Lord’s. Saturday lunch time. Outside on the world’s most famous cricket field the second Test between England in India is in play. But for now the cricket can wait. This conversation, this confrontation, is about more than a game. This is about the whole sport, its future, its soul, its integrity.
Two old foes and friends are about to lock horns. Mark Nicholas – former Hampshire captain, broadcaster, journalist, AOC guest editor and a conscience of the game – versus Sunil Gavaskar – Indian batting legend, the first man to 10,000 Test runs, media man, committee man, one of the few men who knows how the machine works, who understands how and why India effectively owns cricket.
THE POWER OF THE IPL
MN: Sunny, your role as interim BCCI president is now over. What did it entail?
SG: It entailed being president of the BCCI only for the IPL, not the other matters of the board. There is a very good core team of the IPL, with the BCCI alongside the IMG guys, and they ensured the tournament ran smoothly. All I had to do was direct them as far as certain issues were concerned, mainly to ensure a controversy-free, clean IPL. Obviously the IPL being the entity that it is, controversy is never going to be too far away, but I wanted the tournament to be remembered for terrific cricket and I think, particularly for the last 10-15 days, that was the case.
MN: Are you comfortable with the IPL’s structure within the set-up of the world game, in terms of the time it takes up in the calendar and the restrictions it puts on everybody else?
SG: You have to understand that it is an Indian domestic tournament where a lot of international players come and play, not an international tournament. The Indian international season generally finishes around the middle of March so that’s when the tournament takes place.
THE PRIMACY OF TEST CRICKET
MN: Many of us are concerned that the primacy of Test match cricket is not at the forefront of India’s governance of the game.
SG: I think that’s a totally wrong misconception. The Indian players want to play Test cricket – they all realise that maybe there is glory and glamour in T20 cricket but they also know that they will be remembered for what they do for India in Test match cricket. So the players themselves are very, very keen on that. If you look at the international calendar, India has tried to get as many Tests as possible but it is a worldwide phenomenon, apart from in England and Australia, Test match attendances are dwindling.
MN: Isn’t that because fewer Test matches are being played in fewer major centres and the impact of short-form cricket has diverted people’s attention? Isn’t that why the primacy of Test cricket is being threatened?
SG: You’ve also got to remember that we are now talking about an internet generation primarily watching the game and their concentration span is pretty short. For them, a three-hour game maybe makes a lot more sense than Test matches. That is a concern for all, not just India and the BCCI. I think therefore how we make Test matches interesting is the key. Thankfully because of the influence of limited-overs cricket there are very few dull Test match draws these days but over-rates are a concern and we need to cut down on wasted time – drinks intervals today don’t make sense. Another thing that could be done [to save time] is to have the batting side in a dugout.
MN: No, Sunny! What about the great tradition of a batsman walking through the pavilion… the rapturous applause…
SG: It would be just one way to quicken things up.
MN: What about day/night Test matches?
SG: If the pink ball has worked in Dubai, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t have night cricket. I wouldn’t have the cricket starting too late though.
MN: I agree with you, I would just move one session back so you go on till about 8 o’clock.
THE ICC CARVE UP
MN: We’ve all been struck by the move from India, Australia and England to effectively take over the ICC. My initial response was not the same as so many people who saw it as a frightening heist that was intrinsically selfish, because I felt the ICC badly needed stronger leadership and I liked the idea of the three strongest countries driving the greater good of the game. That said, it comes with great responsibility and the first move to give the next six ICC tournaments to yourselves struck me as dangerous because it merely endorsed the idea that it was a selfish heist.
SG: I know on paper it does look as though there has been a takeover but my view is that we should give it time before passing any judgment – we should actually wait and see how it’s happening. You can jump to any sort of conclusions but to think that administrators are not interested in world cricket and just interested in their own country’s cricket, I think is maybe just a little too hasty.
MN: Is there a danger that the carve up could be perceived as bullying?
SG: I don’t think so. I think there is a fair amount of discussion that goes on between administrators. I think there is a greater understanding and I’m not sure bullying is the right word. Sometimes you can make an argument forcefully which can look like bullying, but every country is sovereign and the boards are answerable to their own country.
THE GAME’S FINANCES
MN: Do you think the commercial instinct that seems to be at the forefront of cricket administrators’ thinking these days has become too weighted in favour of the pursuit of money rather than simply promoting the game?
SG: There is perhaps some sort of truth in that but without commerce, without sponsors, without money coming into the game, then it will not progress. You have to understand that there are plenty of expenses involved in running tournaments, even at domestic level. The funds which are required to run the game can only come through the big events like World Cups or Test matches. Without TV deals and sponsors, the game will struggle.
MN: I’m constantly asking myself the question: what’s all this money for? As you say, a lot of money’s required to finance major events, and of course to pay players properly, but I see a lot of bloated boards, administrative bodies and a lot of players who are paid more than they’re worth – a lot of instances where the money appears to be wasted. One suspects that boards are getting richer without necessarily paying due diligence to the development of the game at lower levels.
SG: I think that again could be a misconception. In India I know a lot of money is spent on academies and grassroots cricket. Before, the metros were the dominant force in Indian cricket, but now the interiors have opened up and without television and local language commentary that wouldn’t have happened. In the Indian squad currently touring England, maybe only six of the 18 are from the metros. Players like Dhoni, Jadeja and Pujara are from the interiors. That is what the BCCI is trying to do: put money into the interiors, into grassroots cricket, into trying to scout for players.
MN: Do you think any of the flack directed at the BCCI is reasonable, or do you think it has a decent ideology?
SG: I think the BCCI suffers from the fact it does not have a very good press relations outfit. There is any number of spokespersons for the BCCI and I believe that if they hired a proper PR firm to get the job done, the perception of the BCCI would change considerably.
THE DRS QUESTION
MN: Do the original reasons why India wouldn’t embrace DRS still stand and do you think India are right to continue to reject it?
SG: I’ve not had any interaction with the team or management on this but I believe their reasons are that it is not 100 per cent fool proof when it comes to the predictive element. My feeling, as it always has been, even when I was chairman of the ICC cricket committee, is that we’ve had centuries of cricket where players have abided by the decision of the umpire. To now have a player challenge the umpire by asking him to go to the TV umpire is certainly not my cup of tea. I would rather the umpire uses DRS themselves, maybe one referral per session at most, to make sure the howler is not there. That way you’re ensuring there is no ugly side of the player challenging the umpire.
MN: Do you not think that when DRS isn’t in use and an umpire makes a mistake that leads to fractious cricketers and fractious cricket matches?
SG: But then having two challenges is not the answer because you could still get terrible decisions and still have the same acrimony. I would rather have a situation where the umpires are referring decisions so the players don’t come into the picture at all.