Cricket blues: ‘Is the World Cup happening in India?’

Published October 6, 2023
Captains of the 10 participating teams pose with the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy. — Photo courtesy: ICC/ X
Captains of the 10 participating teams pose with the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy. — Photo courtesy: ICC/ X

“The Cricket World Cup is happening in India?” asked my cousin, who is one of those people who say, ‘I do not watch cricket, but I follow the World Cup’. Although he does not pay much attention to cricket, my cousin was taken aback that he was not aware that India was hosting the 50-over or ODI Cricket World Cup.

My cousin’s surprise about who is hosting the World Cup is not his fault alone. There are enough reasons to believe that the run-up to the 2023 Cricket World Cup has been underwhelming. From the impossible task of buying match tickets to the fiasco involving a last-minute change of venues and an increasing sentiment that the 50-over format has become “redundant” among new audiences — who have made Indian Premier League (IPL) the number one cricket tournament. The 2023 Cricket World Cup does not carry the same charm it did back in 2011 — when India last hosted it.

Fading relevance of 50-over cricket?

Gaurav Kapur, the mainstream face of India’s cricket broadcast, admitted that the 50-over format is the “most boring” and “soon to be redundant” on the Grade Cricketer podcast on YouTube. He spoke about the “pointless” three-match ODI series losing their importance. Kapur summarised the opinion of those who want to do away with the 50-over format as such: only the first 10 and the last 10 overs of an ODI match interest the audience; the overs in between are like “a government job”, where the batting side and bowling side take it easy and agree to go at a run rate of five runs per over.

At a personal level, I do not agree with the opinion that ODI cricket must be done away with. But one cannot look away from what is unfolding. With the constant bombardment of T20 cricket and the fast-paced nature of the IPL and other similar tournaments, the game of cricket has changed a lot since the early 2000s. The new audiences want to watch sixes and fours or quick 5-wicket hauls — if there are still any fans of bowling. Patience for a 50-over match is diminishing.

Why, Ranveer Singh?

In the past, World Cup theme songs have been used to drum up anticipation for the tournament. I remember the 2011 World Cup theme song, ‘De Ghuma Ke’, playing on almost every channel for weeks before the games began. The 2023 edition’s theme song, ‘Dil Jashn Bole’ — composed by Pritam and starring Ranveer Singh on an animated train — hasn’t gone down too well with cricket fans. The top comment regarding the song, shared on the ICC’s official YouTube channel, perhaps sums up the feeling: “This song hits different on mute.”

While previous Cricket World Cup songs featured the sport, this time around it felt like watching a Bollywood movie song — filled with dancers and having zero regard for the other teams that are competing in the tournament. For example, how is a cricket fan in Cape Town expected to relate to ‘Dil Jashn Bole’?

Honestly, it is not just the song. The run-up to this World Cup seems pretty dry. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which is often, in a derogatory way, labelled to be an event management company, does not look comfortable managing this mega sports event.

The ‘impossible’ task of buying tickets

Planning to watch a cricket match requires a lot of planning. First, you need to purchase a match ticket and second, a flight or train ticket to travel to the host city. The BCCI has made both tasks incredibly difficult. First, nine games were rescheduled, accounting for one-sixth of all group-stage matches, including the highly anticipated first-round match between India and Pakistan. England, the reigning World Cup champions, were worst affected — three out of their nine matches were rearranged.

Second, only a limited number of match tickets were made available on the BookMyShow website. Fans complained about the harrowing experience of attempting to purchase tickets for the main event. They reported hours-long waits in online queues and claimed that tickets were already ‘sold out’ before the official sale even commenced. To put things in perspective, only 8,500 tickets were made available for the India-Pakistan game at the Narendra Modi Stadium — which has the capacity to seat more than 1.3 lakh people.

“Either the ticket partners are incompetent to handle the ticket and traffic or this is another eyewash in the name of releasing tickets. Hope there is a proper audit and identification of how the tickets are sold and to whom and what platform,” wrote former cricketer Venkatesh Prasad on X (formerly Twitter).

Not finding tickets or mismanagement is one thing, but the real problem of the BCCI, as sports journalist Sharda Urga — who hosts the programme ‘Out of the Park’ on The Wire’s YouTube channel — writes, is that “its core is hollowed out by abuse and exploitation of domestic players across age and gender”.

‘BJP’s Control of Cricket in India’?

The above statement was part of Sharda Urga’s September 2023 cover story for the Caravan magazine. At the heart of this story is the new revenue model of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

In the meeting that concluded on July 13 this year, the BCCI secured a significant increase in its share of ICC’s annual earnings, which totals $600 million dollars for the cycle between 2024 and 2027. The Indian board’s share has risen by a staggering 72 per cent, resulting in an estimated earning of about $230m, accounting for 38.5pc of ICC’s new financial model for the next cycle.

In comparison, other cricket boards are far behind. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) will earn single-digit percentages, specifically 6.89pc ($41m) and 6.25pc ($37.53m) respectively. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is fourth on the list, earning 5.75pc ($34.51m) of the total earnings. The former ICC president Ehsan Mani told Forbes that the new model would be “giving the most money to the country that needs it the least.”

The former England cricketer Michael Atherton expressed his displeasure towards this new revenue model. Writing for The Times, he said, “There is a deeper malaise at work here. The economic transformation of India in the past three decades and the growing importance of television revenues have distorted cricket’s landscape, making it more unequal.”

Other than that, there has been no regard for the recommendations given by the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee. The most significant recommendation was that no office bearer can have two consecutive terms in office — but despite that, Jay Shah, the secretary of BCCI and the son of Union home minister Amit Shah, has remained in the position for more than four years now.

This was made possible when in September 2022, the Supreme Court allowed the BCCI to make amendments to its constitution. Subsequently, any BCCI office-bearer can serve up to 12 years in the same post, without any cooling-off period between two terms in office.

Sharda Urga highlights the glaring irregularities within the BCCI in detail. From the bullying of the PCB over the scheduling of the Asia Cup to the changing of three kit sponsors in a short span, Jay Shah’s BCCI has acted as an extended arm of the government of India, she says.

‘Sone Ki Chidiya’

A senior cricket journalist, Chander Shekhar Luthra, told me in 2021, “You cannot look at cricket and corruption separately.” By that, he did not only mean instances like that of spot-fixing but also the brazen outlook of modern-day cricket as solely an instrument of money-making.

In 2015, BCCI president Shashank Manohar commissioned an audit by the British firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu to scrutinise 27 state cricket associations. His aim was to investigate discrepancies, as despite equal funding, some associations were facing financial challenges.

Ramachandra Guha, a historian who was one of the three members chosen by the Supreme Court to clean up the BCCI, documented this in his book The Commonwealth of Cricket. According to Guha, the audit revealed disturbing findings, including mismanagement. Examples ranged from extravagant purchases like 18 cars, dubious accounting methods, misuse of funds to buy flats for officials, false travel reimbursements, and even agricultural activities persisting on land meant for constructing cricket stadiums. The findings of the audit were so stark that the report was kept confidential — emphasising the scale of financial irregularities in state associations.

Let me explain this by giving the example of the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA). Amongst all cricket boards, the DDCA has been considered the most opaque of all the cricket boards in the country. Questions were raised in 2000 by an Outlook magazine report suggesting that some members used proxy voting during internal board elections.

Former cricketer Kirti Azad questions why the DDCA and other state associations can’t utilise their funds and facilities to establish training centres. He points out the prevalence of private academies which charge high fees for coaching, leading to a system where influential individuals can get their children selected through personal selectors. Azad alleges that the BCCI makes allocation of funds to states in mysterious ways which he likens to the “mystery of the Bermuda Triangle”.

Domestic cricketers alerted me to the fact that there are no records for local DDCA tournaments. “I scored 1,400 runs in 15 matches in the league and still wasn’t selected,” said a domestic cricketer, who wishes to be anonymous.

If there are no records, on what basis are players selected? This environment gives room for nepotism and corruption. “I know a player who paid 36 lakh Indian rupees to get in the domestic team,” the domestic cricketer alleged. The same player hasn’t been able to score a century despite batting in the top order for Delhi for three years.

 Illustration: The Wire
Illustration: The Wire

Rich league, poor players

Earlier this year, reports showed that the IPL pays just 18pc of its total revenue to players — a lower percentage than what the BCCI allocates to its players (26pc of gross revenue). Unlike other major sports leagues, the IPL does not follow the principle that players should earn at least half of the league’s revenue. For instance, the English Premier League allocates 71pc of its total revenue to football players, while American baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and rugby leagues pay players around 50pc of their total revenue. This highlights a significant disparity in revenue-sharing practices between the IPL and other major sports leagues.

But things get worse at the domestic level. Sharda Urga’s Caravan article points out that the BCCI money distribution system reveals issues of accountability in states where funds are distributed and highlights the stark income disparity faced by domestic cricketers. One example cited a domestic cricketer earning an average of 7.5 lakh Indian rupees per season, with earnings fluctuating widely from season to season. The disparity in income poses significant challenges for domestic players, especially those not part of the international or IPL elite, leading to financial instability and uncertainty in their cricketing careers.

Cricket, alas

But all things said and done, the Cricket World Cup, with all its flaws, will continue to garner love and attention. At the end of the day, the sport will continue to have passionate fans. Only the actions of the 22 players on the field will matter to the fans, not what happens outside of it. It will be the historic moments and performances that will be remembered — unlike the present India regime’s decision to delay visas for Pakistani players.

This article originally appeared in The Wire and has been reproduced with permission.



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