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Should India, England and Australia be accorded special status?
Should India, England and Australia be accorded special status?

Cricket | Reworking a model

The International Cricket Council should make the existing market more robust as well as expand the horizons for the sport

England have perhaps had their most disastrous tour of Australia ever and India have been superbly deconstructed by lowly New Zealand in the One Day International (ODI) series. The cricket, at most times, has been engaging; and in the context of recent happenings off the field, wholly instructive.

England, it might be remembered, had beaten Australia easily in the Ashes series played six-seven months back while India were the No.1 ODI side. Their defeats were unexpected, but not entirely bereft of cricket logic or flavour: The triumph of the underdog contributes most substantially to the glory of sport.

Interestingly, these upset results came just before or during the controversy currently raging in the cricket world over the leaked “position paper" of the International Cricket Council (ICC) that proposes exalted status for India, England and Australia in the game. In this, not only would these three countries get the lion’s share of the booty, but they would be immune from relegation in the two-tier system that was also mooted.

At least in the second aspect, the vicissitudes of sport scuttle the logic of such segregation, as recent results and countless others in the history of the game reveal. For argument’s sake, let’s go back in time a little over four decades. India—arguably the poorest side then—beat the West Indies and England in consecutive Test series. In a segregated system, they probably wouldn’t have played those series.

So how tenable is the position paper? In my opinion, what cricket is experiencing is a tug-of-war between New World financial pragmatism and Old World idealism. This is not unusual in any sport today, but the skew in cricket gets more pronounced because so few countries play it. In no sport, for instance, does one country provide 75% of the eyeballs and revenue, as India does in cricket. And England and Australia have the most mature and durable (as yet) markets for the most cherished format, i.e. Test cricket.

These are compelling reasons for re-examining a sustainable financial model for the sport in a highly competitive environment. But it is also valid that a model based on inequity and segregation—and ignoring the glorious uncertainties which make sport so compelling—will be fraught with the constant threat of upheavals.

The larger agenda for the ICC—as indeed the three leading cricketing nations—should be to make the existing market more robust as well as expand the horizons for the sport. There are serious challenges in this undoubtedly, but they need to be tackled head on. The fact that the position paper was even conceived has become the subject of much criticism and cynicism, which I feel is misplaced. To me, this at least suggests that the apex body, and leading cricketing nations, are not moribund. Some fresh thinking is happening.

Also, the position paper is still a proposal, not a fait accompli. Some developments have taken place over the last few days in the ICC’s meeting in Dubai. Some give-and-take should and must happen. If negotiations are driven by a commonality of interest and the larger good of the game, the differences are not irreconcilable.

Let me now turn to India’s very poor showing in New Zealand. One match is still to be played (on Friday), but India have lost three out of four, barely managing to tie one. Club the two defeats in South Africa, and this adds up to five defeats and no wins from six matches, which makes for dismal reading.

The No.1 ranking has been lost, but while that’s cause for some heartburn it’s not the moot issue. Limited-overs cricket is always more topsy-turvy than the five-day format, so there will be some ups and downs. What is of concern, however, is the manner in which India have lost in recent weeks and the lack of resources and/or fresh ideas to stem the slide. It’s almost as if the team has settled into the groove of fatalism: Whatever will be, will be. The do-or-die sense of purpose has been seen only fleetingly.

To analyse, the batting—India’s acknowledged strength—has clicked only intermittently. Apart from Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni, the main batsmen have been unable to adjust and adapt to foreign conditions. The most disappointing have been Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who looked so destructive playing in India.

True, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have made some runs, but therein lies the irony, for neither has done enough with the ball, the primary reason for their inclusion in the side. Indeed, India’s bowling has looked pathetic with only Mohammed Shami—riding a little luck—showing consistent wicket-taking ability.

Club batting and bowling failures and this presents a worrying scenario, what with the World Cup just about a year away. These are the conditions in which the tournament will be played and by and large, these are the players who have to defend the title.

Need one say there is some hard work ahead for Team India?

(This column was written before the ICC board meeting in Dubai on Wednesday.)

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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