May-Siva, and a fragmented future

Updated: 09 May 2013 14:46 IST

Siva's election ahead of May was certainly a surprise to many. May has been at the forefront of the players' struggle for rights, whether through chasing delayed payments or negotiating with cricket boards for more sensible itineraries. As for Siva, we have no idea whether he's a champion of players' rights - India haven't had an association worth the name for decades.

May-Siva, and a fragmented future
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If you're an adult who has ceased to be shocked by random acts of violence, you should watch YouTube footage of the riot between fans of Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade at the Maksimir Stadium in May 1990. What you see isn't mutual dislike or irritation - it's undiluted hatred. It also marked the beginning of the end for Yugoslav football. A couple of years later, the country itself would cease to exist, fragmented by a series of wars and skirmishes that saw some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.

The most disturbing aspect of the Tim May-Laxman Sivaramakrishnan affair is the unmistakable aftertaste it left of cricket going down that Balkan route. Not to war and genocide, but to two extreme positions whose adherents completely ignore the language of compromise. Having said that, some of the things written about N Srinivasan, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), do make you wonder if he is indeed Slobodan Milosevic's long-lost twin. You know breaking point has been reached when a cricket administrator is described as "dangerous".

Siva's election ahead of May was certainly a surprise to many. May has been at the forefront of the players' struggle for rights, whether through chasing delayed payments or negotiating with cricket boards for more sensible itineraries. As for Siva, we have no idea whether he's a champion of players' rights - India haven't had an association worth the name for decades.

As May himself pointed out, the issue isn't so much which man was chosen, as how it was done. "The only thing that I can say and reinforce, is that this issue isn't about [from my perspective anyway] whether Siva or I got elected or not, but it's about was the process compromised?" he told Fairfax Media. "Did boards interfere and make threats to captains to change their votes - which leads to the crux of the matter - that we [FICA] on behalf of all players need to ensure that the players' representative is actually the representative chosen freely by players, not one forced upon the players by boards."

The scenario that's played out is all too familiar to anyone who has followed cricket over the past decade. The BCCI stands on one side, with bat, ball and flexed muscles - the playground bully. The other nine boards are scattered around, some supine with fear, others half-crouched and wondering what stance to take. At least, that's the narrative that we've been given time and again.

It raises an interesting question: If play stops, who is to blame? The one bully, or the nine cowards who don't stand up to him? Which is worse - misuse of power or lack of spine? In all ten cases, whether it's the alleged bully or his victims, the motivation for their behaviour is the same - self-interest.

Back in 2009, when the International Cricket Council was being pilloried for the Test championship not becoming part of the calendar, I had a long chat with a high-ranking official. Interestingly, he didn't just criticise the BCCI. He was as scathing of the other powerful boards, organisations that he said were equally opposed to the idea for their own commercial reasons.

The ICC is the softest of targets. Like the United Nations, it's powerless when faced with the power of veto that the rich and powerful have. The Cricket Committee, comprised largely of those that have distinguished themselves playing the game, can only recommend changes. The final decisions go upstairs, to power brokers and bean counters, many of whom have never swung a bat or ball in their lives.

That it's an unacceptable state of affairs was evident back in 2008, when Michael Holding resigned his place on the committee in protest against the decision to overturn the Oval forfeit of 2006, and classify it as a draw. "I have just written my letter of resignation to the ICC cricket committee because I cannot agree with what they've done," he said during a commentary stint. "That game should never, ever be a draw. When you take certain actions, you must be quite happy to suffer the consequences.

"A lot of things are happening today that I don't want to be involved with, so I've moved on."

There have been similar tales of frustration from other luminaries. The issue is not the Decision Review System - the BCCI hardly needs one extra vote to quash moves to make it universal - it's the process that leaves the final decision in the hands of those that care more about power games than the game itself.

Assuming that several boards intervened to change their captains' votes in Siva's favour, what does it say about them? Doesn't it make them as contemptible as the Indian kings and princes that sided with the British and other colonial powers in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Right now, everyone wants a slice of India's pie, while engaging in malicious Chinese whispers about the cook. Just consider three of the boards whose captains apparently voted in favour of May.

Simon Wilde of the Sunday Times tweeted recently that the England and Wales Cricket Board made a loss of one million pounds in 2012, when South Africa and England contested a three-Test series for the No.1 ranking. The previous summer, when India were demolished 4-0, they made a profit of 15 million. With a five-Test series for the Pataudi Trophy promising a financial bonanza in 2014, what are the chances of the ECB offending the BCCI?

Cricket Australia let down its players during Monkeygate, when faced with the potential cancellation of the series and the potential loss of as much as $60 million. Cricket South Africa is guaranteed 20% of the TV money from the Champions League Twenty 20 - Australia gets 30% - an event that they have also hosted twice.

Paul Marsh, chief of the Australian Cricketers' Association, has been critical of the Indian stance on various issues, but his most recent comments were also unequivocal about who else was to blame. "There has to be a tipping point," he said to Fairfax. "The reality is the boards can't see past the next India tour that might in jeopardy because they say something. There are constant threats of that sort of stuff."

Everyone else is too busy counting Indian Rupees to call the BCCI's bluff. Imagine what could be done if there was some semblance of unity among the nine other boards. India cannot play cricket in a vacuum. Without the stardust sprinkled by the likes of Chris Gayle and other international stars, even the Indian Premier League would wither and die.

Instead of spine and an awareness of the big picture, what you see are boards drawing up TV deals that ensure full payment only if a certain number of games against India are guaranteed. In most cases, victim blaming is the last refuge of a scoundrel. In this one, there are nine entities that paint themselves as victims when they're nothing of the sort. Greedy opportunists deserve no sympathy. Between them and the navel-gazing BCCI, cricket could go the way of Yugoslav football.

Topics : Cricket Andrew Symonds Sreesanth Pune Warriors India Laxman Sivaramakrishnan Tim May
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