BCCI… bullying tactics
BCCI… bullying tactics

 

By Adrian Meredith

 

The latest announcement by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is that Indian players are forbidden from playing in either the newly-formed Sri Lankan Premier League (SLPL) or the Australian Big Bash League.

 

This is the latest in a long string of bullying tactics employed by the BCCI that seems aimed at setting Indian cricket above that of any other cricketing boards.

 

This wasn’t the case going back 20 to 30 years. The ICC had its headquarters in London and was largely controlled by Englishmen, primarily by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Australian cricket also had a powerful grip on international cricket. But when the ICC offices were moved to Dubai, primarily so that they paid less tax, this allowed an opportunity for Indian cricket to rise up the ranks.

 

It started with various votes, where India threw their weight around to get what they wanted. The Zimbabwe situation was the first where India tried to manipulate a vote in their favour. It wasn’t even that Indians overly supported the Robert Mugabe-led regime. Initially, only the West Indies supported their stance that black cricketers play at the expense of whites, and West Indies supported it largely due to their own history. Even South Africa were reluctant to support them, while Australia, England and New Zealand were against it. A 3:2 vote (counting Zimbabwe’s vote), with South Africa neutral, turned its attention to India. Would India support what were ostensibly racist policies? Pakistan and Sri Lanka would probably go with whatever India said. India said that they weren’t racist policies; instead it was about standing up for black rights.

 

The decision of India to support Zimbabwe meant that Zimbabwe weren’t banned from playing cricket. This made a big difference in the 2003 World Cup, when a number of countries refused to tour Zimbabwe for safety reasons. Zimbabwe remained as co-hosts, rather than switching all matches to South Africa, which led to Zimbabwe not only making the Super Six, but also Kenya making the semi-finals. It also meant that various players in Zimbabwe fled to Australia or England, or basically anywhere outside Zimbabwe. And all the while Zimbabwe remained as a Test team. They were ultimately suspended from Test cricket, but it was due to the poor standard of cricket, not due to doing anything wrong. All thanks to the actions of BCCI.

 

Case in point of BCCI’s ability to change world cricket

 

The Zimbabwe Test case highlighted to BCCI that they had the power to change world cricket. Even though the majority of the world opposed the situation in Zimbabwe, let alone the majority of the cricketing world, the BCCI were able to go against the majority view. It was the wrong decision. Zimbabwe should have been banned, as South Africa had been banned during apartheid. It created so many horrific situations for so many people that they weren’t banned. And the BCCI are largely to blame for it. For the BCCI, it was more a matter of power than caring about what happened to anyone.

 

In 2007, following England’s creation of professional T20 cricket, South Africa’s variation of it, and Stanford’s West Indian league, investors in India had the idea for an Indian Cricket League (ICL). They asked for BCCI approval, but BCCI delayed saying yes or no. It was ultimately all about money. BCCI wanted to get the major share of the ICL money for themselves. With billions of dollars at stake, it was difficult for the ICL organisers to accept. BCCI were unwilling to negotiate. Court cases followed. Ultimately, the ICL got under way thinking that they would be granted BCCI approval later on. Players played thinking that the tournament would eventually have official standing.

 

But at the very last minute, the BCCI said no to the ICL. Not only did they not give their approval, but they banned all players who were involved in the league. They also prodded other boards to ban their players aligned with the “rebel” ICL. Australia and New Zealand asked their players not to participate in the first place, and went along with the ban. Other countries soon followed suit.

 

The BCCI then created the Indian Premier League (IPL), an almost exact copy of the ICL. They had the same auction, the same format, the same everything. Yet, somehow, ICL couldn’t sue for copyright infringement. Instead, ICL suffered. In some cases, like New Zealand paceman Shane Bond, players lost much of their international career. The BCCI had flexed its muscles.

 

Ultimately the ICL folded and the BCCI showed a bit of ‘generosity’ by lifting the ban on the players who had participated in the ‘rebel’ league which gave them the opportunity to be available for national selection. This was good for New Zealand who got to see Shane Bond again, though he didn’t last much longer and retired. The BCCI had effectively destroyed his career.

 

The UDRS imbroglio

 

Then we get to the UDRS, the Umpire Decision Review System. It had been talked about for 25 years or more, with Australia in particular adopting various technologies to review umpiring errors. The run out check had become part of culture, and then replays to check for catches had already been used, at least in Australia, for several years. Snicko and Hotspot hadn’t been used in decisions but had been about for years, while a new LBW mat called Hawkeye was being used. There were question marks about Hawkeye in particular, about whether it was good enough. Snicko and Hotspot aren’t yet perfected either and indeed even the run out and catch replays occasionally were ambiguous.

 

But the UDRS was set up with the odd decision “If in doubt, it goes back to the umpire’s decision”. This was odd, given that the laws of cricket state that “The benefit of the doubt must go to the batsman”. The batsman, not the umpire. In other words, if someone was given out but you can’t be certain on replay that they really were, it should be not out. That is how it has always worked with run outs and catches, using the technology. Why did it suddenly change with Hawkeye and lbw mats? If you can’t be sure that they are out, they should be given not out, regardless of the original umpiring decision. In terms of Hawkeye, this should mean that if the ball can’t clearly be shown to be hitting the stumps, it should be not out. Not it goes back to umpire’s call. Benefit of the doubt to the batsman, not the umpire.

 

When the UDRS was first adopted, players (and spectators) all over the world criticised it, especially the fact that the benefit of the doubt went to the umpire, not the batsman. West Indies used it terribly, with Chris Gayle, if given out lbw early, always asking for a review, no matter how obviously out he was. Certain players wasted referrals like that and Gayle was one of the worst. But others worked out how to best utilise it. Like the batting power play, there was a skill in using it. Not everyone liked it, but it added a new dimension to how the game was played. Getting your head around benefit of the doubt going to the umpire, not the batsman, was an odd one that a lot of people struggled with but even given that, even West Indies, who probably used UDRS the worst, still supported it. Pakistan and South Africa early on used it very well and New Zealand, as you might expect, were quick to work out how best to utilise it. But even Australia and West Indies, who early on used it terribly, still supported it.

 

But while players all around the world complained about aspects of it, when Indian players did, suddenly their board, the BCCI, said that they wouldn’t adopt it. The complaints were no worse than those issued by Gayle or the West Indies, or by Ricky Ponting and Australia. Yet while the West Indian and Australian boards convinced them that overall they were good, the BCCI suddenly said no, they wouldn’t accept it.

 

There was a loophole, it seemed, that allowed a board to say no to UDRS. Why this loophole existed is an odd situation. So while all other nations agreed with UDRS, India didn’t. While any other two teams playing would allow UDRS (if it was available), if India were playing there was no UDRS. It wasn’t even that most Indian players hated the UDRS, or that they had had huge wrong decisions go against them. Just a few, like MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag didn’t like it. They had had one or two that UDRS had still ended up with the wrong decision, largely because of that “benefit of the doubt goes to the umpire” idea, which, in my opinion, is the wrong way around! If UDRS had said, consistently “benefit of the doubt goes to the batsman”, as it should, then even those players wouldn’t be upset.

 

As with the case of whether or not Zimbabwe should be banned, and as with the case with banning ICL ‘rebel’ cricketers, the decision not to use the UDRS wasn’t just because BCCI had a huge moral objection to it. They had very little to base the refusal to use it on. It wasn’t something like “we should trust the umpires”. Not at all. They simply said that it wasn’t perfect. And, like so many other things, it wasn’t even that they cared passionately about it. It was more a power play. It was a power trip, to say to the world that the BCCI is bigger than anyone else. 

 

No competition for the IPL

 

So while national players all around the world are clambering over each other to play in the IPL, the BCCI have now unleashed their latest power trip – they won’t allow their players to participate in other nation’s versions of the IPL. Indian players are forbidden from playing in the Sri Lankan Premier League or the KFC Big Bash. No national boards refused to allow players to play in IPL, but, hypocritically, BCCI won’t support other national competitions.

 

At the end of the day, how do Indian cricketers feel about it? Given that they can make a lot more in the IPL than non-Indians, they probably don’t care so much.

 

The whole attitude of BCCI is acting like a monopoly. It is acting like USA in the post-World War II era. Or like superpowers at any stage in world history. Like Spain during their dominant period, or England during the British Empire, or Rome during the Roman Empire. This is how they are acting.

 

And, while we are all disgusted at how they are behaving, perhaps it is helping. India are now ranked 1st in tests, they just won the ODI World Cup, they won the first T20 World Cup and are heading towards what looks like a period of dominance in cricket. And perhaps the attitude of the BCCI, that India is better than everyone else, is a major part in it.

 

Just the same, it is an arrogant attitude, and one that flies in the face of all that cricket stands for. I for one would prefer it if BCCI could be a bit more gentlemanly in how they conduct themselves. But perhaps cricket is evolving from the gentleman’s game into one that is all about power. In this era of cheerleaders, of international players putting club ahead of country, perhaps the BCCI attitude is correct.

 

(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket – from Tests, ODIs, T20 – at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)