Indians worship cricket. Cricket offers entertainment. Entertainment brings in money. Money helps cricket expand. But this cycle could fall apart if money becomes the main game.
Indian cricket fans are learning this lesson the hard way. Their talented national team, which nearly upset Australia on home soil last year, was thrashed by 217 runs in last week's first Test at Bangalore.
Many fans have blamed the loss on India's star players, saying their greed chasing commercial endorsements off the field has distracted their game. But it is wrong to single out the players, such as Virender Sehwag, who burst onto world cricket from Delhi's hungry streets. They are merely part of a feudal system that places money and power ahead of the sport.
Indian cricket is run by lords dressed up as the democratically elected Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Sitting at the top of this court is its "patron-in-chief" Jagmohan Dalmiya. Mr Dalmiya has turned the BCCI into the world's richest cricket club, mainly through canny sales of television rights and corporate sponsorship. It's estimated that the BCCI earns world cricket nearly 80 per cent of its revenues.
But the BCCI, as Indian sports writer Sharda Ugra says, also gives the world 90 per cent of its laughs.
Over the past month, India's cricket lords have overseen disputes that have pushed the boundaries of absurdity.
First came a dispute over television rights between India's Zee TV, and Rupert Murdoch's Star Sports. Zee offered the highest bid of US$308 million for the rights to broadcast Indian cricket. But the BCCI cancelled the bid "in the interests of the game". Litigation followed and the courts surprisingly awarded the tender for the Australia-India series to India's clunky state broadcaster Doordarshan. The channel is so short of funds and expertise that it has used a skin-whitening cream as the series' main advertiser.
Then came a faction fight within the BCCI that would make a NSW Labor Party conference look like a Hillsong church meet.
Mr Dalmiya anointed one of his loyalists as the BCCI's new president, through a ballot decided by his own casting vote. But the election, which pitted Mr Dalmiya's candidate against an Indian cabinet minister, has spawned more legal action that could see the BCCI come under government control.
For most Indians such brawling is nothing new. The rot inside the BCCI is a favourite topic of conversation alongside the (mis) fortunes of the Indian cricket team. Diligent Indian media and fans have probed the BCCI over the years to back their suspicions.
A cover story of the excellent Outlook Magazine in 2000 splashed, "Why the world's richest cricket board produces the world's saddest team". Their answer was the BCCI's profound unaccountability. It was set up by Maharajas in the 1920's and has largely avoided public scrutiny ever since.
Politicians have routinely called for BCCI reform but many, who may have tried to reform it from the inside, have become cricket lords themselves. Delhi's cricket board is run by Arun Jaitley, a former cabinet minister. At the helm of Mumbai's board is Sharad Pawar, India's current Agriculture minister. Neither man is known for his cricketing skills.
Still, ideas for positive change could come from the Indian cricket team itself. The team, under the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly, was considered not long ago as the world's second best, after Australia.
Its players have been selected more or less on merit and the team has hired professional coaches and staff. As India meets Australia for the second Test this Thursday, fans are entitled to ask why the BCCI can't adopt the same professionalism.
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