On Wednesday, March 15, the Google Doodle marked the 140th anniversary of the first Test match played -- between Australia and England in Melbourne in 1877 – and had cricket lovers delighted.
For the record, Australia had won that match by 45 runs, a feat they were to repeat by the same margin in the Centenary Test played at the same venue against the same opponent in 1977. Sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction! It’s laudable that Google, a true-blue Yankee company, should have paid attention to a sport that barely a dozen countries play seriously — with the US not being one of them.The big influence on Google putting out the Doodle would have been Indian audiences. If one-sixth of the world is obsessed with cricket, you ignore it at your own peril. There have been some dramatic changes in cricket in the past 140 years: three formats exist now, coloured clothing has replaced white in limited overs cricket and use of technology has become a vital component of the modern era.
But where the Laws are concerned, changes have been few and far in between. Some more have been now been proposed by the ICC for ratification by the MCC in October, including red cards and penalty runs for errant players and teams.The biggest upheaval in the sport has been in the shift in power from England to India. MCC — by extension England — remains the custodian of the laws of cricket, but most other aspects of how the sport is run today is vested here. While Lord’s may still be the Mecca of cricket, the romanticism must be juxtaposed with New Age realities. India today is the El Dorado of cricket. This is where every player wants to come; this is from where the sport is kept in robust health.
The hub of Indian cricket, where the BCCI is headquartered, is in Mumbai. Justifiably too, for this city remains the nursery of Indian cricket even if it may no longer be its citadel. The first Test in India was played here, Mumbai has given the most players to the national team, and at various levels, cricket is still best structured and conducted here, whatever the criticisms.
The power of Indian cricket resides in a none-too-fancy building in the same precincts as Wankhede Stadium. This is where decisions fundamental to the game in India (and overseas) are taken. However, the gravitas that such responsibility demands, has in the past few years been shaken up by internecine shenanigans of the BCCI. These keep cricket hacks usually bemused, largely spellbound and permanently occupied.
But after the IPL scam of 2013, the BCCI underestimated the crisis and the Supreme Court was forced to step in and ultimately appoint a committee of administrators to restructure the administration. After ICC chairman Shashank Manohar’s sudden resignation on Wednesday, all attention is again on the BCCI office in Mumbai from where the COA operates. What does this entail for Indian cricket? Manohar has cited ‘personal reasons’ for quitting. But his mercurial run in the past few years leaves this open to speculation. On finishing his first term as BCCI president, he said he was through with cricket administration. He then came out of retirement to head the BCCI again after Jagmohan Dalmiya’s death. Within six months, he resigned, after being assured of becoming the first independent ICC chairman. Eight months into this position, he’s quit again, leaving the cricket world in a flutter.
Rumours abound that Manohar found himself on slippery ground after the BCCI managed to win over some more cricket boards to support its claims as the major beneficiary in the ICC’s distribution of revenue.
Manohar had opposed this, and appeared to have the approval of the COA too, which now seems to have been vacated. Some observers even see this as the COA’s masterstroke. It helps Indian cricket retain its leadership in the ICC, which in turn makes the COA’s efforts to implement the Lodha Panel recommendations on recalcitrant state associations stronger. But that’s only a surmise. In fact, the situation is highly confounding. What is known, however, is that the Justice Lodha recommendations have no bearing on the ICC chairmanship. There is no age limit for it, nor is the sanction of a country’s Board necessary. One can hear wheels whirring within wheels, new equations being firmed, and old ambitions being stoked again among old BCCI stalwarts forced out into the cold recently. Watch this space.