Has the final countdown begun?

February 2, 2014

Has the final countdown begun?

Perhaps the chairmen or presidents or CEOs or whatever of the West Indies and Bangladesh cricket boards have not learnt from history -- if they have read it. Or they would know what happened to Britain’s Prime Minister Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement in 1938 when The Big Three of the time promised him that they would not go beyond taking over Prague. "There will be peace in our time," he said upon landing in England. Next year Hitler invaded Poland and the world went to war.

In the next six years more than 20 million died. Eventually the Allies in the shape of another three powers -- United States, Russia and Britain -- prevailed. Just as after the Second World War the killings never stopped and the world has never been the same, you can say the world of cricket is now preparing itself for either complete domination by a few or for The Cold War and the drawing of the Iron Curtain.

Let’s go back further to the 18th century. Tipu Sultan was in a similar position. The British were all the way to Mysore before he could face them and he knew he was fighting a battle when the war was already lost. But today we remember him with respect and honour and name our children after him. How many remember the names of the dealmakers with the British Raj?

Even further back. Prophet Mohammad (SAW) preferred to leave Makkah over bowing to aggression and when he negotiated peace (Sulah-e-Hudaybiyyah) he spoke from a position of strength, not weakness. That is what we learn from history.

I am disappointed at seeing that some respectable names are saying that we should surrender and sign on the dotted line because there can be more money in it in the foreseeable future than we are earning now. We wouldn’t have got our independence if we had had this attitude in the 1940s. After all we were being offered a deal then also. Judging from Gujarat and Myanmar, we can well relate to where we would have been if the deal had gone through.

And the very Pakistanis who say we should lay down arms for money’s sake may have been bowing to the viceroy and begging for favours for themselves rather than commanding rewards on merit as they do today. I wish they could look Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar and Bhagat Singh in the face when they say that.

Look it’s not about the position paper. It’s the way it was done; the President of ICC, Alan Issac, himself sanctioning three members to take over the organisation. This is the most insane and treacherous act any President can do. If a ruler in the third world cedes his authority to some strongman in the country, England and Australia threaten to break ties, stop trade, impose sanctions and what not saying a coup is not acceptable. And here they do exactly the same and say it’s good for the game. It’s good for money, yes, but then forget about doing any good elsewhere.

I had it wrong last week when I thought a majority vote would do it. These goons need three-fourth votes which means eight members sign on.

Nevertheless, as I said last week, the Big Three have done their homework. They may be greedy but they’re not stupid. One of the ‘principles’ of relegation was always meant to be a bargaining chip. Once Bangladesh and Zimbabwe indicated to vote ‘yes’, it was withdrawn. The same goes for the West Indies board which has seen over the last two decades that cricketers like Chris Gayle will walk away if they don’t get paid, and then they won’t have their plush jobs.

But has it considered that tomorrow the Big Three may decide that the bottom three should be relegated, not just two. Remember the greedy never stop until they eat up each other.

So what happens now? Two scenarios as far as I can see it. In the first one, Pakistan South Africa and Sri Lanka hold firm, the position paper does not get three-fourth votes to allow an amendment, and the other seven simply leave ICC and form a league of their own. The comfort is that they’ll have the numbers for variety in cricket, and may just give Ireland, Scotland and the UAE at least three years temporary membership to replace the other three.

They’ll also hope that top players from these three countries will break away from their boards, retire or whatever if they are given the bait to be invited to play in IPL, Big Bash and Friends T20. That will leave these three countries penniless really. These guys have the money to buy even their bench strength for a second division league. The danger here is that after a few years, cricketers from these countries will be dumped as they won’t be playing international cricket.

The second scenario is that when the sponsors see that the World Cup is without the cricketers of South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, they devalue their sponsorship due to a far lowered TV audience. If India has 1.2 billion consumers, Pakistan has 200 million; more than England, Australia, New Zealand, and West Indies combined.

After a while the people of India will tire of seeing a three-country battle year after year.  Their domestic leagues will not generate the sort of money an ICC World Cup does.

It can also be that West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe realise that they can also generate good revenue from playing against South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka more regularly and have a relatively more level-playing field than getting bashed by the Big Three on their grounds. Good for their cricket following back home.

If they do that and turn on the pressure that they will tour the Big Three only if they reciprocate with touring them, the shoe may just be on the other foot.

In fact if anything, Australia should be asked whether they have chosen this route because their team is at No.8 in the T20 standings and may have been relegated. Did their sponsors threaten to quit because of their showing and they had to guarantee they would not have to qualify for the 2016 Twenty20, as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are doing now?

Should English sincerity to the Ashes be questioned, considering Australia would have had no moral ground to demand what they have if they had been similarly thrashed in the just-ended Ashes series and ODIs by the team who had dominated them just six months back?

Was this why two Ashes series were scheduled in the same calendar year, unprecedented over 150 years, if I remember correctly, at least after there were six or seven Test-playing nations? They played in the summer of 1975 after playing each other the previous winter but that was because South Africa had been slotted in that summer before they were banned in 1971. And New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan and India had toured in the previous two summers.

I am passionate about this game and never want it to finish for Pakistan. But writing and commentating on it if the Big Three takeover will be like being in a marriage after the love has gone. Having said all I have I would still like to add that at least PCB has brought it upon themselves. It was the one board which could have stood up to these three as it used to till even in the 1990s. But selfish, individual interests, moral and financial corruption, in-fighting and cronyism have shattered its very edifice. If we are in fact isolated we have to admit we were the ones who have been lost for years.

Has the final countdown begun?