x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Cricket's wicket is greener than ever

If money means power, what does chasing too much of it mean for the essence of the game, wonders Osman Samiuddin.

Chris Gayle plays a shot for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League this year. Cricketers such as Gayle have the option of playing for money, and not country, since plenty of it is available. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
Chris Gayle plays a shot for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League this year. Cricketers such as Gayle have the option of playing for money, and not country, since plenty of it is available. Manjunath Kiran / AFP

The only logical response to the last few weeks and probably really the last few years if we're being honest, is to revisit Pradeep Magazine's book from the turn of the century, Not Quite Cricket.

The platitude would be to say simply that Magazine is one of India's most senior and respected cricket journalists. He is, but more accurately and importantly, he is a necessary and committed non-accepter of the new shaping of the world of cricket and the order that runs it.

There are critics aplenty of this, both within India and outside, but as his book shows, Magazine is best placed to dart questions at it.

Not Quite Cricket was not, as Magazine pointed out in the preface, "an inquiry into match-fixing around the globe"; there was plenty of match-fixing in it, particularly around the Hansie Cronje revelations, as well as India's own inquiries and investigations into it.

But the overarching theme concerned itself with the new money – legal and otherwise – that was being flushed into the game, particularly in India and the repercussions that was having at every level.

The ground zero of Magazine's journey was a bare and intense anecdote about his first scoop, a Kapil Dev exclusive in which he accused his own players not long after India's 1983 World Cup win of being motivated more by money than by the reasons they started playing the game and the intangible highs of representing the nation.

What reading could be more relevant on days such as these when cricket is again pondering such dilemmas, repeatedly and with greater force, still struggling like some lottery winner to come to terms with the money it finds itself swimming in?

There it was in Kevin Pietersen's retirement from one-day internationals (and forced retirement from international Twenty20s); through the continued hoopla of Chris Gayle and the missing West Indians; potentially to emerge next year in the muddle New Zealand might land in when their top players have to choose between taking part in the Indian Premier League or representing their country in a Test series in England; even in Australia where players and administrators are locked in a battle for new contracts.

Most harrowingly, it was there in the BBC radio documentary on Cronje, this week marking the 10th anniversary of his death.

Cronje's story feels like the really prescient one, not because it said anything about corruption in cricket currently, but because of what it shows to be the consequences of an unquenchable and unquestioned pursuit of not just money, but more and more money.

Because these days it feels that to even question what players are earning, what they want to earn, what they can earn, what they think it is their right to earn, is to have committed a grave sin in the court of economic liberalism.

Player association chiefs speak only of the rights of their clients to access riches of the game through whichever avenues they seek, as if there are absolutely no obligations to the bodies that have produced them.

And there are always the same justifications. Players have short careers, they are the ones off whom the game makes its money; they need to secure their post-playing futures.

Incidentally, remarkably similar arguments were made during the movement for the implementation of central contracts in boards around the world, the very contracts that so many players now feel to be a tightening noose around their neck.

The debate about making money, or making enough of it, was resolved around the time Kerry Packer came to cricket.

Now we have moved to how much more can be made, and the answer, the world tells us every day in a million different ways, is that there is never enough.

Now we do not ask where to draw the line, but what is a line in the first place.

So often we hear that one year in the IPL can set up a player for his entire life; so how many lives does a cricketer want when he comes back for more seasons, at the expense of international commitments?

Why should we accept that because it is increasingly the way of modern life, it is fine to become more concerned, even obsessed, with making money over every other human pursuit?

Twenty20 leagues are not just bringing money into the game – they are reinforcing this, that it is acceptable to make money purely for the sake of making money.

And so there is another book that could make for a pertinent read right now.

Martin Amis's sharp satire Money – A Suicide Note, about the greed and excess in London and New York during 1980s may appear too louche a reference point but it isn't.

One of the spurs for the book, Amis said once, was a thought from another writer, Saul Bellow: "There are evils that have the ability to survive identification and go on for ever ... money, for instance, or war."

John Self, the money-obsessed protagonist at the heart of the novel, finally ends up losing it all in a huge blaze of self-gratification.

Amis saw that as a happy ending because "the only thing that could save Self was a good dose of poverty".

That isn't happening with cricket anytime soon but then cricket doesn't need saving because it isn't really dying. It probably won't ever die and that, years from now, may be the saddest thing about it.


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