In the summer of 2012, during an interview with a federal minister who was always in the news, I asked him the hard knuckle truth about who was behind the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, especially since he was purported to have said that Colombo had provided crucial leads.
His response was to ask me if it wasn’t already so obvious.
So, I asked him why Islamabad hadn’t leaned on Colombo to come forward with who and how it was orchestrated since both countries were victims of terrorism, and had since long stood together in International Cricket Council (Pakistan led the campaign that eventually resulted in Sri Lanka getting full membership).
We did, of course, he said assuredly, but Sri Lanka wasn’t ready to bite the bullet, arguing that it could not afford to take on India and have its cricket “ruined”.
Not that there was need for any great persuasion: Pakistan’s own pariah status neatly reinforced the view.
Therefore, in the interest of a bilateral relationship that goes beyond the boundaries of cricket, the matter lies buried.
The same year, in 2012, Lord Woolf delivered what is known as the Woolf Report, suggesting a series of reforms whose pivot was to hand over power to an independent executive to make cricket’s governance more transparent.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) not only rejected the recommendations but saw to it that Haroon Lorgat, the-then chief executive of the International Cricket Council (ICC), who advocated the Woolf Report, was removed.[box type="shadow" align="alignright" width="280px;border:none !important;background:#ecebeb !important;"]India has the financial might to lethally complement its global reach and force the issue. The financially weaker nations are too encumbered by a battle for survival to offer resistance. [/box]
The BCCI was so livid at the return of Lorgat as the chief executive of Cricket South Africa (CSA) last year that it threatened to scupper a series in South Africa last December, which materialised only after Lorgat stepped aside from handling matters pertaining to India at the CSA.
Not satiated, the Srinivasan-led BCCI drove the humiliation home by shortening the series and causing them huge financial damage.
What does this tell us?
It is that politics is the dominant sport. And that political sport is governed by economic interests. India has the financial might to lethally complement its global reach and force the issue. The financially weaker nations are too encumbered by a battle for survival to offer resistance.
So predictably, when there is an outcry in Pakistan, for instance, the issue gets overrun by emotion, a national rage at how the “arch-rival” will dictate terms, and that it just should not happen. Of course in an ideal world it should not. But ideals don’t drive the market forces.
How much influence the BCCI carries can be determined from the ridiculously incomparable state of the weaker boards — Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand and relatively better, South Africa (see box).
Realistically, the only two boards which could have resisted the BCCI charge — England and Wales Cricket Boards (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) — are, in fact, in league with them. Separately, they are strong enough to have taken the much bandied about “principled” position, especially since they had long been grumpy about India’s manipulation of the ICC.
But they did their math, and arrived at the conclusion that not only would they rake in more moolah with India, they would get to boss the world as well!
Having said that, undoubtedly, there is a paradox at work here: the bare knuckle ‘might-is-right’ mien, on the one hand, and the grand ideal of sport, on the other.
Mike Atherton, the former England captain, spoke from the heart when he condemned the draft proposals of the Big Three in a piece for The Times last week, whose punch line was: “if you cannot be idealistic about sport, what can you be idealistic about?”
So was the position paper — whose amended points were only read out to the other parties at the ICC meeting — just a ruse to have the power grab by the Big Three formalised?
This does appear to be the case since the financially weak members quickly shifted to survival mode even as the Big Three fervently gave the impression they were accommodating them by withdrawing the relegation proposal when it is pretty obvious that it was so ridiculously discriminatory — look at the hiding, for instance, England and Indian teams have copped recently on the field, but the rule would not have applied to them had it been in place.
So where does that leave Pakistan?
Not with many choices, it is obvious, thanks to how we have been — and are — the masters of our own misfortune. Time was when Pakistan provided the counter-balance, and had the entire South Asian bloc on its side to keep India at an arm’s length.
But the attack on the Sri Lankan team — just because the eye was taken off the ball, to borrow a cricketing term — has killed its soul.
Far from providing leadership, so turbulent is the Pakistani ship that no-one quite knows who will anchor it and for how long; the Islamabad High Court first suspended and then reinstated PCB chief Zaka Ashraf within six months without any perceived change in the reason cited to show him the exit.
In the interim, he was replaced by Najam Sethi, but stopped by the same court from work for “failing to hold elections” and even before you could have the time to register the turnaround, he won an appeal to continue two hours later! He, however, was denied powers to exercise authority all along.
Even now when Zaka Ashraf headed to the ICC meeting, his own government had filed a review petition against his reinstatement in a pronouncedly political move since he is seen as a crony of former president Asif Zardari. When we don’t take ourselves seriously, how do we expect the world to see us any differently?
Now that the Big Three have variously threatened, bullied and seduced the weaker nations into submission, the formalisation of the power grab in February is a given; it’s a cinch Pakistan, too, will have to come around to the changed ICC — perhaps, without even getting an opportunity to negotiate if Sri Lanka is won over (more likely of the three left in the fray, at the time of writing) as the eighth vote needed to make the constitutional amendments!
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Boards with little to board on their own
The PCB lost $80 million of its whopping $135 million broadcasting deal with Ten Sports that expired last year because the terms included a clause that stipulated Pakistan “had to play at least two home series with India in a four-year cycle”.
It never happened because political sport prevailed in old Delhi.
The PCB estimates it would lose $5.2 million this year.
The Sri Lanka Cricket Board ran into a debt of $69 million as hosts of the World Cup in 2011 and, by the next year, were unable to pay the wages of their contracted players. They borrowed $3.9 million from a domesftic bank because they knew India would tour in due course.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) incurred a $4.2 million loss in 2012 and even more the next year. The CSA, however, muddled along with the reserves for 2013-14 because they knew India was coming. Far from making a bumper crop, they ended up losing majorly after Srinivasan didn’t quite like seeing Lorgat around and cut down the engagement.
The West Indies Cricket Board has long been waging a battle for survival, but gets a shot in the arm every time India tours the islands. They were the first ones after the first day of the ICC meeting in Dubai last week to happily go along with wind.
New Zealand Cricket is similarly happy to be in the company of big wigs. It has also incurred losses, like in the just-concluded West Indies visit, but made up for lost time with the big ticket series: India. It was the first board, whose chief executive actually surprised everyone by jumping to the defence of the Big Three.
Bangladesh Cricket Board, in the reign of Hasina Wajed as prime minister, also knows which side of the toast to butter. It promised to tour Pakistan two years ago but reneged on it after familiar pressure was brought to bear upon it from the neighbourhood. It claimed to be the first one to raise an objection to the position paper, but it became obvious that its only concern was not to be at the receiving end of a relegation system, which has been addressed.
Zimbabwe is so poor that it is unable to pay its players, who have been on a strike recently. If not for India touring the country, they would probably be looking for other jobs.