India has to square up to the full breadth of its influence on cricket. IPL 2014 is the place to begin.
If it’s election time in India, the Indian Premier League must be elsewhere. As IPL 2014 gets going in the , in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai, some smart new questions are being asked about cricket and its opportunities to spread its roots. Once elections are over, and security personnel freed up to guard venues and players, the IPL will play out the rest of the season in India. But can the adoption of the UAE as Indian cricket’s temporary home hint at a geographical spread of the sport?
It is, of course, interesting that Indian cricket returns to venues abandoned in the aftermath of match-fixing scandals of more than a decade ago, now with a temporary, court-mandated leadership of the BCCI (under Sunil Gavaskar) in response to cricket’s current crisis of credibility — and serious allegations about the system being rigged — flowing from N. Srinivasan’s reign. But the UAE is no longer just one of the offshore venues it was in the 1980s and 1990s along with Singapore and Toronto. Ever since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009, it is Pakistan’s “home” venue, where the Pakistan Cricket Board seeks the guarantee of at least one bilateral series with India in return for finally coming round to okaying the ICC’s revamp plan.
In fact, it is the current crisis engulfing Indian cricket that drew Ed Smith, former England Test cricketer and one of the sharpest writers on sport today, into highlighting the need for the game to find new territories in order to recover its balance. In a column for Cricinfo, he considers the proposition that a sport’s global popularity may be measured by calculating the total number of participants in a sport (by which I presume he means players and fans) and subtracting those from the sport’s biggest territory. So, take away India’s numbers, and cricket’s claim to being a global sport looks rather feeble. And given the anxiety that Indian cricket’s cascading controversies could unsettle the sport everywhere, with India’s growing domination and the relative eclipse of cricket in traditional homes like England and the West Indies, he argues: “If cricket had more countries with a huge fan base, there would be a greater democratic equipoise at the game’s high table.” In other words: “Cricket needs new Indias. Time to take cricket to continued…