Why the empire suffers from Tendulkarphobia

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Cricket is the only multi-billion dollar sport not run by the West. Once the private fiefdom of England and Australia, the cricketing arena is now firmly under Indian control. Since India generates at least 70 percent of the game’s revenues, the country calls the shots and writes the rules. Western fanboys resent such domination and, as a result, they rarely miss an opportunity to put down India and its cricketers.

In February 2008, when Indian Premier League (IPL) teams were placing bids during the player auctions for the inaugural championship, Andrew Webster of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that the “IPL auction should have been met with contempt and derision instead of curiosity and bewilderment”.

He added that the picture that formed in his head was “of salivating squillionaires choosing elite players like they are playing a PlayStation game. And just who are these teams, by the way? What do they represent? And what do we call them? The Hyderabadasses, perhaps?”

Six years on, the tirade continues. At a keynote speech in London on 3 September, former England captain Ian Botham said the IPL should be scrapped. He said: “How on earth did the IPL own the best players in the world for two months a year and not pay a penny to the boards who brought these players into the game?” Botham does not have any issues with his country’s English Premier League, which lasts 10 months. The concern arises only when India rises.

New Zealand cricket columnist Chris Rattue is among the members of the empire who can’t stand a former colony becoming a major power. Bristling at India’s attempt to create a promotion and relegation system in cricket — with exemptions for India, Australia and England — he goes berserk in the New Zealand Herald. In a 23 January column dripping with colonial bile and racist overtones, he writes: “The hot breath of Indian cricket is about to further blow through the game… The extent to which the past injustices of colonialism drive India’s cricket takeover are open to interpretation. But servant is now master and with deeper and longer lasting effects than those created by the resentment-fuelled West Indian teams who fought back on the field led by dangerously fast bowling.”

Not tired of attacking India, the ‘colonial’ media attacks Indian legends. The latest attacks on Sachin Tendulkar are pretty tame when compared with this November 2009 outburst by former England captain Mike Atherton who later became the cricket correspondent for The Times, London.

Atherton wonders if Tendulkar would have lasted as long or scored as many runs without the protection of a helmet that the former greats lacked. “We cannot know for sure,” he writes, adding, “To suggest that Tendulkar — or, indeed, any modern, armoured or pampered player — is the best ever is demeaning to those former greats who stood at the crease in the knowledge that their next ball could be their last.”

Here is Simon Wilde of the same newspaper: “In India, Tendulkar is regarded like a bank, too big to be allowed to fail.” He implies that Sachin’s scores are not entirely due to his talent; manipulation happened behind the scenes to help him on to big scores.

You can’t miss the envy behind such potshots. Tendulkar arrived on the scene almost immediately after India’s (arguably) greatest cricketer, Sunil Gavaskar, retired. Tendulkar dominated the game much as Gavaskar thrilled a previous generation with his stroke-filled batting.

Such back-to-back domination of the game won’t be repeated in a hurry. Maybe we are blessed with naturally talented cricketers, maybe we just have the numbers, but all that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that India has produced two of the greatest batsmen ever.

However, English and Australian commentators don’t seem to see such obvious greatness. In fact, they seem to be suffering from Tendulkarphobia, a modern phenomenon that takes over commentators and viewers in the outposts of the empire who can’t bear to see their icon Don Bradman dethroned from his lofty pedestal.

The Australian media unanimously agrees Bradman is untouchable. Some of what they publish is not fit for printing in a half-decent journal. In fact, their vilification of Gavaskar is simply not cricket. Mainly because he always speaks out against the rowdy on-field behaviour of Australians and biased match officials from various parts of the empire. They do it also because they want to run Gavaskar down and prevent any chance of the original Little Master dethroning Bradman.

Hatred can blind you to facts. But racism-fuelled hatred can make you see things. And that is where outbursts about India strangling world cricket originate.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is taking over world cricket not because it has taken upon itself the responsibility of avenging 200 years of colonialism — as Rattue so cutely puts it — but because it is a monopolistic body; just like any other privately run transnational corporation. And like any other corporate entity, it is driven primarily by greed.

Under the current earnings distribution model, the BCCI gets 4.2 percent of the annual revenues of $1.5 billion. But as per the new proposals that have been drawn up, India, Australia and England will henceforth get a bigger slice of the cake. Should the gross revenue cross $3.5 billion, the BCCI’s share will be 21 percent or $766 million.

Those feeling upset at India’s domination should ask themselves why they never had a problem with the England-Australia duopoly. Few cricket fans know that England and Australia used to have veto power — unknown in any other sport — that allowed them to treat the International Cricket Council (ICC) as their personal property.

It was former ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya who unseated England and Australia from their imperious perch. He remains a controversial figure, but he will be remembered for this memorable line: “Britannia used to rule the waves; now it waves the rules.”

So, compared with the way India was treated then, England and Australia are lucky Indians don’t carry a grudge.

What India has done for cricket is that it has made it recession-proof. From having to live on crumbs, cricketers now rival tennis and golf professionals in income and lifestyle. The BCCI is so wealthy that it donates to other cash-strapped sports. When a country’s cricket board is broke, all that it needs to do is tour India and it returns home rich. In this backdrop, if India generates most of the viewership and revenues, it is certainly entitled to a larger share of the profits.

While the two-tier caste system in cricket may create considerable heartburn in South Africa and New Zealand, the larger cash flows that will come as India’s economy grows further should translate into more money for everyone all around.

Money talks in a language all nations understand.

(The views expressed are the author’s own)

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