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Embracing the Spirit of Cricket

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Last year it was delivered by Kumar Sangakkara. A qualified lawyer, he waxed eloquence on Sri Lankan cricket and its tribulations. World over he was recognized as an erudite cricketer for the speech he gave. The MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture was inaugurated in 2001 in memory of the late Lord Cowdrey. He was the one instrumental in making cricket a gentleman’s game via the induction of the Spirit of Cricket as the preamble to the 2000 Code of the Laws of Cricket.

This year the lecture was delivered by ex-English cricketer Tony Greig, in which he spelt out some bitter truths and some odd suggestions. The thing that hasn’t gone down too well is his blatant statement about BCCI putting money before the integrity of the game. The fact remains, however, that there is some truth to that. Not that the BCCI has tarnished the image of the international game, but the sole ambition of milking Indian and international cricket for every penny it can provide has put the BCCI in the bad books of cricketing purists. It is a known fact that the Indian board is the richest. The cricket crazy people in the 2nd largest population of the world still continue to flock to stadiums. This is a fact BCCI is aware of. Hence, its focus is not on improving cricket, but delivering cricket in bulk. If the type of Bollywood movies that have become hits is anything to go by, quality does not seem to be a concern for the masses anymore.

Since many other boards survive on tours involving India, the BCCI astutely controls as many votes in the ICC. The test championship was voted against by the BCCI and hence scrapped. From the outside, it does sound like a good idea and it does sound like the BCCI has been bullying the ICC into doing its bidding. The Indian team’s reign in the test rankings didn’t last too long. The recent drubbings in England and Australia didn’t ring too many alarm bells either. A few cricketing pundits lambasted the Indian team and called for the heads of some ‘nearing retirement age’ cricketers. Then the IPL began and all was forgotten. Clearly BCCI’s priority is not creating Test quality cricketers but bits and pieces players who can command good amounts of money from private entrepreneurs who invest in cricket because it is the biggest game in India. Test cricket does require some assistance and BCCI’s support. The Test championship would have been a great way to improve the viewership of Tests. Alas! Uncle BCCI declined.

Tony Greig has acknowledged the fact that the IPL generates revenue beyond imagination and helps in sustaining cricket. He also acknowledges BCCI’s contribution in making cricket a viable career option for many ‘not so successful’ cricketers. However, he does mention that the IPL or any other league should not be provided a window in the ICC calendar which seems like a fair judgement. Unless cricket plans to go the football way, international cricket needs to be given precedence over domestic leagues. Even with the presence of international stars, the IPL, Big Bash and other leagues are still domestic tournaments. However his suggestion of including Sri Lanka and Pakistan and make the IPL one with these nations and including New Zealand in the Big Bash seem impractical. For all the glamour attached to these tournaments, they still essentially are ways of identifying young talent in the respective nations.

Then came the discussion on the DRS. Whatever the complaints, the DRS should be implemented. The BCCI’s argument of all teams not being able to afford it seems like a frail opposition veiled in an altruistic statement. The glitches and problems can only be ironed out once it is used. The faults are also equal for all the teams. When a big player is given out wrongly newspapers are flooded with ‘poor umpiring’ rants. So anything that eliminates that should be welcome. As far as umpiring mistakes being part of the tradition of the game is concerned, well, so were grassy wickets, bigger boundaries, thinner bats and need I go on?

Speaking of tradition, Greig also admits his generation brought sledging into the game which robbed cricket of its gentlemen’s game tag. The next generation inherited a game that bred competition and rivalry. But it stands for the changing nature of the world. With the times, cricket must evolve too. Many keep saying Test cricket is fine. I believe, good Test cricket is fine. Matches that keep one on the edge of one’s seat and not dull draws are the way to go. If the Indian team can provide those, then World cricket would benefit. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little Test talent emerging from India. As mere spectators we can only suggest. Ultimately the fate of Indian cricket and by the looks of it World cricket, lies in the BCCI’s hands…



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