“Mike,” Bruce Patterson writes in a comment appended to a piece headlined ‘The Big Squeeze’ in Friday’s London Times, “this is career-defining work. Brilliant insight into how greed and poor governance is killing the game we all love.”
“The game of cricket needs more prominent figures (like you),” adds P Crane, “to raise alarm at the marginalisation of certain smaller nations.”
I have no idea who these two gentlemen are. But I know the ‘Mike’ to whom Patterson refers is not the recently retired commentator Michael Holding but former England captain Michael Atherton. It is the ex-opening batsman who authored the Times article, which discusses ‘how the game’s richest countries have taken Pakistan and West Indies for granted’.
And I feel I can identify at least 20 of the more prominent figures to whom Crane refers. His message should resonate with West Indies T20 captain Kieron Pollard, his deputy Nicholas Pooran, his side-kick Dwayne Bravo and the 16 others who have been selected to travel to the UAE and Oman to represent the region in the World Cup starting in mid-month.
Asked to pick a West Indies best-ever side, my late brother Lloyd picked Tony Cozier first. I share his view that the pen is mightier than the sword.
But where cricket is concerned, my instincts tell me that the most powerful weapons of mass destruction are potentially bat and ball.
Which is why the best help ‘Mike’ can get in the short term must come from Pollard’s Caribbean cavaliers. And, of course, when the appropriate moment arrives, from Kraigg Brathwaite and his merry men.
But what is all this really about? You would be best served by trying to find a copy of last Friday’s Times and reading Atherton’s piece yourself. But I shall attempt to give you some idea of what he sees as the central issue.
Just last week, Atherton tells us, West Indies have ‘put in a joint bid with the United States for the 2024 World T20 in the next rights’ cycle. (…) [T]hey know they cannot rely on fairness or equality elsewhere. It is to be hoped that they succeed in persuading people they are worthy of another World Cup’. (my emphasis)
Who are these ‘people’ they must succeed in persuading?
Remember back in 2014 when West Indies supporters almost unanimously opposed the idea of England, Australia and India taking over effective control of the ICC? Well, it went through anyway—then so-full-of-himself WICB president Dave Cameron voting in favour of the move despite all the public opposition to it.
According to Atherton, however, that was not the beginning of the trouble. But it was the second major slip in the slide towards the Big Three’s current complete control of world cricket. Slip One, says Atherton, was the introduction of the ICC’s Future Tours Programme (FTP) at the start of the century.
Before that, all cricketing countries enjoyed an equitable if not equal share of what little money international cricket made. Everybody still wanted to see the West Indies, ‘one of the best, and certainly the most charismatic, teams of all time’, play in their backyard. Sharing the costs of all bi-lateral tours, WI also received their share of the profits.
Things changed, however, the outspoken Englishman points out, with the advent of ‘satellite television money and the FTP’. The new arrangements allowed hosts to cover all expenses and pocket all the profits.
“Hosting tournaments is lucrative,” he explains, “the hosts get paid a fee for staging each match and get to keep all the corporate hospitality revenue and ticket concessions.”
Fair enough. on the face of it.
But ha! Hold your horses! Let us take a closer look.
The Caribbean, Athers notes, is ‘a low income (small population, low-value television rights), high cost (tourism economy, inter-island travel) region [where] without attractive touring teams, the TV rights have been worth less than the turnover of a small English county’.
So, the following is the list of the big ICC men’s cricket events in the eight-year cycle between 2015 and 2023: World T20, 2016; Champions Trophy, 2017; World Cup, 2019; World T20, 2020; World T20, 2021 and World Cup 2023.
Of these six, perhaps unsurprisingly, India was originally allocated three, England two and Australia one. Covid-19 has reduced the Indian quota to two—this month’s 2020 T20 World Cup will be played in the UAE and Oman—but England (2) and Australia (1) retain their original allocation.
West Indies and Pakistan? Allaashi’, kuchh nahin, nada, nashi, nichego takogo, niente, nihil, rien, zero, zilch. NOF!
Crane’s comment quoted near the top—one of almost 100 by the end of Friday—continues thus: While England, India and Australia are wonderful merchants of cricket, the fabric of the game unravels unless the small, yet significant, cricketing fraternity is supported equitably.
A true cricket fan will undoubtedly want to see a strong and competitive Pakistan and Windies team take the field (or any of the other nations for that matter).
To which the oh-so-painfully-obvious response is that true cricket fans do not run cricket.
Nor do former captains. Atherton can talk until he is blue in the face and then write until the royal colour spreads to his entire body. The clear injustice will continue for as long as the current balance of power within the ICC continues.
And the Big Three continue to serve themselves sumptuous meals, occasionally deigning perhaps to generously allow a few scraps to fall off the table for the rest.
“The really short-sighted aspect of this,” concurs another commenter under the assumed name Swift Bear, “is the lack of understanding that the public want to see strong West Indies and Pakistan sides. Sport requires competition and having endless England, India and Australia series will become dull.
“Has the ECB forgotten the joy that Viv Richards, Courtney Walsh, Javed Miandad, and Wasim Akram brought to cricket lovers?”
With or without the pyrotechnics of Carlos Brathwaite, whose name we all remember from the 2016 final, a successful defence of their T20 title in November would go a long way towards reminding the ECB and the world of what WI bring to cricket.
Whether that will put consciences where there are now only con$cience$ is a moot point.
But if Pollard’s WI walk away with a second successive T20 triumph, that should at least render easier Athers’ task of making the cricket world more acutely conscious of the continuing injustice.