The latest episode of Hasan Minhaj’s excellent show Patriot Act examined the deplorable state of international governance in cricket. He points out that the official bodies of the big three cricket nations (India, England, and Australia) act like a cartel and ram through measures that benefit themselves at the expense of other nations and the game itself. They have also resisted efforts to enable more nations to play at the highest level, because they seem to feel that widening the game’s appeal would dilute their power. They even derailed moves to have it included as an Olympic sport.
Here is the show.
Minhaj accurately places the blame for this state of affairs on the huge amounts of money generated by the Indian Premier League (IPL) that turned this once-staid sport into a massive cash cow by making it a spectacle along American lines, by promoting just one narrow aspect of the game (big hitting) accompanied by scantily-clad cheerleaders, blaring music, and fireworks. As a result, India has become the wealthiest cricket nation and has not hesitated to use its financial muscle to demand its way in all things even if it harms the game in general, with England and Australia being its willing accomplices. Thanks to those three nations, cricket has rapidly gone from being a sport that extolled the highest standards of sportsmanship to one of the most corrupt, giving FIFA stiff competition for that dubious honor.
His show covered many of the things that were exposed in the 2015 documentary Death of a Gentleman that I reviewed here. He omitted two things though. One is that one reason for not trying to get into the Olympics was because such a move would spur China to target cricket as a sport, something they have indicated an interest in doing, and there were fears that China’s large population and ability to focus resources strategically might mean that soon they would be able to dominate the sport and displace the three members of the cartel, not an unlikely possibility. The other thing he did not discuss is that the arrival of big money into the sport has attracted gambling corruption at the micro-level with players being bribed by gambling interests.
One thing on which he and I disagree about is which of the three formats of cricket we find the most appealing. The first format is the five-day, six hours per day, Test matches. This is still the gold standard for determining excellence but no longer draws big crowds. Then there comes the one-day, roughly seven-hour games where each side bats just once and faces a maximum of 300 deliveries and the side that scores the most runs wins. The shortest format in the so-called T20, which is of the same type as the one-day game where each side bats just once but now faces only 120 deliveries and hence a game lasts about three hours, which seems to be roughly the desired target for mass sporting event times. This last format is what the IPL has promoted and that Minhaj seems to prefer.
The appeal of cricket for me has been the strategic aspects of the game, the careful weighing of risk and reward by both the batter and the bowler, each one taking the measure of the other. Batters try to find ways to anticipate what the bowlers will do and react accordingly while bowlers try to lure batters into taking risks that might get them out. This feature is best seen in the five-day long Test match format. At the other extreme, the T20 games favor batters swinging at pretty much every ball, going for the big hit. In this format, not scoring a run on a delivery (a so-called ‘dot ball’) is a cardinal sin for batters while bowlers seek to get as many dot balls as possible. I find this boring as it has greatly narrowed the range of skills required for success.
The cricket World Cup tournament starts today and continues for about six weeks. Just ten teams will take part and the format is the intermediate 300-delivery length for each game. I will be cheering against India, Australia, and England in every match they play. I will be cheering for Afghanistan in every match because they are a true Cinderella story, producing an international-quality team in the midst of constant war and turmoil. They also have produced in Rashid Khan the best spin bowler playing currently. It would give me the greatest pleasure if Afghanistan beats any one of the three members of the cartel, India especially.