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Waiting for the next big thing

Cricket, or any sport for that matter, is brutally uncertain with a high failure rate but the BCCI cushions the fall of those who fail

Amrit Mathur

Almost 30 years back, speaking about the challenges every cricket administrator faces, Ali Bacher said three elements are critical for success: talent, goodwill and money. Ali, former player and captain of the national side, was a formidable figure who bossed South Africa cricket and played a prominent role in the healing process after apartheid. An astute administrator, he scripted the policy of social reconstruction and transformation of South African cricket.

About cricket governance in India, Ali posed an uncomfortable question: when every kid is playing cricket, money is available in plenty and there is huge goodwill for the sport, why is India not the best cricket team in the world?

Since the time Ali asked the question, much has changed: India is the number one cricket country in the world, and obviously it has done what is right to get there. India has a powerful Test team and a strong domestic cricket system. Plus great infrastructure and loads of money.

Ali’s three-point formula has finally come together to make India a cricket superpower. Once an unimportant member of cricket’s international club, India now calls the shots. The reasons for this dramatic turnaround are many, and interesting.

Partly, it was an accident because cricket benefitted from India’s economic surge which it did not create. Corporate India, quick to grasp cricket’s connect with consumers, poured money into cricket to make the BCCI a financial giant. Unlike other countries constantly scrapping to raise funds, Indian cricket is a wonderful magnet that attracts record sponsorship numbers.

But Indian cricket’s rise was not just due to this accident. There was an underlying design even if this was not immediately evident. The BCCI created a cricket tournament structure starting from U-16 going upwards to Ranji. This was a fantastic conveyor belt that delivers talent and provides thousands of players a terrific platform to perform.

Big cushion

Cricket, or any sport for that matter, is brutally uncertain with a high failure rate but the BCCI cushions the fall of those who fail. The handsome professional fees of the average first class cricketer is a financial safety net. Ranji is a viable career option and those who make the next level are ensured a life of comfort.

Using its financial muscle, BCCI invested to spread cricket across India, taking the game to new centres and building infrastructure. As a result, India has multiple centres for hosting international games, many more than any other country. The infrastructure push is unique because no public funds are used, the BCCI underwrites the entire expense handing out generous grants to its affiliated units.

Fresh proof of India’s remarkable record in cricket infrastructure is the plush about-to-be-inaugurated Ahmadabad stadium, the biggest in the world. In addition to BCCI’s direct role, a key element of India’s rise is the changed mindset of the first class player and the telling contribution of captain Virat Kohli.

Compared to a decade ago, a cricketer is more competitive and ambitious these days—completely different from the ‘playing to enjoy the game’ character of yesterday. Cricket is fun and love for the game still motivates players, but for them it is a career.

Cricket is much more than a game now; players are playing for their lives.

India’s rise wouldn’t be possible without Kohli’s uncompromising thrust on excellence. His team plays to win every time, testing itself against the best without cribbing about conditions on offer. Fitness is non negotiable, as is buying into a new ‘team first’ culture. His intensity and demanding nature is game changing for Indian cricket. As a leader, he will be remembered like Tiger Pataudi for his vision, and Imran Khan for clarity of thought, leading from the front and not suffering dissent.

In cricket’s global ecosystem, India is in pole position with its fan base, money and on-field success. The next step would be to assume true leadership by taking the game forward. India gifted IPL to the world, time now for the next big idea to emerge.

(HT Media)

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