In the World of Tamashas, There is No Room for Half-Measures

by Devanshu Mehta

2013 has been an especially bad year for the BCCI’s image, with the IPL corruption, Haroon Lorgat and Tim May. I believe it is a tipping point in cricket’s relationship with India.

Gideon Haigh writes the kind of in-depth state-of-affairs article that few do the research, have the ability or own the cojones to write.

In the hundred years and more that authority emanated from Lord’s, cricket was run along the lines of an English public school, at least as defined by Lytton Strachey: anarchy tempered by despotism. Under the economic dominion of the BCCI, the world is converging on the opposite model: despotism tempered by anarchy, the anarchy coming mainly from within India itself.

Sharda Ugra zooms in, elaborating on the despotism—how BCCI came to own the media message surrounding Indian cricket.

The Gavaskar-Shastri duopoly was a beginning. As revenues skyrocketed through the IPL, BCCI set up its own independent TV production unit. This new team (partly cannibalised from Neo Sports/Nimbus who owned the TV rights to cricket in India until 2012) even purchased its own outside broadcast vans. Ownership over Indian cricket was to be established at every level.

Ugra talks about how the BCCI controls the message on TV (by producing broadcasts themselves, employing the commentators, and supplying them with a list of taboo topics) and controls player access.

There is another aspect of this that Ugra touches on lightly, but is worth highlighting. A threat of punitive action has a chilling effect, for sure. But on the flip side, withholding rewards can also have the same effect.

Last year, the BCCI paid large sums of money (at the time ~$13 million total) to former Indian cricketers, to “honor” them. This is great, and shouldn’t be belittled. However, everyone was entitled to the money, except Kapil Dev. Because Kapil Dev had been involved with the ICL, and had not “accepted amnesty”. Had not groveled sufficiently.

The message was clear: stick to the BCCI line, and we’ll make you rich.

Srinivasan: Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.

There is considerable power in controlling future earnings of all international cricketers of your country. These are your current and future  columnists, TV pundits, coaches, IPL consultants and newspaper rent-a-quotes. It’s a powerful lobby to have on your side (or at least not against you), perhaps the most powerful of them all.

Haigh (via his reading of James Astill’s recent book The Great Tamasha) sees this to its logical conclusion—where the ICC will shrink in power, and the IPL will grow to fill the vacuum. A sport produced by the BCCI for the Indian market. With feeder leagues around the world, I suppose.

Finally, Russell Degnan sees this future and zooms out:

If the BCCI wants to control cricket then they have that option. They have the market strength and sufficient control over the major stars of its biggest market to pursue that end. But [..] [c]ricket’s biggest threat won’t come from the internecine fighting amongst the boards; it will come from globally dominant sports that have better products to sell. And cricket, great sport that it is, has a rubbish product to sell. Over-long events, uncompetitive structures, no context to fixtures, lack of media access to players, incoherent last-minute fixturing and an obsession with local appeal over the total package.

What if the great tamasha (spectacle) that you are trying to capture in a bottle isn’t that great after all. In the world of tamashas, there is no room for half-measures. “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers“.

During the recent England-Australia ODI series, much of my cricket-obsessed timeline was tweeting about soccer. I was half-kidding when I wrote this tweet. I have no time for soccer. But most of the world does, and soccer has a great product to sell.

Footnote:
How many writers besides Haigh could write the following in Cricinfo?

Morale-boosting tributes from selected kiss-ass courtiers – congratulations, Mr Shastri, on a Sardesai Lecture that had it been delivered in North Korea would have brought a blush to the cheek of the Dear Leader!

It’s not an idle question. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they work for Cricinfo. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they are not published on that large of a platform. And there are people who couldn’t write it, because they share a paymaster, a green room, a studio with the courtier himself. Or wish to in the future.

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