Voices Saturday, July 05, 2014 - 05:30
Abheek Dasgupta | The News Minute | July 5, 2014 | 08:43 am IST  This week, we saw many fan-boys of Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the greatest cricketer of all time, trolling the Facebook profile of the Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharapova and filling it with all kinds of unspeakable profanity, after the 5-time Grand Slam winner claimed that she did not know who the Indian cricketer sitting in the Royal Box and watching her play was. Also, #whoismariasharapova has been trending on Twitter all over India for the past few days. While some of the tweets were humorous, many of the tweets spoke negatively about the tennis star, questioning her general knowledge and intelligence. This incident, however, has exposed what in my point of view is the single biggest problem the sport of cricket faces. No, it is not the revenue sharing rearrangement, or the irregularity of cricket matches. It is the lack of global reach that bogs down the game. Let us go back in time and look a bit into the history of what is de facto our national sport (field hockey is still the national sport of India, mind you). The International Cricket Council, previously called the Imperial Cricket Conference, only allowed members of the Commonwealth until 1965. This prevented many countries with a fairly decent cricketing culture from becoming members of the ICC. The United States was one such country that was not allowed to join the ICC - despite having bowlers like Bart King, who is considered to be the inventor of swing bowling and one of the greatest bowlers of all time. The Times newspaper in the UK ran an obituary for him, which quoted Plum Warner as saying that: "Had he been an Englishman or an Australian, he would have been even more famous than he was." No, Mr. Warner, had the ICC allowed the US to be a member, we would have seen an American Test Cricket team, and he would have been even more famous than he was. The seven-time UEFA Champions League winners and the internationally renowned Italian football club A.C. Milan started as a sports club with a cricket section and a football section when it was founded in 1899. But as these countries were not allowed to be members of the ICC and could not participate in international cricket, the cricketing culture in these countries soon fizzled out. Compare this to rugby union, another sport exported by the British expatriates, military personnel and overseas university students. Unlike the ICC, the governing body of rugby union, the IRB (International Rugby Board) did not prevent countries which were not members of the Commonwealth from playing international rugby union. Today, we have strong rugby union teams from France, Japan and Argentina - all of which are not members of the Commonwealth. Even after 1965, the ICC has not done enough to spread the game. Currently, cricket has around twelve men's national teams where all the players are professional, and a similar number of professional women's national teams as well. All the Full Members of the ICC, the countries whose men's national teams are given the rights to play Test Cricket - are from the Commonwealth. The number of professional national teams in cricket is much less to other sports introduced by the British - such as association football, field hockey or rugby union. This is not because the ICC does not have resources to spread the game worldwide. In fact, they do have a lot of resources, thanks to many people, mostly from South Asia watching the World Cup in both formats of the game. The BCCI is the richest sports body in the world. The problem lies with the intent. It is only the Full Members that have all the decision-making rights regarding who hosts the tournaments, how would the revenue be shared, whether certain forms of technology should be introduced or not and so on. The other 96 members just sit and watch, hoping for some decisions in their favour. Most of these members are really poor and do not have the resources to introduce the sport to the younger generation and therefore, build a strong national team. Domestic cricketers, until recently with the formation of the Twenty20 domestic leagues worldwide, hardly made any money, but they kept on playing because they loved the game. If ICC was indeed serious about spreading the game, they could have built academies in their Associate and Affiliate Member nations, collaborate with local schools and hire former domestic and international players, who are currently poor and unemployed and have a hard time trying to make their ends meet, to coach kids in these academies. This would have seen kids from more countries play the sport, and the few of them who enjoy playing and are really good at the game could represent their countries and make their country proud. I have also seen a lot of tweets which say cricket is the second most popular sport after football with more than a billion people following the sport, and as a result, people from other nations should know the sport too. Well, the language with the most number of native speakers is Mandarin and it is only spoken in China, Taiwan and Singapore. By the same logic, everyone around the world should learn Mandarin, and let Mandarin be the global lingua franca. So, if Russia had a professional cricket team which was supported by their countrymen, and their bowling was completely ripped apart by Sachin Tendulkar in a World Cup game, would Maria Sharapova have heard of him? Probably.
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