(Ed.: Today's entry is by Maheer Gandhavadi, a medicine resident, sports fan, and incredibly insightful social observer and armchair economist. If you are interested in writing a guest entry, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks)
I love sports. Most of my time on the internet is devoted to various sports websites and my morning routine is not complete without some Sportscenter and cereal. If I had to rank sports in terms of the enjoyment I derive from them, American football would be on top and cricket would be second.
Cricket receives little attention from people here in the US - most of thetime people think I'm referring to croquet - and its hard to find fault with this. In the original (test match) form of the game, matches take FIVE DAYS to complete. The truncated (one day international = ODI) version only takes 1 day. And by one day I mean 8 hours or more. When you consider the length of matches and the often perplexing rules, it's no wonder that baseball, the godson of cricket, is preferred in this country and that cricket remains relegated to England and its former colonies.
In the past few years, however, there has been a push to make cricket more accessible with the introduction of Twenty20 cricket. Twenty20 cricket features matches that last 2.5-3 hours, about the length of a baseball/football game. So far Twenty20 matches have been very popular and have been growing in number.
Although the national sport of India is field hockey, cricket is by far its most popular sport. Indians devour anything cricket related, and the Indian cricket market is the largest in the world. Indian cricket fans are rabid ;after Bangladesh defeated India in a World Cup match earlier this year, infuriated fans destroyed bowler Zaheer Khan's restaurant in Pune and wicketkeeper MS Dhoni's house in Ranchi (note: I do not condone this behavior in any way or form, it just serves as an example).
The record of the Indian cricket team has been stellar in the sub-continent; they are essentially unbeatable. However their results overseas are another story. Out of 200 test matches played abroad, India has won 29. TWENTY NINE! That is ridiculous.
Cricket in India is ruled by one body, aptly named the Board of Control forCricket in India. They decide what the match schedule for the Indian team, they select the players on the national team, they set the pay scale for theplayers. They also control various cricket fixtures and tournaments within India. The BCCI is basically this big bureaucracy that is in charge of anything associated with cricket in India.
Not surprisingly, the BCCI is India's richest sporting body and perhaps the richest cricket sporting body in the world. Let's look at a few of their contracts:
-kit sponsorship deal with Nike from 2006-2010: US$43 million
-official team sponsorship with Air Sahara over 4 years: US$70 million
-media rights for 25 neutral venue ODIs to Zee TV: US$219.15 million
-global media rights for cricket in India over 2006-2010 to Nimbus: $612million!
Bottom line: the BCCI is loaded. Their net worth is well over US$1 billion,which is an incredible sum for any sports agency worldwide and especially large by Indian standards.
What the BCCI's financial success reflects, more than anything else, is the fervor with which Indians pursue cricket. Again, Indians love cricket. They worship the sport. Is it too much to ask, therefore, for Indian success at home and abroad? Can anyone truly be satisfied with the team going from a king in South Asia to a doormat anywhere else? One would think that a nation of 1 billion people (most of whom play and watch cricket almost all the time) would be able to produce players capable of executing in any environment.
Fed up with the state of cricket in India (and no doubt looking to make a nice profit) Subash Chandra, head of Zee TV, announced the creation of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in April 2007. All ICL matches are to be played in the new Twenty20 format. Moreover, the teams will be comprised of four international, two Indian, and eight rising domestic players. Cricketsuperstars such as Brian Lara, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, and Inzamam Ul-Haq, players who remain popular but whose skills are not entirely on par with international cricket standards, have expressed interest in joining theICL.
The ICL seems to have it all - an entertaining format, veteran players who can attract a crowd, and a way in which unknown Indian players can gain national exposure. Not surprisingly, the BCCI has taken a clear anti-ICL stand, going so far as to say that any players involved in the ICL would bebanned from cricket FOR LIFE.
From the BCCI's standpoint this makes perfect sense. They have a monopoly on cricket in India and can easily use their size and power to push any potential rivals out of their market. The BCCI could even go so far as to create its own Twenty20 league to rival the ICL. I understand where theboard is coming from and if I was the BCCI I would be tempted to do something similar if my profits were at stake.
However, as a cricket fan, I find this appalling. The BCCI is full of a bunch of obnoxious, overbearing jerks. They're also self-serving. Every team selection and action undertaken by the board is riddled with politics. It's just ridiculous. On our current team, there are multiple players whose skills have diminished and should just make way for a younger breed. Yet they continue to play. Also, is Anil Kumble really the only spinner inIndia? Yeesh.
In terms of its sheer bureaucracy-ness the BCCI is just over the top. If I had to point to one reason why the Indian team is so stagnant, it would be the BCCI.
The current state of cricket in India is most analogous to the Indian economy post independence (1947). The post-1947 economy was full of regulations and bureaucracy, in part out of fears of another East India Company taking over the country. As a result of these regulations, overall growth was minimal. Only in the 1990s when regulations were lifted and the government decided to pursue a much more open market approach did the economy flourish and achieve the remarkable growth rates we see today.
The BCCI should adopt a similar free market approach. Why restrict the ICL? If it is a product that the people want then the BCCI should strive to meet these demands as well. And the selection process for the national team should follow the Australian method. That is, it should be totally merit based. If you aren't playing well, you aren't on the team. No questions asked. Will this make a difference? I don't know. But, I would be happy to know that our best team was on the field at all times.
One final note to those at the BCCI, I will definitely be watching the ICL when it starts.