As Mahendra Singh Dhoni returned to the dressing room after his unbeaten 206 on Sunday, an innings that will definitely be classified as a timeless classic in years to come, he basically managed to split the world of cricket in two groups. The first group comprised those who cherished every moment of Dhoni’s brilliance at the MA Chidamabaram Stadium or live on television, the other group comprised those who had missed the innings and were waiting to catch the newspapers the next day.
Millions opened their newspapers next morning and were greeted by a rude shock. The reports were there all right, but not photographs of Dhoni’s innings. It was almost unbelievable the way press all over the world were denied the right to capture during the India-Australia series. There was no picture of Dhoni’s savage attack or display of rare emotions.
The sense of loss is somewhat comparable to another unfortunate incident almost 30 years back. When the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) cameramen went on strike on June 18, 1983, no one really bothered that the India-Zimbabwe World Cup match at Nevill Ground, Tunbridge Wells, will not be televised — or worse, recorded. As a result there is no video footage of Kapil Dev’s 175 not out — an iconic innings by any standards.
The incident itself has been saddening and frustrating for cricket fans all over the world. However, since it was a strike by the cameramen, cricket authorities could not really do anything about it, and cannot be held responsible for the episode. It was not BBC or English & Wales Cricket Board (ECB)’s fault that generation that followed will have to rely on text reports and scorecards for description of Kapil’s epic innings.
This time it’s different, though.
It is not a strike by the employees this time. It is a conscious decision taken by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to retain the photography rights to itself, putting a blanket ban of sorts on photographic agencies (Getty Images and Action Images, for example), thereby denying people all over the world from access to photographs of the Test.
BCCI had earlier put similar restrictions on the India-England and India-Pakistan series earlier this winter. As a result, BCCI has managed to monopolise the photographs of the three series – thereby crippling the lesser organisations severely, and resulting in an inevitable quality drop in the collection of images available due to lack of competition.
Of late, however, BCCI has taken things to the next step. ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has pulled out of the India-Australia series. The ABC said in a statement prior to the series that it could not afford the broadcast rights fees demanded by the BCCI, which are supposedly much higher this time around than previous Australian tours. This means that the Australian fans will have to do without audio commentary of the series. When we thought that things could not get any worse, STAR (the official broadcaster of the series) has stated of late that BCCI holds the exclusive rights to the scores of the series as well. This restricts on online scores, ball-by-ball text commentaries and SMS updates of scores.
By refusing to accept DRS, and by threatening to pull out of any international series if DRS is used, the BCCI has already shown that it can flex its muscles to any limit to show its power — even if it comes at the heavy price of reducing the quality of cricket. With the restriction on photographs taken by independent photo agencies, the BCCI has shown that it can stoop to any depths for a thicker purse.
Cricket historians, statisticians, and fans worldwide have perpetually faced the problem of the older series and matches not being documented worldwide on a consistent basis. Their sore eyes have frantically searched archives for every bit of text or image, or video available. With the advent of the internet, the records had finally become consolidated, and the world of cricket had taken major steps towards the organised archiving of cricket records, photographs and footage.
The BCCI has been successful to take cricket documentation a step backwards, releasing only the amount of data they feel like distributing, and holding back whatever they do not want to. Their seemingly unending lust for power and money is already affecting contemporary cricket journalism, and will hit cricket-lovers of the future even harder when they will struggle to find documents of any format.
It does not really matter to the BCCI that News Media Coalition (NMC) has been vocal against their decisions and is being supported by more and more organisations with every passing day. It does not matter to them that no Australian newspaper has carried a single picture of the India-Australia series, or that there is a general boycott by reputed agencies like Thomson Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and Associated Press to publish even match reports.
Even as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stepped in and has asked the ICC to intervene, the BCCI remains adamant on its stand. They are boosting their ego and bank balance in the process, and are taking long strides to brutalise the sport in every conceivable way for the sake of it. They have forgotten the simple fact that their existence depends on the cricketers, media, and fans, and it is not the other way round.
If the BCCI has decided to take the joy out of the game, the day is not far when the world will sooner than later find a way around the organisation to enjoy the sport. In fact, they have already started to do so: free online cricket audio commentary channels like Test Match Sofa have been able to satiate the Australian audience, among others. The cricketers have started to post copyright-free photographs on social networking websites that have been acquired and used by various websites. And the fans are playing their role in providing everyone with live scores, match reports and personally taken pictures on their websites and blogs, or via social networking media.
Clearly, BCCI is heading into big trouble by angering the entire cricketing world with unmistakable arrogance and scant respect for age-old traditions.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
First Published: February 26, 2013, 11:59 am