There’s Ravi Shastri imperiously telling reporters, “Look there are many people saying many things, you know what? Be my guest. If Indian cricket is rich and strong today, so be it.” Then there’s Lalit Modi warning that “cricket is going through a turmoil, it will destroy all forms of cricket”. Arun Lal questioning the sanctity of Test cricket saying “it doesn’t have to be kept alive”. N. Srinivasan calmly batting away all inconvenient questions and insisting that everything is just fine.
If I was any of these gentlemen I wouldn’t be caught watching Death of a Gentleman: The Biggest Scandal in Sport? , a cringingly hard-hitting film on Indian cricket establishment’s allegedly damaging (“corrupting” is the term used in the film) influence on world cricket to be premiered here on Monday ahead of its general UK release on August 7, though I wonder if it will ever get to be seen in India.
Made by cricket journalists Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber, the film has few heroes but is full of villains.
And the biggest of them all is the cash-rich and “grubby” Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) which, it claims, has systematically destroyed the “gentleman’s game” (the gentleman of the title) and reduced it to a “circus” in the garb of Indian Premier League (IPL).
The “virus” is spreading to other nations, and it is not only damaging the quality of Test cricket but destroying careers of players who can’t play “boom-boom” cricket. IPL, the film contends, is a money-spinning “cocktail of Bollywood and instant cricket’’ which spells the death of “real” cricket and its values.
Attempts by other countries to copy IPL have often proved disastrous, the most notorious being Allen Standford’s $20- million fairy-tale deal for a Twenty20 tournament between England and a Stanford All Stars XI. What was conceived as a “perfect counterweight” to IPL turned out to be an embarrassing hoax — a ponzi scheme that saw Stanford in jail and English cricket authorities left with a lot of red faces.
BCCI is also accused of using its financial muscle to hijack the International Cricket Council (ICC) and reduce it to a rubber stamp. BCCI’s partners in crime are English and Australian cricket boards.
Between them the “Big Three” have seized control of cricket’s governance leaving others at their mercy.
In January 2014, the three used their near monopoly control over ICC to carve up a deal on splitting the proceeds from TV rights that, the film says, would reduce other major cricketing nations like South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies to “vassal” status.
In fact, even England and Australia are simply India’s “sidekicks”.
Among the “Big Three”, it is India that flexes its financial muscle the most, the film alleges recalling how, in 2013, it “taught South Africa a lesson” for choosing Haroon Lorgat as head of its cricket board ignoring its “concerns”. BCCI had clashed with Lorgat on various issues when he was chief executive of ICC; so it conveyed its displeasure to South Africa by nearly calling off a planned tour and then agreeing to a heavily truncated one causing it an estimated loss of loss of $20 million.
The film singles out Srinivasan and Lalit Modi for special hammering.
Collins tells us how Srinivasan readily agreed to meet him and Kimber for an on-camera interview, but then they were warned “not to cross NS”. And the interview turns out to be a disaster because he barely answers any questions.
Modi is described as a “jumped up, pompous marketing man”.
There is a shot of Modi watching an IPL match surrounded by starry-eyed admirers and being asked by a woman TV reporters, “Is it true that you are so famous now that you don’t need an introduction anymore?” A bashful Modi weakly protests, “no, no’’, as if actually saying, “yes of course.” Given its obsessive focus on India, the film could well have been titled, Death of a Gentleman: It’s India that Dunnit’’.
Yet, according to the duo behind the film, India was far from their mind when they set out to find the answer to the question, “Is Test cricket dying?” Instead, they “stumbled “ on a story (they call it a “scandal’) that they believed threatened cricket itself-the scandal surrounding IPL with allegations of conflict of interest against Srinivasan and Modi fleeing India amid accusations of financial irregularities.
Surprisingly, an otherwise comprehensive film makes no mention of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the man behind the BCCI’s extraordinary rags-to-riches story.
The film, which took three years to make, was funded by individual donations from cricket lovers — journalists, cricketers, cricket fans — who fear that their beloved game is under threat. Australian journalist Gideon Haigh asks: “Does cricket make money to exist or does it exist to make money?” To which the film’s answer is: please do something before the message goes round that it is the latter.
(Hasan Suroor is a London-based writer)
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