Saturday, March 24, 2007

Some background to India, Pakistan, and corruption

I wrote this overview for readers of Samizdata, many of who are American, but I think it belongs here as well

In 1983, India unexpectedly won the World Cup in England. This was a huge event for India, and it led to India and Pakistan asking for and gaining the right to host the 1987 World Cup. This was a big thing for the cricket World Cup, as it had been a largely English event (hosted by England, under English local playing conditions) until that point. The 1987 event ended up on the subcontinent at least partly because the England board had to some extent lost interest, and they weren't too bothered by somebody else taking it off their hands. (It wasn't too long later that the cricketing boards of the world - including England - started arguing bitterly over the right to host it - but interest in it was limited at that point).

India followed up the 1983 win with a win in the seven nation World Championship of cricket, held in Australia in 1985 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the state of Victoria (or some such excuse). At the time, this event was not regarded as much less than a World Cup (which was, as I said, England's event) - the key thing is that all seven test playing countries were participating. That 1983 win had something that the Australian organisers would not have preferred but which must have gone down well on the subcontinent - an India v Pakistan final, won by India.

Thus India in Pakistan went into the 1987 event believing that they were the teams to beat, and that the event represented a coming of age for subcontinental cricket. The two teams did indeed play well, topping the points tables in the two groups, and each playing home semi-finals. The expectation of everyone was that India and Pakistan would meet in the final.

This did not happen. Australia and England each won their respective semi-finals and met in the final, with Australia winning the tournament. (Expectations in Australia were so low that nobody had even purchased the television rights to the tournament until midway through it - and then after Channel Nine did so, it did not bother to show any of the semi-finals live, and then chose to show a movie rather than the second (England) innings of the final. Australians did not get to see Australia's first World Cup victory on live television). Some people in India compared the final to a wedding without the bridge and groom. The event was in truth a huge success, and probably the first major subcontinental media saturating cricket event, of a type we have had many of since. The victory by Australia seemed to many to be a complete fluke at the time, but looking from 2007 it seems almost fated - the first of a great many Australian victories that have filled the last 20 years. (I remember reading in an English newspaper a couple of months after the event that gave no credit to Australia whatsoever, blamed the victory mostly on Mike Gatting's reverse sweep, and that it was a game that "England would have won nine times out of ten". You cannot imagine an English commentator saying that about England v Australia matches these days, but that kind of attitude might help to explain why we still enjoy beating England so much.) 1987 was also probably the time when the curious inability of home sides to win the World Cup started to become lear. Nobody had expected England to win any of the three previous tournaments in England, and England did actually do well ennough, especially in 1979. However, India and Pakistan could not do it in 1987, and then Australia could not even make the semi-finals despite being pre-tournament favourites in 1992.

But as I was saying, 1987 was the first big subcontinental cricketing media event. The media has loved such events to promote the Indian team, promote the Pakistan team, promote the rivaly, and promote the media and products. In 1996 the tournament was back in India and Pakistan, but much the same thing happened. Unfortunatly from the organisers point of view, India and Pakistan ended up meeting in a knock out quarter final. (Knock-out quarter finals have not been used in a World Cup since. This is probably not a coincidence). India won this, but were beaten by Sri Lanka in a semi-final and went on to win the tournament. That rather romantic result made the tournament, but it was a more bad-tempered event than 1987, the low point being India defaulting the semi-final to Sri Lanka after a crowd riot when it became obvious Sri Lanka were going to win the match.

The two World Cups since then have been played in England and South Africa, and although the Indian money and sponsorship was present in both cases, it did not overwhelm the events. This was partly due to the cultures of the host countries, and partly due to the dominance of counries other than India and Pakistan. Pakistan made the final in England in 1999, but were overwhelmed by Australia in the final. That final was notable for two titanic struggles between Australia and South Africa in the Super Six round and the semi-final. In 2003 in South Africa India made the final and generally played well, but that tournament was notable for the truly awe inspiring dominance of Australia. No other side was ever in the hunt. There were stirrings of controversy and suspicion in those tournaments when occasional upsets occurred. However, in the cricketing world at large, there were unending one day internationals involving India and Pakistan (many played in the United Arab Emirates, which was apparently a hotbed of bookmaking and corruption) more and more Indian television money, Indian sponsorship, and at times dubious results and match fixing scandals. (The most publicised of these were the ones in which players and officials from countries other than India and Pakistan became implicated. The most notorious of these occurred in 2000, when South African captain Hansie Cronje was had a telephone conversation recorded in which he was talking to an Indian bookmaker and agreeing to fix matches. In the subsequent scandal, Cronje was given immunity from prosecution in return for testimony in which he told all. Cronje repeatedly changed his story, appearing to be trying to tell as little as he could get away with and then being found out repeately. Eventually a web of match fixing appeared, and it became clear that Cronje had hundreds of undisclosed bank accounts throughout the world. Despite Cronje's inconsistency, he kept his immunity and after getting a life ban from international cricket that he bizarrely but unsuccessfully contested in court he died mysteriously in a plane crash in South Africa in 2002).

This year's World Cup was given to the West Indies as a compromise at the end of a very bitter struggle for the rights to host the 1996 World Cup, that ended up in the Indian subcontinant that ocurred in around 1993. England considered that the 1966 tournament was "their turn", and India and Pakistan wanted to host the tournament for financial reasons. After a heated and apparently very bitter meeting, the tourmament was given to the subcontinentals, with an agreement that a "rotation" policy would be instituted going forwards, with the following tournaments given to England, South Africa, the West Indies, Australia, and then the subcontinent one more (it was a bit vague at that point). The Indians last year suggested that given the bulk of money in cricket now comes from India, they should not have to wait until 2016 to next host the tournament and should host every third tournament in future, The Australian board (presumably upon being offered a large sum of money) made way, and the 2012 tournament was given to India and Pakistan with the 2016 tournament going to Australia. (There will be a fight over the right to host the 2020 tournament between England and South Africa, as the Indians are going to clearly want 2024 and money will likely speak. All assuming that international cricket does not implode by then.

But, anyway, as a consequence of that deal of more than a decade ago, this present tournament is being held in the poor countries of the English speaking West Indies. It is clear now that inevitably Indian money and influence has dominated the planning and organisation of this tournament. As an example, the four major sponsors whose names appear on the grounds at every game are international companies, but with an Indian twist. We have "Hutch" - the Indian mobile phone company that has just been sold by Hong Kong Conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa to Vodafone. Hutchison runs mobile phone networks in lots of other countries as well as India, but under the brand "Three". It is their Indian business that is being promoted. (The business is going to be rebranded as "Vodafone" shortly. If that had happened first, an international business might have been able to get some value out of the sponsorship. Then we have "Hero Honda". This is another global company - the Japanese car company. But it is not just "Honda", it is the Indian subsidiary specifically. We have "Pepsi", obviously a global brand, but one with a long history of sponsoring Indian cricket. India, not coincidentally is a market where Pepsi does far better in its global war with Coke than it does in most plaes. And we have "LG", the Korean chaebol and the closest to a generally internationally aimed sponsorship of the four. But it is a chaebol very much aiming its sales at mid income markets like India. If Samsung were to advertise, that would not necessarily be aimed at India, as Samsung sees itself as much more a first world company. LG suits the Indian market.

This year's World Cup was, as I said, organised for the benefit of the subontinental and particularly Indian markets far more than any in some time. And from that perspective something went terribly wrong. It was supposed to be easy for the best eight teams including India and Pakistan to go through to the Super Eight stage of the tournament, which is to take up four weeks of the six and a half week schedule. However, four days into the tournament Pakistan managed to be eliminated, and India managed to lose unexpectedly, putting their place in the Super Eight in jeaopardy. Pakistan's coach Bob Wollmer was then murdered, with ramifications we are still trying to figure out. India then had a struggle to make Super Eight, needing to win against both Bermuda and Sri Lanka. They beat Bermuda easily enough, but yesterday lost badly to Sri Lanka, almost certainly ensuring that India will not progress further in the tournament. (To do so, Bermuda will have to beat Bangladesh tomorrow, which is inonceivable, not withstanding the fact that so far this is a tournament in which six inconceivable things seem to be regularly happening before breakfast.

A crucial break has opened up in international cricket in recent years. All the money has been generated in India, but the Indian team and its oldest rivals have simply not been as good as teams from other parts of the world. Teams from other parts of the world (most notably Australia) have been much better. In most professional sports, the market would correct this, and in some ways it has in cricket too. (The best side in the world is Australia. Australia and India play one another a lot, and the Australians are paid a great deal to do this. Australians are also paid a lot of money to be sponsored and to make advertisements by Indian companies). However, cricket's curious structure in which players play for national representative teams that play together for most of the year, and players are unable to transfer between teams has prevented this happening to an extent that would probably be healthy. (The subcontinental teams have of course been able to hire Australian and English/South African coaches in an attempt to improve their playing strength. Australian Dav Whatmore led Sri Lanka to the World Cup in 1996, and this has led to Pakistan and India to also import coaches. (Whatmore now coaches Bangladesh, whose victory of India last week completely threw a spanner in the works). After Bob Woolmer's murder, one does tend to think that they may difficulty hiring more, however. In particular, if I were Indian's Australian coach Greg Chappell, I would be getting on a plane back to Brisbane, and fast.

This strange structure has encouraged corruption, and the nature or the countries involved (India and Pakistan) has fed this hugely. As it happens, the early elimination of the teams representing and of most interest to the nation for whose benefit the tournament is essentially being held is having and will have huge financial ramifications, for sponsors, for television companies, and for bookmakers and gangsters, and for the International Cricket Council. One man has been murdered, but I think we have only seen the beginning of the fallout. The losers go up to some of the richest men in the world, but they are not really the problem. Rupert Murdoch can afford to shrug his shoulders. People with financial connections to the Bombay and Karachi underworlds cannot do so so easily. The question we are waiting for the answer to is just who, precisely, fits into this category of people, and how many of them are players, coaches, and administrators of the game of cricket.

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