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The Politics of Cricket

Our latest column on All Out Cricket was inspired in part by Kumar Sangakkara's almost Churchillian MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture where he railed against the "partisan cronies" that have afflicted the Sri Lankan Cricket Board since the glorious World C...

Our latest column is inspired in part by Kumar Sangakkara‘s almost Churchillian MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture where he railed against the “partisan cronies” that have afflicted the Sri Lankan Cricket Board since the glorious World Cup triumph of 1996. Sadly, the Sri Lankans are not the only ones to suffer from incapable, unqualified and sometimes corrupt administrators – just ask Chris Gayle. Indeed, ineptness is rife across the globe with the politics of cricket making an episode of The Thick of It seem like the Magic Roundabout in comparison. Here it goes..

Kumar Sangakkara’s almost Churchillian MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lord’s, where he related the history of Sri Lanka and how cricket slipped “through the crack in our anti-western defences and has now become the most precious heirloom of our British Colonial inheritance”, was a truly fascinating one.

But not everyone enjoyed the lecture. Sri Lankan sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage ordered a probe after Sangakkara was particularly scathing about political interference from “partisan cronies” that has led to “corruption and wanton waste of cricket board finances and resources”.

This would appear to be the real reason why Sangakkara resigned the captaincy so abruptly after the World Cup and why he was such a reluctant leader when Dilshan was ruled out of the third Test at The Rose Bowl.

Sadly, the travails of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board – the postponement by a year of the Sri Lankan Premier League is another indicator of their woes – are shared by a growing number of their counterparts worldwide

Chris Gayle’s increasingly fraught confrontation with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) seems to have reached the point of no return with his recent public statement. West Indies cricket can ill afford to be at war with its star batsman but have effectively exiled him from their struggling team. Indeed, the pressure on WICB has become so great that WICB Exposé – a blog purporting to leak classified information from within the WICB itself – has made a number of shocking revelations in recent months. Anyone with an interest in WI cricket and a couple of hours to spare would do well to pay WICB Exposé a visit. It raises some interesting questions.

The extent of the problems in Sri Lanka and with the WICB has taken the spotlight somewhat off the Pakistan Cricket Board and its chairman Ijaz Butt. Since he took over in 2008, the PCB has lurched from crisis to crisis and seems to have failed in its primary role – that being supporting Pakistani cricket. The spot-fixing scandal and the fact that Pakistan have been unable to play at home since the Lahore attack of 2009 have hardly helped but Butt has at times appeared to make the situation worse, interfering and making bizarre public statements.

Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Cricket Australia was once held up as the shining beacon for all cricket boards to aspire. They had an all-conquering side, a domestic set-up envied by all and an infrastructure that suggested the future was assured. Much has changed though and the situation Down Under is now far less optimistic.

Even taking into account the inevitable dip that was going to follow the retirement of legends like Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist, the decline has been alarming. This was highlighted in the Ashes series – first with the naming of a 17-man squad at the behest of Cricket Australia’s own marketing department and then a number of interesting selections, such as Xavier Doherty. The recent dropping of Simon Katich, a man who averaged 47 in the last two years, has raised more questions about the role of Andrew Hilditch, Australia’s Chairman of Selectors – a man appointed by Cricket Australia.

It’s not just the national team either, with the strange (and now mercifully aborted) experiment with split innings in domestic one-day matches and the organisation being increasingly in thrall to Twenty20. Even worse could follow with the new franchise Big Bash League, something that Gideon Haigh believes could be disastrous for the future of Australian cricket.

The Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI), while not perceived by many as a paragon of virtue, is in rude health by comparison. Its team are the top ranked Test side and World Cup holders and the IPL effectively remains a licence to print money. However, allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest with regards to ownership of the IPL franchises in particular continue to abound.

And what of the ECB? Well, unfortunate liaisons with shady characters like Allen Stanford aside, it seems to be performing effectively, although that’s always easier when the team is on a high. The England team are thriving and the infrastructure in place for future player development seems relatively sound. There are concerns of course: the packed domestic fixture schedule, the absence of 50 over cricket at county level, financial problems in maintaining 18 counties and the issues surrounding the process of awarding international matches to grounds, but compared to other international board the ECB certainly stands up well to scrutiny.

With problems affecting most boards across the globe, Sangakkara hit the nail on the head when he said that a solution could be the ICC “taking a stand to suspend member boards with any direct detrimental political interference and allegations of corruption and mismanagement. This will negate the ability to field representative teams or receive funding and other accompanying benefits from the ICC”.

The recent ICC Conference suggested that something along these lines will be implemented in the coming years. It cannot come too soon for the likes of Sangakkara and Gayle.

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