Why India dominates world cricket

RAKESH KRISHNAN
Last updated 13:47 24/01/2014

A cricket story - clearly apocryphal - from the WWII era goes like this. German leader and mass murderer Adolf Hitler is being driven through the Berlin countryside and sees a bunch of people in all-white attire playing a strange - and rather listless - game.

Hitler orders his driver to stop and asks his adjutants what the hell is going on.

''Cricket, mein Fuhrer. It's an English sport,'' says one of his Nazi flunkies.

Watching intently, the German leader says, ''How many players in each team?''

''Mein Fuhrer, there are 11 men to a side, and then there several extras and two umpires,'' the adjutant replies, and then provides a short description of how cricket is played.

''And how long does a match last?''

''Five days, mein Fuhrer.''

Hitler's eyes nearly pop out. ''Five days? Who the hell plays a game over five days? And all these stupid spectators sit around watching all that time? Schweinhund! No wonder those Brits were so easily beaten by our Wehrmacht. This game makes them lazy. Round up every cricketer in Germany and execute them summarily. I don't want this damn virus to take root in the fatherland.''

And that's why cricket is not played in Germany, or any other sensible country for that matter.

Post-colonial hangover

Cricket has come a long way since England and Australia dominated it like it was their private club, for more than a century. Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former chief of the Indian cricket board, once famously said, ''Britannia used to rule the waves, now it waves the rule.'' Dalmiya was primarily responsible for ending England's stranglehold on cricket.

Some would say that one tyrant has been replaced by another - India. Clearly, the game is now India-centric. It generates the billions that make cricketers nearly as wealthy as F1 drivers. Who would have thought India would bounce back and become an economic juggernaut that now rules cricket, much in the way the USA dominates baseball?

At the same time, India's growing prosperity and clout have caused a lot of heartburn in many, who can't stomach a former colony become a major power.

Take Chris Rattue, a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald. Bristling at India's attempt to create a promotion and relegation system in cricket - with exceptions for India, Australia and England - Rattue has gone berserk.

In a piece loaded with colonial imagery and dripping with racial overtones, he writes: ''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.''

Servant has indeed become master. Shouldn't you welcome that? Shouldn't a country - bled of its wealth, its people massacred, its rulers jailed - not have the right to bounce back? Especially, when it has become wealthy and powerful through its own enterprise, and without colonising other nations.

In Rattue's world view, maybe it doesn't. It's his column and he can rant all he wants. All he has done is show he's churlish. And wrong.

Indians are an insanely forgetful and forgiving people. Despite the countless genocides committed by Islamic invaders and British colonialists, India continues to respect its Muslim and Christian past. Muslims and Christians were not evicted from the country after independence in 1947.

Indians are justifiably proud of their country's growing clout, but they do not act on post-colonial impulses. Indians are among the top investors in Britain. Land Rover, Jaguar, Corus (former British Steel) and hundreds of sinking British companies have been rescued from closure by Indian entrepreneurs. That's not the sign of a people sulking at the ''past injustices of colonialism'' as Rattue so stupidly describes.

Money talks: The Indian Premier League has made cricketers like Adam Gilchrist (R) of the Deccan Chargers US$ wealthy.

Just not cricket

The Indian board is taking over world cricket not because it has taken upon itself the responsibility of avenging 200 years of colonialism but because it is a monopolistic and overbearing body - just like any other privately run transnational corporation. And just like any other corporate entity, it is primarily driven by greed. And there's plenty driving that.

Under the current earnings distribution model, the Indian cricket board gets 4.2 per cent of the annual revenues of $1.5 billion. Under 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 Indian board's share will be 21 per cent or US$766 million.

West Indian bowling

Coming to the matter of West Indian cricket, Rattue has clearly lost his senses. It wasn't ''resentment-fuelled'' bowling that propelled the West Indian teams to top dog status in world cricket. It was just the way they bowled - dangerously fast.

Anyone remember the 1976 Massacre at Sabina Park? In that unfortunate Test match, West Indies pacers bowled countless bouncers and - illegal - beamers, pretending the ball had slipped out of their hands.

Indian batsman Anshuman Gaekwad bravely batted a day and a half, taking several body blows. He retired hurt after being hit behind the left ear by the new ball. Gundappa Vishwanath had to visit the hospital with a finger broken trying to save his face from a vicious bouncer. Brijesh Patel's upper lip was cut open by Holder.

Back in 1962, in Barbados, Indian skipper Nari Contractor took a blow at the back of his skull and was unconscious for six days, requiring a blood transfusion, for which West Indies captain Frank Worrell was the first to donate his blood.

Last heard, India had not colonised the West Indies. So what was fuelling that rage? Just cricket.

In 1982 black American boxer Larry Holmes pummelled Irish origin Gerry Cooney, forcing the blood-soaked Cooney's coach to thrown in the towel. After the match the press asked him why he had been so merciless in the ring. Holmes replied: ''I didn't fight this fight for the blacks, the whites or the Spanish. When I look at Gerry Cooney, I just see a man trying to take my head off."

Vote politics

Those feeling upset at India's domination of cricket should ask themselves why they never had a problem with the England-Australia duopoly. Few know that the two countries actually had veto power - unknown in the world of sport. Cricket before Dalmiya arrived on the scene was a colonial game run by colonial-thinking men. Compared with the way India was treated then, England and Australia are lucky Indians don't carry a grudge.

The veto passed into history in 1996, but cricket still did not become democratic. Under reforms proposed by none other than a New Zealander, John Anderson, no Associate Member's vote really mattered. This was because of the restrictive clause that a two-thirds majority of Full Members be required to pass a binding resolution.

New era

What India has done for cricket is that it has made it recession proof. If India generates 80 per cent of the viewership and the revenues, then 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 in as India's economy grows further should translate into more money for everyone.

India's clout comes from its wealth. Money talks in a language all nations understand.

(Rakesh Krishnan is a Features Writer at Fairfax Media and writes on defence and international relations for the Rossiyskaya Gazeta Group, Moscow. His articles have been used as reference at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the Centre for Research on Globalization, Canada; Wikipedia; and as part of the curriculum at the Anthropology Department of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His work has been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, and by the human rights portal OneWorld.)

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