Sunday, January 13, 2008

Corporate governance in cricket

The dust, it appears, will not settle on l’affaire SCG, not for the next few weeks at least, unless a decision is made on what Harbhajan Singh actually said, and what it means in different languages, societies and cultures, and to different arbiters, media personnel, bloggers and sundry other parties.

In the meantime, cricket continues in other parts of the world. After the aberration of the first test loss, South Africa pummelled West Indies in the next two to take the series. West Indian supporters would argue that a 2–1 score line is an upset result, and I for one would tend to accept that, especially considering my pre-series post.

A noticeable moment came up on the third (and what proved to be the final) day of the third test. After making a fluid if slightly chancy century, Marlon Samuels (who finally looks like shaking off the tag of a “nearly man”) was bowled by Dale Steyn. The delivery was an absolute beauty, pitching on off stump and straightening to beat the bat of a settled batsman. The stumps were rattled and the bowler, cock-a-hoop. But what followed is what I am referring to. Samuels, after the initial disappointment, actually looked towards the bowler and acknowledged the quality of the delivery with a nod of the head and a lift of the thumb.

Is this what critics of Australia and the SCG incidents talk of when they refer to “the spirit of the game”? Is this what they expect to see more of in the game? Is it a realistic expectation?

Would Samuels have done what he did if it was the last day of the test and the West Indies had a realistic chance of saving the game? Would Samuels have done it if two of his colleagues had perished earlier to debatable umpiring decisions? Would Samuels have done that if the South Africans had sledged his team mates through the game, and made a few visibly insane appeals?

I think the “spirit of the game” argument is an argument of the past. A past when cricket was a game, when winning was just one of the four possible results, when winning just led to honour and perhaps a ticker tape welcome back home. The present of cricket, and what seems to be its future, is far more straightforward: cricket is as much a business as any other. And success, defined as winning the game, comes above all else. In the process, if some teams approach the game like Enron approached business, so be it. It was for the arbiters to determine whether what Enron did constituted fair practice and act accordingly. And they did, and how.

Is Australia the Enron of cricket? Do the governing bodies have a sufficiently strong and comprehensive “corporate governance” code for cricket that can be enforced consistently and aggressively? Are the punishments for infringements as strict as they are in the corporate world? In the face of such unsolved questions, Indians can whine, the Aussies can preen and the rest of the world can tear its hair in frustration; the game will continue on its merry circus.

The sad truth is that Sydney now, the Oval in 2006 and sundry other matches before these have raised such seemingly unsolvable issues time and time again. Unfortunately, the administrators have been happy just treating the symptoms of the disease and pretending as if all is well. Some day, some one will have to go deep down and cure the disease at its underlying level. Until such time, we can only wait in trepidation for the next Sydney.

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