Friday, 14 March 2014

Column 2, 2014 - Sucking the joy

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 74, Friday March 14, 2014. [Full text below]

Cricket is supposed to be fun. Professional sport, lest those who run it forget, is entertainment. They’re in showbiz.

Of course, entertainment is often more fun when you take it seriously. But there’s taking it seriously and there’s treating it like mergers and acquisitions. If you forget or ignore why people like it, all you’re left with is suits and corporate lingo.

Recently cricket has been subsumed by the language of the boardroom, a sort of ‘smartest guys in the room’ mentality apparently designed to suck the joy out of it, and get as far away as possible from the fact that they’re talking about grown men hitting a leather ball with a wooden bat.

Opaque media releases designed to say nothing of value, obfuscation and misdirection, bland party-line press conferences full of platitudes and positives disguising the iron fist of ruthless commercial decision making.

Take the ICC’s recent coup, or ‘board meeting’ as they prefer to call it, in which the ‘Big Three’ of England, India and Australia effectively assumed control of the world game. There was a sinister Orwellian insistence that agreement to the proposals was unanimous. To channel Douglas Adams for a moment, this was obviously some strange usage of the word “unanimous” that I wasn’t previously aware of.

Bangladesh were threatened that India would pull out of the Asia Cup and World T20, South Africa simply that they’d be stranded with no one to play. In this way, the other members it seems were effectively bullied into acquiescence, press-ganged into a new world order with the kind of behaviour you might have hoped would be left in the playground: my ball, my bat, if you want to play, do as I say. Unanimous.

And it’s not just the global power struggles. Look at the clinical excision of Kevin Pietersen, and the absolute information vacuum surrounding it, again packaged as “unanimous”. This is not the behaviour of people who wear tracksuits to work. It’s the behaviour of people who wear thousand pound suits to work.

Cricket has embraced the politician’s skill of answering the question you want to answer, rather than the one you’re asked. It doesn’t matter who’s right – certainly not who’s best at cricket – the winners are the ones who are best at arguing. The ones with the best lawyers.

On the eve of the World T20, let’s remember that all sport at its core is a meritocracy: money, class, race and status bow to talent, ability, and Lady Luck. Cricket especially is full of stories confirming the if-you’re-good-enough-you’re-in principle. Afghanistan is an inspiring recent example of sport showing politics what success looks like.

The World T20 is the youngest and most exuberant of ICC events. I hope, I really hope, that for three weeks in Bangladesh cricket leaves the lawyers at home and remembers how thrilling it can be, how valuable it is, how much joy it can bring. I hope it remembers to have fun.

- ends 492 words -

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