Lessons for Indian Cricket From the Aussie Ball-Tampering Scandal
Cricket is supposed to be bigger than all players put together, but it does not seem to be so in India.
What happened in Cape Town must set off an alarm and flash red lights in the Cricket Centre (BCCI office), Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.
Cricket has paid a huge price for what happened in Cape Town – star players suspended, integrity of the game compromised, reputation of a proud sporting nation tainted. And with fans and sponsors outraged, governance is in focus as never before.
It would be a serious misjudgement to think that this is limited to just Australia. There are critical game saving/game changing lessons to be learnt, more so by India, because traces of similar virus infecting our cricket are visible.
So, what are the learnings for Indian cricket, and lessons for BCCI?
1. Danger of the ‘Superstar Culture’
Ramachandra Guha made scathing references to this while resigning from the Committee of Administrators (CoA). He wrote about entitled, all powerful cricketers, who are worshipped by fans and feared by cricket officials. In a weird power equation, he observed that 'superstars' called the shots and senior administrators, totally powerless, surrendered meekly.
The game is supposed to be bigger than all players put together, but it does not seem to be so in India. Guha rested his case by citing the 'humiliation' heaped on Anil Kumble during the coach appointment drama, when the BCCI executed remarkable somersaults.
Commenting on the Steve Smith incident, cricket commentator Mark Nicholas, a respected voice, makes a point similar to that of Guha. He too, flags the issue of top players thinking – and becoming – 'invincible and indispensable' .
2. Respect the Fans
When Justice Lodha said the game belonged to fans, cynics dismissed this as a sentiment of an old world disconnected romantic. Star players and administrators might feel they are important, but real ownership of cricket is elsewhere – it’s with the fans.
It is their love and support that drives cricket, which is why maintaining the integrity of the sport, keeping it pure and retaining the trust of fans, is non-negotiable.
3. Cricket Belongs to India
The ongoing debate about the status of the BCCI and its assertion about 'independence' must now cease. Arguments over. Case settled. Now that events in SA establish the principle of 'ownership', the BCCI's stated position about being a 'private' body run by its own rules, free from 'state' intervention, must finally be junked.
The BCCI is not an independent 'state' within India, nor an island outside the influence of the Indian people or the Indian state. This because:
- Cricket in India is much, much more than the BCCI.
- Cricket impacts India, so BCCI (as custodians of the sport) is answerable to India.
- The Indian team represents India, not BCCI.
- The BCCI must be aligned to this reality and subjected to RTI.
4. Winning is Important, But There is No Place for Toxicity
Teams now realise the danger of putting winning ahead of all other considerations, and speak of reforming team culture that espoused this 'win or nothing' philosophy. For far too long, teams have been too edgy, with too much anger and angst on the field.
Micky Arthur blames Aussie aggression, combined with a belief that they could do no wrong, for the current crises. A contrite Darren Lehman recognises the effects of such toxic team culture, and in a statement full of irony, feels it's better to follow the New Zealand model of showing respect for the opposition and playing with dignity and grace.
The underlying moral is bad behaviour which does not work and it hurts cricket. It should be possible for teams to compete without hurling abuses or snarling at opponents in an ill-mannered way.
5. Responsibility of the Players
Top stars enjoy the benefits of being celebrities/role models/youth icons, but these privileges come with a 'conditions apply' clause. These impose responsibility (towards cricket and towards India), as people who follow them expect decent conduct. Which is why it would be unwise, for instance, for a top cricketer to smoke or support/endorse alcohol or a cola.
If the private life of a sporting celebrity is under the scanner, and personal space invaded by cameras and curiosity, so be it then. The argument that separates private and professional lives does not hold. Ben Stokes paid a price for his role in a midnight brawl. Monty Panesar lost a cricket contract when charged for urinating in a public place.
Players’ behaviour (on and off field) is governed by a code, which lays down guidelines about what is unacceptable. Viewed in this context, charges/allegations of a criminal nature – domestic violence, murder, rape – will cast a long dark shadow on an individual. That he indulged in these when off duty is no defense.
6. BCCI Must Govern, Not Just Administer
The BCCI should show firm leadership to control cricket and lay down policy regarding the responsibility and image of the Indian team. In doing so, it must factor in public sentiment, the mood and expectation of the nation.
There is also an urgent need to walk the talk at the first-class level. Here, a lot goes under the radar, unnoticed and undetected. Ball-tampering is a major issue, practiced with impunity because there is scant fear of detection, specially with absence of cameras.
Likewise, overly aggressive behaviour and abuse (directed at opponents and umpires!) should be addressed on priority. And though several steps have been taken to curb the menace of doctoring pitches, selection of junior teams in states is another area of concern.
(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)
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