Sport

CRICKET WORLD CUP

India dominates the world of cricket both on and off the pitch

India dominates the world of cricket both on and off the pitch
India's Virat Kohli in action during the Men's Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, India on 14 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/DIVYAKANT SOLANKI)

When Cricket World Cup host India was accused of pulling off a pitch switch this week, its only response was a resigned shrug. It summed up the state of cricket, and who rules the game at administrative and financial levels.

Accusations swirled this week that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) switched pitches at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai just a day before the Cricket World Cup semifinal between the home nation and New Zealand.

Reports suggested that the BCCI opted for a used pitch to aid India’s spinners, instead of a new pitch designated for the match. The tournament falls under the management of the International Cricket Council (ICC) even though it is being hosted in India.

The UK’s Daily Mail published extracts from an email, written by the ICC’s independent pitch consultant Andy Atkinson, questioning the motive for the change.

“As a result of these actions, one must speculate if this will be the first-ever ICC CWC final to have a pitch which has been specifically chosen and prepared to their stipulation at the request of the team management and/or the hierarchy of the home nation board,” Atkinson wrote in the email.

“Or will it be selected or prepared without favouritism for either of the sides competing in the match in the usual manner, and unquestionably because it is the usual pitch for the occasion?”

The ICC confirmed the pitch had been changed, but said it was not unusual to make late changes during a long tournament.

Both sides scored in excess of 300 on what looked to be a good pitch, with India prevailing by 70 runs to qualify for Sunday’s final, while winning their 10th straight match at the tournament.

Whether the BCCI did bully the ICC into changing the pitch is now a moot point, but it does underline where cricket’s power lies.

When Daily Maverick approached several insiders about the pitch swap, the replies all came back in the same resigned tone. “What’s the ICC going to do about it, if they did? Ban the BCCI?”

Indian players celebrate during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 semifinal between India and New Zealand at Wankhede Stadium on 15 November 2023 in Mumbai, India. (Photo: Isuru Sameera/Gallo Images)

State of cricket summed up

It summed up the state of cricket. India, via the BCCI, completely rules the game at administrative and financial levels.

The success of the Indian Premier League (IPL), massive audiences in the country and financial power means India dictates terms.

An example of India’s financial clout is when they tour. One T20 International between the Proteas and India, played in South Africa, earns Cricket SA $8-million (R145-million).

A similar match against Australia or England, played in South Africa, makes less than a quarter of that. CSA just about breaks even when hosting England and Australia. India and Indian tours are the financial lifeline of the sport.

The ICC’s next four-year broadcast cycle from 2024-2027 shows that the BCCI will take a whopping 38.5% of the revenue. That is about $231-million annually. CSA will only get 4.37% of the pie, about $26-million. England and Australia get 6.89% ($41-million) and 6.25% ($37.63-million).

It may not be a bad thing, as long as the BCCI are benign dictators, because every nation in the ecosystem could benefit if they are allowed to.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Resurgent Australia stand between unblemished India and World Cup glory

The sport has a built-in market of more than a billion fans (mostly in India) but that doesn’t mean it can’t grow or support ailing traditional powers such as the West Indies, Sri Lanka and even South Africa and Pakistan. It’s no good if the rich just get richer.

“One country has never had this amount of money,” former England captain Mike Gatting told The Telegraph this week. “Even if India said, ‘We’ll settle for a quarter of the global revenue instead of 38%’, that’s a lot of money you’re freeing up to help countries in need.

“I’d ask the BCCI to remember how much of a contribution overseas players made to the IPL’s success, whether we’re talking about AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle or Lasith Malinga. Those guys wouldn’t have been such big names, nor such great players, if they hadn’t come up through Test cricket.”

 Although the BCCI’s iron grip on the business of cricket has not been in dispute for a generation, the men’s team has only more recently started to dominate similarly on the field of play.

The current Indian ODI side are superb. They have no discernible weaknesses and eye-watering depth. They have a wealth of destructive batters, still spearheaded by the insatiable run machine that is Virat Kohli.

He may be 35, but he is in the form of his life at World Cup 2023, and has amassed 711 runs at an average of 101.57 with three centuries in 10 innings at the tournament.

India overwhelming final favourites

India will go into Sunday 19 November’s World Cup final as overwhelming favourites.

New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, one of the great batters of his generation, hailed India and Kohli after their semifinal victory against the Black Caps: “India are playing seriously good cricket, they’re a class side at the top of their game… They’re the best team in the world and they’re all playing their best cricket.”

India’s dominance in the 50-over format might be confirmed with a third World Cup title in Ahmedabad on Sunday, but they also sit on top of the pile in T20 and Test cricket.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Déjà vu as Proteas stumble again to Australia in a Cricket World Cup semifinal

Given the size of India’s population and the national obsession with cricket, it’s no surprise they’re dominant on the field.

But India have supercharged the sport with professionalism and money. They pulled in the best coaches and players from around the world and absorbed lessons.

India will lose matches here and there, but it appears there is no end in sight to Indian dominance of the game, on and off the field. The only hope is that they share the spoils of that dominance for years to come. DM

India takes on Australia in the CWC final in Ahmedabad at 10.30am (SA time) on Sunday 19 November.

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