September 27, 2020
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Cricket, Capitalism And Clout

MacLaurin (the ECB chief) and Dalmiya (BCCI chief) cold war dates back to 1993. But till India and Pakistan re-engage in cricketing ties and reactivate the ACC, Dalmia would not really cause nightmares to ICC.

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Cricket, Capitalism And Clout
Cricket, Capitalism And Clout

A member of the British aristocracy, a class that still pretends to live in a pre-industrial past, dons a capitalist-managerial garb in the market and simultaneously heads his country's governing body of cricket, which maintains close links to state-mediated institutions. 

A member of a mercantile Indian community living in a city which many call the cultural capital of India builds a business of dizzy heights (pun intended) and becomes the head of his country's governing body of cricket, which, as a matter of technicality, is structurally insulated from the state. 

One can easily contextualise the culture clash (calling it capitalism clash would be more appropriate) between Lord Ian MacLaurin, chairman of the English Cricket Board (ECB) and chief of Tesco, Britain's premier food retailer with a £1000 million annual profit and Jagmohan Dalmiya, construction empire tycoon and president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. 

Aggressive competition in the wake of limited profits and resources, typical of third world capitalism, has led to Indian companies formulating a strategy of market manipulation to root out competition. If the tenets of the strategy can be perceived in the flexible manner in which the BCCI treated contracts or agreements (such as the one entered into with the ECB by Muthiah for four Tests in the English summer of 2002) it has already committed itself to, please spare a thought for Dalmiya!

The ice-cold, clinical work culture in British companies, which maximise profit more by stretching all the rules of the market to the farthest limits than by market manipulation, extends to the ECB as well and if its responses and actions before the commencement of the ongoing English tour to India is founded on a 'logical' Eurocentric discourse, please give MacLaurin the benefit of the doubt! 

Both men are trapped too much in the work cultures of the institutions they are more familiar with that they assume that what is best for these institutions is best for the cricketing establishment they head as well. Though probably not in a direct way, the happenings in Port Elizabeth are very much located in the history of the MacLaurin-Dalmiya cold war, the antecedents of which can be located in Dalmiya's clash with the TCCB in 1993. 

One can hardly ignore the fact that Sachin Tendulkar, the man who was primarily under Denness's firing line, is presented by agents of cultural production in India as the symbol of not just modern Indian cricket but also of modern Indian nationhood.

One has also to take into account the fact that Mike Denness was the blue-eyed boy of the cricket establishment during his early years as a Kent and England player, which landed him the job of captaincy for 19 Tests even though he was a Scot! Denness was thought to have had the right middle class credentials for the job -- a class location he was willing enough to overplay so as to move between his Scottish and English identities -- when the two other leading contenders for the job were a loud-mouthed South African all-rounder and a self-centered opening batsman who had sworn loyalty to the miners and working classes of Yorkshire. 

Denness might have dropped some of the reputation of being an establishment figure after his controversial move from Kent to Essex, the neighbouring southern county of Kent with whom they have a bitter rivalry, in the late 1970s at a time when moving counties was still defined along pre-industrial lines. (In footballing terms, Denness's move would be equivalent to England defender Sol Campbell's move from Tottenham Hotspur to bitter north London rivals Arsenal this season as a consequence of which Spurs home fans barracked and rebuked Campbell throughout the 90 minutes of the Arsenal-Spurs match last week-fans and sporting clubs obviously do not speak the language of labour rights even in the age of players strike for a share of TV rights.) 

However, Denness was still able to land the odd jobs in the game's administration, most of which were low key till his appointment on ICC's panel of match referees in 1995. Unfortunately, the face-off between competing elite nationalisms for a sense of control of the game, which is historically defined as English but which now has an alternative rival power centre in India in terms of material and cultural mobilisation, happened on an ICC platform and involved directly the bodies of cricketers, past and present-namely Tendulkar, his teammates and Denness -- rather than capitalist heads of the ECB and BCCI who have had little involvement with cricket in any of the diverse roles imaginable such as players, technical assistants, journalists, academics or grassroots administrators.  Ironically, it was on an ICC platform that Dalmiya and the English cricket establishment first came into conflict. In February 1993, as secretary of the BCCI, Dalmiya was part of the Indian and Pakistani bid at the ICC's special session to determine the locale of the 1996 World Cup. The rival bid was by the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), the predecessor of ECB, which was represented by Alan Smith, Doug Insole and Frank Chamberlain. At the end of a rather acrimonious meeting, the TCCB was persuaded by representatives from South Africa, West Indies and Australia to withdraw their bid and after that day, the name Dalmiya has given nightmares to English cricket chiefs. (Dalmiya and Madhav Rao Scindia, the then BCCI president, on the other hand accused Colin Cowdrey, then the ICC chief, of having batted for his country a good three decades after his retirement.) 

Schooled in the tradition of the gentleman amateur before they get trained as capitalists, the men who run English cricket have immense distaste for Dalmiya's supposed penchant to enter into back-door deals, which allegedly manifested during the television rights scam when he headed the ICC. Dalmiya, in turn, never acknowledged the cultural centrality of England in the context of cricket, which even West Indian great Clyde Walcott had done during his term as ICC chief. 

As chief of PILCOM, the organising body of the World Cup in 1996, Dalmiya minced no words when the ICC refused to penalise Australia and the West Indies for not travelling to Sri Lanka to play their matches in that country on the grounds of perceived security problems (ah, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?); he pipped the Anglo-Australian candidate -- ironically Krish Mackeradhuj, of the United Cricket Board of South Africa -- to the post in a closely-fought election for the post of ICC President in 1997 and even alleged that he was the victim of a western conspiracy during the run-up to the polls; he virtually did the unthinkable in mooting the idea of the Asian Cricket Council as an alternative power centre to the ICC even as he was in charge of affairs at the ICC.  

Dalmiya's cultural resistance, unlike that of the great West Indian ideologues and players such as C.L.R. James, Learie Constantine, Frank Worrell and Viv Richards, is not rooted in idealism and activism. It is predicated on an uncanny resourcefulness to manipulate the burgeoning cricket market in the subcontinent against the best interests of Lord's. Dalmiya's alleged involvement in the television rights scam and his ham-handed handling of the match-fixing controversy during his tenure as ICC chief haven't endeared him to cricket lovers whether they be in London, Karachi or Bombay.  With cricket in India at the forefront of a project of modernity, which means much more than just globalisation or capitalism, it becomes imperative that the BCCI and nationalist Indian opinion does not typecast Lord's -- ICC or ECB -- as a racist institution as a fall-out of recent events. 

The ECB has one of the best records in Equal Opportunities monitoring among national cricket boards and the ICC's development programme has come a long way in third world countries like Namibia where cricket is not a mainstream sport. The ECB's increasing commitment, both in material and documentary terms, to black, Asian and inner-city cricket, may have been the result of strong structural linkages with Sport England, the quasi non-government organisation which, in turn, has got linkages with the Ministry of Sport, Media and Culture. 

One does not know whether the Managing Director of Tesco secretly wonders whether the amount of money put into such projects of modernity is 'well-invested capital', but it is time his capitalist mirror image in the Indian board recognises that modernity is also about effecting a quantum leap in the number of people who can have multiple choices on account of access to institutions such as sport. If Dalmiya feels that the investment into the programme is too huge for the richest cricket board in the world, it's time he engaged with agencies such as the sponsors or even the state in such a project.  Dalmiya would, however, prefer not to deal with the state in the project. For, only then can he speak to the Sport Ministry from a position of strength about restarting Indo-Pak ties. The shrewd man he is, Dalmiya would realise that only if India and Pakistan re-engage themselves in cricket ties, thereby reactivating the Asian Cricket Council, can he once again become a nightmare at Lord's. Till then, he will be just another president of a national board even though it happens to be the richest one.

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