Time to play the Race card?

2008 Jun 23 by Suresh Menon

It will be interesting to see if the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will use the 'racism' card again, and even more interesting to see if it will get away with it again. The five million dollar Champions League (Twenty20 tournament between the two top teams from India, England, Australia and South Africa) in September is unlikely to feature England since they have players from the ICL in all but three of their counties. Thanks to the Stanford millions, England may not be so fussed about missing out on the BCCI millions, and might even show some backbone by pulling out of the tournament.

India seem prepared for either a withdrawal or a head-on clash, and have Pakistan waiting in readiness to take England's place. Only three counties - Somerset, Essex and Middlesex - do not have ICL players in the domestic championship.

Theoretically, of course, it is Australia who are writing the rules of the tournament, but clearly it is India who are laying down the rules. It is quite possible that India might threaten to pull out if England are allowed in with their ICL players. Then Indian fans will have to appeal to the highest authorities - television and sponsors - if the tournament is to proceed. It will reveal who the Pied Piper is, who calls the tune, and who are the rats which follow the tune.

To deflect public attention from its own petulance and silly display of ego, the BCCI might then have to pull out the racism card, explaining to fans and sponsors that England are jeopardizing the tournament for reasons other than cricket. There are enough media experts to take up the cry - some of them beholden to the BCCI for their very existence. It is a ploy that has worked in the past, and probably will in future.

When the treasurer of the BCCI announced that no ICL player should find a place in the England team, the President sounding like the politician he is issued the following clarification: "We can't interfere in the selection process. Teams can choose whom they want. But if they choose ICL players, they will not be allowed to compete." Subtle, very subtle.

Thus Pakistan, who weren't in the original calculation suddenly find themselves in a position to make some pocket money. But there is another angle - the Champions Trophy in that country, under threat of player withdrawals for security reasons. Leading Australian players have already begun making the usual noises. The International Cricket Council cannot afford a no-show. The Champions Trophy is a major tournament, leagues ahead of the Champions League. What if compromises are affected so there are no withdrawals, and the pay-off is a softening of the stand in the Champions League. Cricket makes such cynics of us!

Where does the ICC fit into all this? India could not bully England into banning the ICL players from their county championship because it would lead to legal wrangles and restraint of trade calls. If the ICC wants to save both the Champions Trophy and the Champions League, it has the authority to do so, but it has neither the will nor the backbone. Nor indeed the muscle power that has already made the Indian Board as despised as the English and the Australian when they were running the game.

England claimed a kind of moral authority those days; today India's authority is measured in dollars. No one wants to kill the golden goose or upset it in any way. But cricketing countries must remember that old saying and hang together lest they hand separately.