No longer merely a sport, cricket today drives politics, the media and also rakes in the moolah
IN CELEBRATING 100 years of the ICC, we are dealing with a history which is encyclopaedic, a history that generates an intense passion. It is a truly global history, yet one with unique regional and local dimensions. In trying to come to terms with this history and in trying to do justice to it, we were faced with a challenge: to blend — with grace, objectivity and completeness — the most significant cricketing moments of the ICC into a seamless chronicle that restores to public memory the people of all colours, creeds and nationalities who created the game, nurtured it and helped bring it to its present popularity. Now is the time to make covert contributions overt.
In celebrating 100 years of cricket’s apex body we have tried to ensure that candour has primacy. If anything, this tribute is an honest one. Both warts and beauty spots are presented, side by side. Why else would our contributors remark, for example, “The ICC’s biggest and most historic enterprise, Test matches, generate losses for the majority of its shareholders? In return for absorbing these losses, those shareholders receive dividends derived from the ICC’s other commercial properties, including World Cups and Champions Trophies. The ICC exerts no control over the use of these dividends – whether they genuinely contribute to the benefit of the game or of certain sticky-fingered individuals.”
If there is one thing this issue makes clear, it is that the governance of world cricket goes far beyond the 22 yard pitch. It often results in complicated diplomacy and decisions that leave a lasting impression on contemporary societies. This dispassionate reality is recorded with a frankness that has often been our guiding force. How else can we explain India and Pakistan sending a joint team to Sri Lanka on the eve of the 1996 World Cup, at a time when diplomatic relations between them were practically non-existent and when India hadn’t played Pakistan in a bilateral series for seven years? Why else would the great CLR James write about Bodyline that it was “the blow from which ‘It isn’t cricket’ has never recovered”? For him, Bodyline was “not an incident” but “the violence and ferocity of our age expressing itself in cricket.”
In this post-imperial era, cricket is a tool that often binds a politically torn world together
In sum, we have tried to make this tribute incorporate some amount of prescience. To illustrate, let me quote what I have written about Indian cricket in Twenty-Two Yards to Freedom – A Social History of Indian Cricket: “In modern India, no hyperbole is sufficient to capture the importance of cricket in the country’s national life… Cricket is the only realm where Indians can flex their muscles on the world stage: it is the nation’s only instrument with which to have a crack at world domination. It is, to put it simply, much more than a ‘game’ for Indians.”
In the years ahead, one thing is certain: the ICC will certainly bring its own intense engagement to this ‘intense engagement’ I refer to above and, in doing so, will allow us to record this scène à faire with authority. In the Victorian era, cricket was a political tool of Anglo Saxon purpose. It allowed the English to bind the empire together in more ways than one. In this post imperial era it is a tool that often binds a politically torn world together. It allows a politically troubled Pakistan an escape that hardly ever seemed possible. Soon after Pakistan won the T20 world cup at Lord’s on 21 June 2009, the band of Pakistani women who had come to Lord’s from Glasgow told me, while holding back tears of joy, “We needed to re-establish our identity. There’s much more to Pakistan than terrorism and the Taliban. The team has given us all a new lease of life.” At that one instant, it was evident that in the seas of modern life, cricket is the potential raft capable of ferrying Pakistanis from profane realities to sacred realities, enabling them to rise above the ordinary.
Whatever the future holds, some truths must be recorded: First, cricket, in recent times, has made a decisive step towards commercialism. Gentlemen are passé; stars are promoted by sponsors and media alike. Glitz, rather than muted white is in fashion – literally and metaphorically. Second, cricket is enmeshed in politics – within the game, within regions and across the globe. This mesh will be pulled tighter in the decades ahead. The sport is now too important politically to be left to cricketers. Cricket, we assert yet again, is much more than a game in the global village of the twenty-first century and this celebration of the ICC’s centenary is a pointer.