcomers in Dhaka know where to put the ball against them.

Cricket globalisation also means players play to earn a livelihood, cricket is an instrument to rise in society. So you train like a dog, slog your whatever off, play tough because if you fail someone else will grab your place. Players, wherever they are, have the same instincts, the same anxieties and concerns. Dravid is equally at home in Kent as in Karnataka.

As part of this bonding, and sharing of interest, an international Test player's forum has been established which aims to work for their interests. Already it is grappling with knotty commercial issues of endorsements and image rights which need to be negotiated collectively.

With the world opening up, players and officials have to address many urgent issues. From next season counties in England will hire two pros, and replacements are allowed for overseas players summoned for national duty. With more job opportunities available - though some only for short periods - the question of centralised contracts and restrictions on travel and participation needs a fresh look.

Not only is everyone closely linked, all who are part of the system are governed by its peculiar logic. Whether players or officials, all have to respect the momentum of world cricket and abide by its rules, each is restricted by the boundary in which he plays and performs. Everyone must speak the same language, everyone deals in the same currency - cricket is universal and truly global.