We’re hardly the first to have our say about this most important of films, but given that importance, it remains essential that the message it conveys continues to be discussed and promoted.
It’s striking that the media reporting of this film has been extremely muted; some might say that a cricket documentary is hardly mainstream, but Fire in Babylon received far more attention. Amongst the written press, the ones who have talked about, or reviewed it, are those one would expect to see do so. Yet of the major newspapers, the relative silence has been striking. Even at the time of the Big Three’s effective takeover of the world game, the press was largely silent. In this country, Scyld Berry and Lawrence Booth more than had their say, while in Australia Gideon Haigh was voluble in his criticism. That’s not an exclusive list, but that so few “journalists” put their heads above the parapet says an awful lot. Failing to hold the ECB to account over the way they manage the England cricket team is one thing, failing to hold the ICC and constituent boards to account for actions massively detrimental to the whole game is another entirely. They could even hold a contrary view and express why they think it is a good idea – that at least would be something. Silence is not. It is an absolute disgrace, and the cricket press as a body should hang their heads in shame over it.
The broadcast media too has barely even mentioned it, with Test Match Special tiptoeing around the issues raised, and Sky not so much as acknowledging its existence. Giles Clarke would have you believe it’s because administration isn’t of interest to anyone, only teams and players are, but the film details how when the ICC discovered the story being told, Jarrod Kimber’s press accreditation mysteriously went missing, while potential interviewees were warned off. That it is a tale the various boards don’t want told is obvious. The lengths they go to in order to prevent that is a different matter, and the silence from so much of the cricket press about a film that is central to the future of the game more than suspicious.
There are some telling asides away from the main narrative, such as Andrew Strauss bemoaning the rise in the number of short Test series, presumably an opinion given long before there was any possibility of him beingwithin the same ECB who were party to it. Maybe someone will ask him.
The invention of T20 cricket in 2003 (by which we mean the professional invention, that club cricketers have known the game for years doesn’t count), and the subsequent creation of the IPL is often blamed for the threat to Test cricket, but it didn’t need to be. As Haigh points out, for T20 to have an attraction, it has to be shorter than something. There is absolutely no inherent reason why they couldn’t co-exist. Indeed, the potential was and is there for T20 to support Test cricket while taking the game to brand new places and countries. It was an opportunity to grow cricket, to nurture it and also to make money for the game.
The powerful argument Messrs Kimber and Collins build instead is of a venal, self-interested group who care little for the game except as a means of building power and making money. Lots of money. The IPL is central to this, as businessmen spied the opportunity to make a fortune. Yet it would be too easy to simply blame India for everything, and there is a danger that the film will be dismissed there as nothing but an attack on an India that has been on the receiving end of a patronising attitude from the English and Australians through cricket history. In that they certainly have a point, yet a second wrong doesn’t right the first one, and in any case blaming India solely would be to miss the point being made.
The IPL itself has undoubtedly become a monster, but one which is extremely popular, and on its own merits that should be a good thing for the game. The trouble, as is apparent throughout the film is that it is run by those who don’t care about the wider game of cricket. It is a means of enrichment, and when those in charge of the sport don’t have that innate love for it in its own right as a game, the dangers are clear. That is why sporting governing bodies are meant to be neutral – or at least relatively neutral – in such matters, their role is to be the custodians of the wider sport, ensuring that naked commercial interests don’t damage the integrity of the sport itself.
For that is the fundamental central point. The ICC is not a governing body in the true sense and never has been. One of the striking things while watching the film is that it is so reminiscent of the goings on at FIFA. And yet even FIFA have managed to expand football and have distributed serious wealth around the world, no matter how dubious the morality behind it. The ICC in contrast, have a woeful record of furthering the game. The example illustrated on screen was of the pathetic £30,000 funding given to China, a nation of such size and potential growth that it would be thought a country ripe for development and support. Perhaps it is one degree of cynicism too far to think that cricket in China would be entirely against the interests of the current establishment, for whom a new market of over a billion people represents nothing but a potential threat to their power base. Perhaps not too cynical after all.
The film makers did at least manage to get interviews with many of the major players in the drama – though Cricket Australia manage to come out of it rather better through the simple method of refusing all co-operation. N. Srinivasan is consistently smooth, while failing to answer a single question, and Giles Clarke manages the impossible, by coming across as even more repulsive than normal. If he’d been born Australian, he’d be called Sir Les Patterson.
Indeed, while Srinivasan stonewalls thoughout, it is Clarke who is the undoubted star of the drama, though not in the way he probably imagines himself to be. Lord Woolf’s report into governance at the ICC – which was rejected by the ICC itself – is dismissed by Clarke in contemptuous and self-reverential terms. Woolf had been scathing about the lack of accountability within the organisation in his own report, stating that the ICC behaved like a “members club” for whom the development of the game was secondary, and whose boards acted in their own self-interest rather than the overall good of the game. Giles Clarke in the film actually inadvertently proved this by stating “I have every right to put my board’s interests first” – a comment that is notable for putting the interests of his board ahead of the interests of English cricket, let alone cricket more generally.
Woolf’s criticisms were aimed at the old ICC, yet it was known at the time that India in particular were strongly opposed to his recommendations, which amounted to a democratisation of the organisation and the prevention of conflicts of interest. A summary of those recommendations can be found on this link:
Far from approving the report that they had themselves commissioned, the three richest boards decided to go in the opposite direction. India, England and Australia in great secrecy put together a plan whereby they would take effective control of the whole of the ICC. The middle portion of the film covers the meeting held in Dubai, in secret and without being minuted, to put this plan together. Kimber and Collins are rightly appalled at this, the behaviour of an autocracy with plenty to hide, not those supposedly appointed to be the custodians of the game.
“There is a paragraph which says: It is proposed that the ICC executive board forms a new committee of the ICC called the executive committee, which under new terms of reference will act as – and I emphasise this word – the SOLE recommendation committee on all constitutional, personnel, integrity, ethics, developments and nomination matters, as well as all matters regarding distributions from the ICC.
“I have never seen anything of that sort in a body of this nature.” – Lord Woolf
When the details of the carve up actually became apparent, it was worse than anyone could have imagined. Over half the revenues of world cricket were to go directly into the back pockets of the three biggest boards, with India taking the largest share. That could be argued to be reasonable enough in principle, given that India generate the largest amount. Of far more concern and fully detailed, was the fait accompli presented to every other cricket nation to accept it, with each other Test nation to receive a mere 5% of the pot. Former ICC President Ehsan Mani calculated that $300 million over 10 years would be cut from the ICC Development Programme, to be redirected to the coffers of the already wealthy.
At the same time, the plan to reduce the size of the World Cup to 10 teams makes the ICC the only sporting body to actively try to shrink their game globally – a truly astounding policy.
And here is where the initial concept behind the film – the fears for Test cricket – are beautifully brought into focus. For the other Test playing nations were neither consulted, nor given any real opportunity to object. One of those happens to be the side who are currently the best in the world in the form of South Africa, but it applies whether or not they are good on the field. The flexing of muscles extended to making it abundantly clear that any opposition and those countries could forget about getting lucrative tours from India. Bullying is rarely an edifying sight, and had already been seen in India’s response to Haroon Lorgat becoming the Chief Executive of Cricket South Africa. Earlier than that, Tim May had been ousted from the ICC Cricket Committee, with it being reported in the Australian press – and repeated by Tim May – the BCCI had put pressure on Test captains to vote for Laxman Sivaramakrishnan instead. Sivaramakrishnan is an employee of India Cements, whose Managing Director is one Narayanaswami Srinivasan.
Test cricket outside of the big three nations was thus put on life support, with other nations unable to make it pay, except through the largesse and exceptional and well known kindness of India, England and Australia.
“The intention to entrench a privileged position for ‘The Big Three’ appears to be an abuse of entrusted power for private gain, giving them disproportionate, unaccountable and unchallengeable authority” – Transparency International
N. Srinivasan was duly made the Chairman of the ICC, the proposal was passed, and what Scyld Berry called “the worst thing that has ever happened in our sport” was made real.
If India’s dominance wasn’t leading to a good outcome, the acquiescence, nay roaring approval, of England and Australia was worse. Instead of looking at the wider interests of the game, they instead decided to grab as big a piece of the pie themselves and stuff the rest of the world. England’s own conduct is entirely reflective of that – the much vaunted return of five Test series for iconic opponents quickly and silently excluded South Africa from the list, for reasons that have not been disclosed. England decided to focus almost entirely on matches against India and Australia instead. Bangladesh, a nation new to Test cricket will likely go a decade between tours of England, and while they may not be currently the greatest of draws, the reality is that they never will be under this global regime. In discussions on these boards, D’Arthez did the mathematics on England’s recent schedule, and as such deserves to be quoted in full:
Since the start of 2011, there have been 47 matches between Australia and England across formats. A few of those were in World Cups / Champions Trophies T20 World Cups, but still. Compare that to the number of England / South Africa games which stands at 14. An eye-watering three of those were Tests. Pakistan stands at 10 (mostly all from the UAE tour of 2012). Bangladesh stands at 2 games in the World Cup, both games won by Bangladesh.
Australia has played 47 games against England in that period. They have played 6 against New Zealand. 4 against Bangladesh, and 3 against Zimbabwe.
India have played 42 games against England. 31 against Australia, and also (surprisingly) 31 against West Indies. 12 games against Pakistan, 11 games against Zimbabwe and 10 games against New Zealand.
Now I am aware that this snapshot may not be fair, but scheduling is not rational: we have had 3 Ashes series since the last time Australia played Tests against New Zealand for instance, or England played against Pakistan. So it is impossible to take a “fair” snapshot courtesy of the ICC.
Schedules are simply becoming increasingly dominated by teams of financially similar standings to make more money. Yay for the scrapping of the FTP. So you get a group of India, Australia, England, who dominate the fixtures between each other. England plays close to 50% of its ODIs against Australia and India for instance.
It is only going to get worse. The other nations seeking the scraps as they are dropped from the top table, and playing more lucrative ODIs or T20s against each other when they have no one else to play against, rather than Tests. Furthermore, what is the point of a nation like Ireland seeking Test status when this is environment in which they will be operating. They have already been kicked in the teeth over the reduction in size of the World Cup – reduction in number of teams that is, the number of games will be barely affected, and now the Tests they hope to play will be thoroughly devalued, if not scrapped entirely, except when the Big Three deign to notice them.
Clarke attempted to make the claim that he was acting for the good of cricket, and in a nauseatingly self-justifying section pointed to his being unpaid in his role. Curiously enough, this writer is on an industry board, also unpaid, and does so partially because of the professional advantage it gives him. It’s best left there.
Clarke also refused to answer any kinds of questions about the Stanford affair, an example of sacrificing the values of cricket and the integrity of the England team on the altar of naked commercialism. That it was arranged with a criminal is actually the least of the sins involved, for a national team is meant to be representative of that country, not a play thing for filthy lucre. He not only survived that episode, but went on to create his own position of President (sarcastically referenced in the end credits) responsible for ECB dealings with the ICC which both indicates an awareness of where the real power lies, and a complete lack of any kind of integrity or conscience. Clarke also managed to demonstrate his familiar sense of timing and old-fashioned courtesy so evident at the Wisden dinner (a note here: Lawrence Booth’s rebuff towards Clarke was sufficiently stylish and acute that it will doubtless be noted down for future retaliation by the great man) by not realising he was on the ICC’s own cameras when noting about Collins “that idiot Sam is outside”.
When the viewer is watching so aghast at the naked greed on display that even Lalit Modi appears to be something of a good guy in arguing against what is happening, the trouble the game in is clear. It is more than right to be deeply sceptical of his motives in suddenly discovering the soul of cricket, but the news today that he intends to set up a rival governing body to the ICC ironically represents the kind of challenge that is not appearing from any other quarter – our film making heroes notwithstanding.
An interesting comment made is that his intention is that it be affiliated to the Olympic movement, and another strand of investigation in Death of a Gentleman is the refusal of the Big Three to countenance the idea of cricket being an Olympic sport. Clarke tries to defend this on the utterly preposterous grounds that it would disrupt the English season. And so it would. Every four years. When it would disrupt the season in the same way that Tests and One Day Internationals do. What he really means is that it wouldn’t earn the ECB any money.
T20 would be perfect as an Olympic sport; it would massively raise the profile of the game, it would allow countries all over the world to appear at a major sporting event on a level playing field. There is no downside for cricket whatsoever, there is only a downside for those who would not be able to control it as it would be organised by the IOC, and it would not make any money for those who care about little else. Quite simply, they cannot make any kind of rational argument against it, so resort to bluster.
And in all of this, what of the cricket fan? What of the supporter, who pays his hard earned money to watch the greats of the game? One of the most pointed comments in the film is that the fans are there to be monetised, and that the broadcasters and boards are the only ones who matter. The objections to the conduct of the ECB need to be seen in the context of this, for in all the documentation and comment about the changes to the ICC, there is no mention whatever of the interests of the spectator. Not one word. Nor is there any reference to the amateur game – which shouldn’t be any kind of surprise when the associates and the affiliates are so roundly ignored and disparaged.
Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins have made a film that every single person with an interest in cricket needs to watch. This is all being done in our name, by an organisation that is meant to have the interests of the game we love at heart, by constituent cricket boards who are meant to look after the game in their home countries. It is nothing other than the complete theft of an entire sport by a self-appointed oligarchy bent on advancing their own interests. When the English cricket fan watches this international summer, he or she basks in the enjoyment of beating the Australians but laments that only two Tests were scheduled against New Zealand. It is all part of the whole rotten edifice. The ECB claimed that the Ashes needed to be rescheduled because of the World Cup in order to prevent players being burned out for the premier one day competition. It would then revert to a four year cycle. Oh really. Is that except for the plans in the 2020s when it doesn’t?
From the village green to the barest patch of ground to packed out stadiums, the subject of this wonderful film affects every single person with a passion for the game. It is polemical, it asks the right questions, and that it doesn’t get all the answers is not down to any shortcomings on the part of the makers, but entirely due to the reluctance of those in and below the ICC to have their dealings exposed to public scrutiny.
You need to see it. And you need to digest it. And tell your friends. The makers have set up http://www.changecricket.com/ to campaign to get our game back. It’s up to us all to support them in that, because while we may not succeed, if we don’t try then we have no chance. And we will deserve all we get.
Dmitri View – I too have watched the film. I did so last week, but wanted TLG to cast his eye over it too. I’m sure you’ll agree, he’s done an amazing, thorough review. I know Arron is also watching it tonight, and I’d seriously recommend the film to all of you.
This is not about this blogger, or those of you on here, switching horses to another narrative, because the ECB and the way it interacts with us and other bodies in our name is part of the discourse on this blog nearly every day. Jarrod and Sam undertook this venture to discuss test cricket and instead saw the writing on the wall when they started delving deeper. Cricket is another sport being milked for cash, with corporate parasites getting their millions of pounds of flesh in an orgy of self-interest, short-termism and blatant profiteering. Sport shouldn’t be about supply and demand, it should be about equal access. Sport engenders great things in people, makes them strive, better themselves, set themselves targets they may never reach. It encourages camaraderie, spending hours with people, making lifelong mates. In the world we live in that is abused. That love of playing is there, as Gideon Haigh speaks so eruditely, to be monetised.
I can bark at the moon all I like, but cricket is just like all the rest. While the heart-strings are pulled a little by the Ed Cowan portions of the film, the rest did not shock me. Not in the slightest. I sat there getting more and more angry at a world governing body that runs the sport firmly behind closed doors. At an ECB that plays its full part in keeping it that way. It may be in our players short-term interests to trouser more money for playing for England, but who are they going to play against? Australia and India ad infinitum? I remember the 2003 series v South Africa, and the one in 2004-5 too. Five test series, absolutely brilliant cricket, entertaining and thrilling. We’ve not played them in a five test series since, but in the past three years have had mind-numbing, one-sided (results) series. This isn’t growing the game in this country, it’s putting on endless repeats.
I can’t add much more to TLG’s piece, except to finish up with Giles Clarke. I refuse to believe this man still does not hold the wheels of power in English cricket. You barely hear a peep out of Colin Graves, but Clarke still bestrides world cricket like a colossal oaf. Only oafs can be innocent. He isn’t. In no way. The contempt, the disdain, the arrogance, the sheer affront that these two “journalists” should have the gall to question this Ozymandias? How very dare they! England, we are told, are not in his grip any more. The ECB isn’t his. I don’t believe them. Because the same attitudes persist. I’ve not seen a change from them. Not really. Still sticking to the Big Three, still no apology for “outside cricket”, still no recognition of the fans. Clarke sums it up with his advice, which I’ve heard before, that no-one is interested in cricket administration. Jarrod and Sam bring this dripping condescension through. Loud and clear.
It’s a terrific film, has its rough edges, but you can’t deny that the message is clear, despite the critics saying there is no smoking gun, no silver bullet (how ridiculous is that in the context of something else we all remember). It shows the ICC and the three organisations that now dominate to be unaccountable, have no transparent governance, and they’d wish questioners away without a care.
I ain’t going nowhere, sunshine, and nor are Jarrod and Sam. #ChangeCricket could do a lot worse than #AGilesClarkeFreeECB.
Together, The Leg Glance and Dmitri Old/LordCanisLupus are “Being Outside Cricket”
You can watch the trailer for Death of a Gentleman here: