YEAR 2007... Desi fans are munching on stadium-bought snacks as their team plays Bangladesh for the first time in the ICC Cricket World Cup match. Confident of beating the ‘minnows’ and then meeting Pakistan in the super-eights, many fans have already purchased tickets for the match between arch rivals, not knowing that there is a disaster waiting to happen just before the day meets twilight. As the sun fades, it becomes clear — the sport’s two most passionate set of fans are flying back home, causing the showpiece event to lose its shine. With corporates taking a hit of at least $35m (according to a report in Cricinfo), experts term it as a ‘death knell’ to ICC's goal of making cricket a global sport.
A‘Starboy’ is born and rescues his dad’s dwindling business, giving it a new life - World T20 comes into existence. Cricket gets its wings back and goes full boom with the inception of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008. The success of the IPL prompts other boards to replicate the franchise-based model and good part of the season is reserved for domestic T20 leagues.
CUT TO 2019...
With the razmatazz that T20 revolution brought along declines (Look at the crowds in recent matches in Australia and India), cricket finds itself at the same juncture it was around in early 2000s, and the question pops up, what next? After comparing the two decades after millennium, I find it shocking that though cricket boards are churning more money now through domestic sponsorship deals, the sport was globally in a better position than it is today. Back in 2000s, Zimbabwe, South Africa and West Indies are stronger teams, Asian rivals India and Pakistan are playing; Jayasuriya, Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Muralitharan have donned the Sri Lankan colours and ICC is still a body that believes cricket needs to go places if it has to survive. Despite all of this, if it wasn’t for the T20 revolution, cricket would have been walking on the hockey route till now. A sport which seemed eternal when India were claiming Olympic gold medals and is still considered to be a national sport.
NEED OF THE HOUR...
Call me anti-national if you will, but there is no denying that sports and politics are separate entities and India needs Pakistan if it has to keep the crowd filling in the stadiums. All efforts are being made to hype the India-Bangladesh day-night Test, rightly so. But is Bangladesh a team that can bring out the interest of every cricket fan in India? No. India in the past had time and again refused playing Bangladesh for commercial reasons but now for the crowd revival, it needs the team to travel more frequently like tougher Pakistani and Sri Lankan teams did in the past decade. The IPL on the other hand, which started with a US$25 million investment, is now worth US$6.7 billion in 2019 (according to a Duff & Phelps report) and will continue to draw huge crowds and large television revenues due to its popularity. The freedom to experiment with new innovations, ability to add teams, venues and tweak rules to suit pockets makes IPL financially foolproof but the international cricket is sure to suffer.
OWNING GOLDEN GOOSE!
Struggling to stay independent under the clutches of the ‘Big Three’, the ICC, which in 2014 decided to give most of the global revenues to India (33 per cent) ahead of the other big two England (8 per cent) and Australia (7.6 per cent), in its last meeting in Dubai had proposed that in the next FTP (Futures Tours and Programme) Cycle for the eight year period between 2023 and 2031, it must have a flagship event every year. The plan proposed to have two 50 over World Cups, four T20 World Cups and two more multi-nation tournaments to make it eight events in eight years. The idea seemed perfect to lift cricket out of this stagnant phase. But wait! These steps will make ICC financially more independent and the influence of ‘Big Three’ comes under threat and who wants that? The richest boards want it to stay as decisive as the United Nations is on the World stage.
The ‘Big Three’ in their reply, expressed ‘concern’ that the proposed cycle will sourly impact their best players and that they don’t want them to play more cricket than they currently play (Read: Leave our T20 leagues alone). The Netflix series Patriot Act’s episode on cricket perfectly sums up how BCCI, Cricket Australia (CA) and the England Cricket Board (ECB) have effectively ‘enslaved’ the ICC. The argument one may present is ‘what is the problem if India’s cricket body is the most powerful in the world?’ While every Indian cricket fan innately wants Indian cricket to thrive and be best in the world, we can’t change the fact that every sports fan starves to watch an even contest.
For the game to grow, fans want to see India win a five-match series by a 3-2 or a 4-1 margin, and not 5-0, that too with boringly bigger margins.
And with Asia being the heart and soul for cricket market, India has been unable to find an Asian rival since cutting Pakistan out from its cricketing map.
On the other hand, growth in viewership for other sports; Major international leagues like NBA, EPL, La Liga and BundesLiga entering Indian market and kids finding non-cricketing sports stars like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Sandhu, PV Sindhu, Dutee Chand and many more, is forcing attention away from cricket to other sports.
Increased participation of people in marathons and popularity of other sports like Kabaddi and football hitting the roof across the length and breath of the country, is treading India on a path to become a complete ‘sporting nation’.
The saddest part about the entire saga is that instead of being a force of good, the boards are more concerned over the ownership of the sport.
BCCI should be credited for transforming cricket in Afghanistan and Maldives, but same doesn’t apply for the US – a financially stronger nation which can challenge India’s dominance in the future.
So, ICC’s failure in making the sport globally more competitive can be attributed to BCCI’s insecurity and sooner better sense prevails in cricket’s top brass, better it is for the sport in long term.