The capitulation by the International Cricket Council in the Harbhajan Singh fiasco is the final confirmation that control of the game has been surrendered to the money men of South Asian cricket who bankroll the game.
But we shouldn’t be surprised it has come to this. This power shift in the game began over ten years ago with the Murali affair, and there’s been a showdown looming ever since. As predicted in Crikey in December, Indian cricket was waiting for its moment and it came yesterday in an Adelaide courtroom.
The judgement handed down in the case downgraded the charge from racial vilification to one of “offensive language”. All the players involved from both sides signed a document confirming this. As an act of desperate diplomacy it is as meek and pathetic as Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” shtick.
The ICC’s handling of the racial vilification charge was amateurish. The issue should have immediately gone to mediation, where both parties can have a confidential dialogue to try and reach an understanding on what occurred and its implications.
Instead it went straight to the match referee Mike Proctor and subjected to a process ill-equipped to deal with the cultural and political implications of such a public hearing. Once it becomes one set of players against another, international pride, personal reputations and egos were on the line. It was recipe for a disaster.
By sending Steve Bucknor packing after the Indians demanded his removal the ICC has crippled the authority of any umpire officiating in a match involving India. As bad as the veteran umpire was in Sydney, there was a much bigger principle at stake. From now on, for every unpopular decision an umpire makes the question will arise in his mind, is this the one that gets me sacked?
Fearing a backlash from sponsors and its TV and media backers, the ICC stalled the Harbhajan hearing so the Test series could be completed. And then when the one-day series was threatened with a walk out as well, it caked its dacks. The ICC took the cash and sold its credibility and authority in the process.
The laws of the game are now in the hands of those with the most cash. How did it come to this? Well, fear is the driving force of the ICC at the moment, and they have good reason to worry. The stalking horse of international cricket is the rebel 20/20 competition in India.
With The Indian Cricket League running in defiance of the ICC and the Board of Control of Cricket in India it threatens to be a prototype of the new 21st century cricket created by a 21st century powerhouse.
The nightmare scenario is one where the world’s best players are attracted by the biggest pay packets to play in the globe’s most cricket obsessed nation. The fear is traditional Test cricket could become irrelevant and unsustainable if the Indian rebels succeed.
The ICC, which takes around 70% of its income from subcontinental cricket, would see its revenue vanish. The ICC finally understands India doesn’t need it to play cricket anymore. Old cricket certainly needs India though. And that’s why they caved in to the bullying and the threats.
Better the devil you know than the one waiting to drive a stake through your heart.