Being John Howard

I am happy that I am not John Howard. It must be hugely embarrassing to be a former Prime Minister of Australia and then be defeated in a stunning unexpected reversal for a comparatively junior position of a Vice-President in the International Cricket Council. Understandably, all hell has broken loose in the slippery terrain of cricket’s powerful albeit dubious corridors.

It is hardly an epochal coincidence that Mr Sharad Pawar, India’s Agriculture Minister presiding over 70% of our 1.2 billion population and 700,000 villages and also former BCCI President, has assumed charge as ICC President at precisely the same sacrosanct hour when Howard has been shown the door with prodigious ceremony.

Understandably, the cantankerous Aussie media has carried its cricketers legendary sledging on the cricket field to their own much celebrated columns with remarkable vehemence. The battle-cry has been announced with loud cannon-ball shots, as global cricket enters yet another tumultuous phase of bitter power-play. This might just be the beginning of a turbulent air-pocket , unless swiftly arrested with pragmatic wisdom by skillful navigators , terms not usually associated with cricket governance. Black versus White, Old against New Order, either way, the die is cast.

In reality, of late the BCCI and ICC are actually like two spoilt twins, intertwined in permanence with their trademark incorrigible excesses. The current spat between the old Lord’s bloc and the Baramati Bullies that threatens to split world cricket was looming dangerously in close proximity for a while, and frankly, it was an uncomfortable period of forced habitation. Now the under-the-surface brewing tsunami has exploded in a massive torrential deluge.

With over three-fourths of cricket’s global revenues being contributed by India alone, it is almost natural to expect a lopsided imbalance of power. The ICC is today BCCI’s puppet on a string, a convenient moppet with a makeover. Believe me, otherwise all international cricket boards would have demanded a proportionate share in the IPL profit pudding for providing their fancied high profile players for the Indian summer extravaganza. Honestly, IPL’s real drawing power, its USP, is the multicultural global outfits representing local franchises.

Remove the overseas players, and you have a dull replica of the Challenger tournament, a damp squib anyway. Just think rational business; should not the other cricket boards be compensated for “leasing their assets” to IPL? Thus, IPL’s cash cow status is now becoming a sore point of disgruntlement with cricket boards who know they are being legally swindled in broad daylight. It is something that BCCI/IPL cannot risk unless the international boards are vertically split down the middle. Hence, Pawar’s calculated silence on Howard’s candidature contradicting his own endorsement of the man sometime ago. It suits BCCI , but remember England, Australia and New Zealand are capable of creating their own alternate business model. In a sense, the Indian cricket board is now applying the same “divide and rule” policy which the British Empire once did with cold-blooded computation.

Howard’s past utterances have indeed sounded egregiously bigoted, strident nationalism on display, and done more than niggardly damage ( pun unintended). His flip flop on South Africa’s apartheid regime was clearly opportunistic which contradicted his obdurate stance on Zimbabwe’s atrocities under Robert Mugabe’s government.. As far as his conservative immigration policies were concerned, it is the prerogative of any head of state as to how they define their own national identity.

Where India cuts an awkward, questionable figure is in the anointment of Pawar as ICC supremo when he is still convalescing from the scathing stain following his purported surreptitious indirect stake in a failed IPL franchise bid. The financial scam involving his protege Lalit Modi whom he has strangely enough vigorously supported has raised three eyebrows. Much as we may condemn Howard’s checkered past and his scurrilous opposition to multiculturalism, we cannot ignore the real issue: does Pawar have the moral authority to govern ICC? Shouldn’t pure governance have been the sole criterion in selecting the next ICC Chief-designate? And should it not be made obligatory to give an explanation for Howard’s summary rejection?

It is this peculiar irrational stone-faced silence of the opposing faction in ICC which makes the whole episode confrontationist. If Australia-New Zealand do renominate Howard again, expect a virulent exchange and more polarized positioning. But perhaps it is this particular political turf that Pawar really cherishes. As he would say, let the games begin!

I quote from my book ELEVEN: “The BCCI has with elementary ease assumed stranglehold control of the game. Sharad Pawar, India’s Agriculture Minister inherited his predecessor Jagmohan Dalmiya’s legacy and quadrupled it’s commercial valuations with deft negotiations. Rumors abound however, that the formal coronation of the Indian moolah-power will be when the ICC office itself moves to either Mumbai or better still Baramati. Talk of BCCI’s perceptible hauteur! But will the BCCI strategy of bullying ICC into such meek submission boomerang on world cricket itself as it pursues a single-minded objective of creating a cash multiplier”?

Yes, India is a trillion dollar economy, there are more Starbucks outside of US, and PetroChina is the world’s largest corporation in market capitalization. Indeed, the post-American world is changing dramatically. Yes, we command a near-monopoly of the advertising market in cricket, but nothing justifies the pathological hubris amply manifested in our antiquated unilateral style of functioning? Board-room lexicon like transparency and corporate governance sound bizarre misfits in BCCI and ICC.

On Monday, India will experience a nation-wide strike against rising food prices affecting the common man, the rural impoverished. I wonder what India’s part-time Agriculture Minister will have to say to that ? As for Howard, the message is that you got to respect the race you run.

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