2012 Cowdrey Lecture

Tony Greig was invited to give this year’s MCC Cowdrey Lecture on the spirit of cricket. It appeared slightly an odd choice; the name Greig is hardly synonymous with ‘spirit of cricket’. With his reputation and the rather tough act he had to follow in Sangakkara last year it was always going to be a bit tricky for him, one felt. Still, I felt that he acquitted himself as well as could be expected. I am no fan of Greig, in fact I think there are few worse commentators in the world, but he did give an interesting and mostly intelligent speech.

It did not go down well in all quarters, however. Specifically it was very poorly received in India where it was interpreted as an attack on them. This is not unfair; the main theme of his lecture was to call for greater responsibility from the BCCI. However, the only thing he said about India that was factually incorrect was when he conflated the Indian broadcaster, ESPNStar Sports, with the board itself. In fact, I thought he was rather generous overall, making sure he gave credit to India where it was due and in one case where I thought it was not due. Looking through the #CowdreyLecture hashtag on Twitter during the speech, the biggest thing I noticed (apart from the predictable and laughable accusation of jealousy) was that none of the complaints addressed what he actually said about India. Most of those criticising him were complaining that he was just attacking India as though that was a legitimate counter. It did not seem to cross their mind that perhaps he had a reason to do so, that perhaps India were actually in the wrong. There was also the slightly more legitimate accusation of hypocrisy given Greig’s involvement in World Series Cricket and continued involvement with Channel Nine. Whilst not unreasonable on the face of it, this is still a tu quoque logical fallacy. Greig is not a paragon of virtue; he has erred with respect to the spirit of cricket before. But, and this is important, that does not invalidate what were statements of fact about India.

Those statements of fact centred on India’s current dominance of the world game through it’s finances and it’s apparent indifference to Test cricket. No sane person could deny that India control the world game right now and I very much doubt any sane person would deny that they do so with only their own best interests in mind. At almost exactly the same time as Greig was giving his lecture, the BCCI managed to quash without a vote a recommendation by the ICC to make the DRS universal. Every board save India use the DRS. It’s accuracy has been independently verified and it has clearly been shown to reduce incorrect decisions. And yet India’s knee-jerk Luddism and privileged position on the ICC mean that it can unilaterally opt out. That is but one stark example of the BCCI being able to do as they please without any regard to the rest of the world. Arguably the biggest, however, is the IPL. The BCCI take no notice of the international calendar when scheduling it and have no qualms about poaching players from national sides for their own profit. The excuse usually given, that ten per cent of the contract goes to the home board, is entirely spurious: it still undermines and devalues all international cricket played during that time. (In any case, the boards only get that money if the player signed a contract with them. Thus the West Indies got nothing when Gayle was absent and the same would apply to any player who declined to sign a contract.) Greig was absolutely right to take the BCCI to task over this because it is not only a great threat to the game it is one that could be solved. The BCCI’s actions are not cricket in the most literal sense. The entire game would be better off if they would play.

This is not to say that Greig’s speech was perfect, far from it. He at one point advocated the use of lie detectors to root out corruption despite their being laughably inaccurate. He said that he expected it would only be a burden on a handful of players, but his expectations fly in the face of reality. He also praised India for touring smaller nations and thus giving them a significant cash boon. It is true that they do so, sometimes, but they are required to under the Future Tours Programme and in fact have not played Pakistan in five years now. They have also never invited Bangladesh to tour and overall do less to help the smaller nations than most! The threat of their contravening the FTP and refusing to play smaller nations is also what allows them to form a voting bloc in the ICC.

His proposed solutions also left a bit to be desired. He stated, quite correctly, that no domestic event should take scheduling preference over international matches. This needed to be said, despite the fact that it ought to be self evident. England do not get to try to poach players from international matches for the County Championship. No one has ever discussed putting an LVCC window in the international calendar. Greig did point out, however, that this is area for potential compromise. In exchange for shortening the tournament and giving smaller nations a greater financial stake the international boards could agree to leave a window for the IPL. Given that the BCCI have expressed no desire for a window, however, this seems unlikely. He also wants a northern hemisphere franchise based T20 with English, Irish and West Indian teams competing. I have heard other calls for an English franchise league, but there is no reason to believe that this would be a good thing. Given that England are number one in the world in T20s and current T20 world champions, there is absolutely no reason to tinker with the current model.

Tony Greig is not a man I admire. He is not a man I even like; when I saw that he would be giving the lecture my first thought was to try to guess what bit of authentic memorabilia he would be trying to hawk. But as the cliché goes even a broken clock is right twice a day (assuming one has an analogue clock) and so too was Greig spot on in his comments about India. The BCCI’s selfish actions are not cricket and if they are allowed to continue in this manner the game in twenty years will be a poorer one than it is today.

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