The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- To make a national cricket team that will be hard to beat

Jagmohan Dalmia played a characteristically clever game to retain power, but Sharad Pawar proved cleverer. Pawar certainly brought in a new broom; he swept out almost everyone who was a part of the Dalmia regime, and took the headquarters away from Calcutta to Bombay.

Dalmia had leveraged India's market power, made BCCI the world's richest national cricket association and put India at the centre of world cricket. Within a month, Lalit Modi, his vice president, unbundled sponsorship rights, and sold the right to players' chest and leading arm (the left arm for right-handed batsmen and vice versa) to Air Sahara and the right to the other arm to Nike. The two auctions together brought BCCI Rs 4.1 billion or $27.1 million.

Indian newspapers reported that that made BCCI the world's richest sports association, beating Juventus, whose sponsorship revenue is $22.2 million. Actually, Juventus has a deal with Tamoil for '22 million a year, which comes to $28 million. And sponsorship revenue is just a part of a sports team's income; then there is money from television rights, a share of ticket sales, match fees and winners' prizes. Taking all these into account, Manchester United was the most lucrative team, earning $326 million in 2003-04. The next four teams were Real Madrid ($297 million), Milan ($280 million), Chelsea ($273 million) and Juventus ($271 million); even Aston Villa, placed twentieth, earned $106 million. (Just in case you wondered what was real about Madrid, Real means royal in Spanish.) Thus, BCCI has far to go before it can come within spitting distance of leading football clubs.

One reason why the European football clubs are so much richer is that their fans are richer. Even so, with a population that is almost twice that of Europe, India should be able to do better. The truth is that there is much keener competition between football clubs.

That is partly because there are many more football clubs. The Federation of International Football Associations has 207 national members, grouped into six continental federations for Asia, Africa, Europe, the two Americas and Oceania. That is more than the United Nations; but then, FIFA has no qualms about allowing in a number of associations from one country ' for instance, from England, Scotland and Wales. The most important continental federation is the European Football Association; 50 countries participate in European league matches from France to Faroe Islands, from Scotland to San Marino. In those 50 countries, 66,901 players play for 1,775 clubs.

One of Dalmia's initiatives was to bring more countries into the International Cricket Council. Today, apart from 10 full members, ICC has 31 associate members and 54 affiliate members, from Croatia to Isle of Man. Thus ICC does not lack members any longer. As long as the number of its members was small, it was likely that some countries would be at the fore and others would lag. Australia has been the champion country for a long time; at the other end, Bangladesh, Kenya and Zambia are cricketing nations only by the courtesy of the stronger countries.

In theory, having a large number of member countries should go towards remedying this problem of unequal strength; every country should be able to find a few that are as good or bad as itself. This is how it works in football. It does not, however, work so in cricket because of the distances. The teams of Maldives and Falkland Islands may be roughly of equal strength; but it is just too expensive and cumbersome for them to meet to play against each other. Football's strength lies in the geographical density of football clubs.

This is why it is futile to try and increase competition in cricket by enlisting more national cricket associations; the way to do it is within a country, amongst local clubs. This is something national cricket associations do. We have our Ranji trophy; England has counties competing, and Australia has states. But out of our 29 states and five Union territories, only half a dozen count in national cricket. Bengalis prefer to participate in cricket from the stands than on the field; Goans have no hope of making it into the national cricket team and do not even try.

The present organization of cricket by states is suboptimal. Two other ways of organizing teams are possible ' by district and by city. Districts too are administrative contrivances with no minimum mass or cohesion. Cities provide spectators, they have cricket fields, and they have some young people who are well off enough or charged enough to take cricket seriously. Bombay has been a cricket power on its own ever since cricket began to be played on its Azad Maidan 150 years ago; Bangalore and Delhi too have been from time to time.

If anyone can replace the present state cricket associations by city-based associations, it is the strongman Pawar. But even if he cannot, he should start building up city-based cricket. He should choose 64 cities, set up cricket associations in them, and give each Rs 20 million a year ' Rs 10 million for building and maintaining a cricket stadium, and another Rs 10 million for building up a team. There should be no restrictions on where they can get players from; they should be able to hire the best players from anywhere in the world.

The core of a stadium should be spectator capacity, the pitch and the field. But that is not all. Location and public transport facilities are vital. As Indians become car-borne, ample parking capacity will be needed. And outside the stands ' perhaps even in the stands ' restaurants should be set up. Football and baseball clubs get considerable revenue by leasing seats and galleries to companies; we should do the same to cricket. At present, cricket grounds are so uncomfortable and so poorly served that the only people they attract are hoi polloi and politicians. But if they offered a pleasant way of spending a day, they would attract people who were prepared to pay to watch. The model for a cricket stadium should be the race course, not the cockfight.

Once he invests enough in city cricket clubs, Pawar should set up a tournament between them. It should be played in the last quarter of the year; it should consist of an ODI league between the 64 clubs. (The number of clubs is not sacrosanct; if more cities get interested, they can be included.) Seven rounds should be played, at the beginning in which opposing sides would be chosen randomly, so that their form can be ascertained and teams can be paired for the tournament. They should be followed by a knockout tournament which would lead to the championship match in six rounds.

The 13 rounds will involve a minimum of 704 players. All will have played at least seven matches; some may have played even 13. Hence the tournament will generate ample statistics for choosing the best 16 for a national team. With such a wealth of statistics, the choice of the team can be done by a computer, dispensing with selectors. Once we have the numbers, the competition and the computer, we will get a national team that will be difficult to beat.

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