Glitz and Gutter: Sphere of Influence

How the mind and intestines of cricket were changed in India
Sandeep Kumar Delhi

BOOK: Sphere of Influence
AUTHOR: Gideon Haigh
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
PAGES: 436
PRICE: 399
YEAR: 2011

Cricket and big money. Ten years down the memory lane, who would have ever thought that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would become the new superpower of the cricketing globe? Even though the International Cricket Council (ICC) is still the unquestionable authority, none can deny the intoxicating impact of BCCI in recent times. Be it the ICC top job, IPL promos or Champions League, the additional Test match schedule to prolong India's numero uno position in Test rankings, or the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) in ODIs and tests, everyone has been eagerly toeing the cash-rich BCCI's 'my tune is the only tune' not-so-melodious melody. It's a lot of money, obscene money, which is calling the shots in cricket.

In Sphere of Influence, Gideon Haigh writes it all. With a wisdom marked by experience, objectivity and maturity. The book has its discontents.

Elaborating the fuss about lucrative TV and coverage rights, Haigh talks about the real money, TV money, hidden beyond the imagination of cricket lovers in India. The introduction of satellite TV in India in the late 1990s was said to be a revolution and opened the money gates for BCCI. Feverishly popular one day games, crazy viewership running into millions, glamour, celebrities, tycoons, film stars, fashion models, obsessive female fans, late night parties; later, semi-nude, gyrating T-20 cheergirls, unimaginable sums in sponsorships and auctions, it all set the stage for an unprecedented profitable scenario, changing the mind and intestines of the game.

The English cricket board came up with the 'great idea' of T-20, but it was a hysterical India that made the most of it. After becoming the first T-20 world champ, ruthless BCCI talisman Lalit Modi showed the world the seduction of 'superpower India' when he tempted players to auction themselves for BCCI's instant million dollar baby, IPL. Modi, as Haigh describes, was a brand-maker. He ensured that Brand IPL pushed the 'sky is the limit' cliché. And, despite the inevitable fall of the juggler, blind with success and self-love, his brand is getting more lucrative. Ironically, IPL didn't have a similar ending like the dubious Stanford series.

Haigh highlights the classic case of John Howard, former Australian PM, and his failed attempt to become the ICC president. His dream party was badly spoiled. It was the turn of an Austalian or New Zealander for the top job, but, instead, Sharad Pawar was elected – much to the humiliation of Australia and Howard. Big money, clearly, brings big loyalties.

Exemplifying the spot-fixing scandal as an embarrassing act, Haigh worries about the changed context of this dark side of the moon. The tide of 'easy money' and unprecedented affluence in which cricketers are currently brought up makes them dream of lustrous, glamorous lives. It also creates deprivations and greed. Haigh tells the story of Pakistan trapped in abject maladministration and corruption, which leaves not just financial holes in balance sheets but also bullet holes in team buses. The business of corruption has become cricket's biggest challenge, and it will surely not end with Pakistan's players cooling their heels behind cold English bars.

In hitting landmarks, the book has a different section for great Australian players as well as legends from the South Asian subcontinent. Remembering the golden days of Allan Border to the spinning tracks of Shane Warne, Haigh draws a parallel between the captaincy of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. South Asian legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Muttiah Muralitharan reckon in his good books. Two of his essays, 'Sachin Tendulkar vs Ricky Ponting: Parallel Lives' and 'Sachin Tendulkar vs Sir Donald Bradman: Who's the Boss?' make for a fascinating read.

Gideon Haigh has been writing about cricket and business for over 20 years. He is no fluke. He has authored 19 books and edited seven more till date. Like his other influential chronological works, The Cricket War and Summer Game, Sphere of Influence is an outcome of a detailed, often detached, recapitulation of key events in the emergence of India as cricket's unipolar superpower. Needless to say, behind the glitz, the gutter flows as easily.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2011-JANUARY 2012