Monday, September 03, 2007

Do a 1991 on cricket August 26, 2007

Not unlike other unrepentant fans of Indian cricket, I have been feeling pretty low ever since our ignominious exit from the World Cup. Although we managed to defeat England recently, there is something rotten with our cricket and it lies in the monopoly of our cricket board (BCCI). I am no cricket expert but I do know something about how organizations work and the damage that monopolies can cause.

BCCI is reminiscent of the ugly days of License Raj when you could choose any TV channel as long it was Doordarshan and fly any airline as long as long as it was Indian Airlines. You could queue up and wait forever for a telephone, a gas connection or an Ambassador car. Our lives changed after 1991 because economic reforms brought competition. Waiting lines disappeared, prices came down, quality went up, and service improved. If there is one lesson we have learned as a nation, it is that competition can transform the lives of citizens, producers, and even regulators.

Some areas have not experienced reform, however. One of these is electric power; another is cricket. Like the old department of telecom (DOT), our cricket board is both a player and an umpire. It is the only buyer of cricket talent, the only supplier of matches, the monopoly controller of cricket infrastructure and the sole regulator. Despite its tall talk, BCCI has never bothered to nurture talent. If it had there would be a hundred Kanga Leagues in a hundred Indian towns. BCCI is mainly focused on 11 players for the national team. This is why no one watches Ranji Trophy. Thus, the market for cricket players remains tiny, much as the telephone market was before the reforms. In 1990, there were only 5 million telephones in the whole of India; today there are 200 million, growing by 8 million a month. The old DOT was politicised—you needed a political connection to get a telephone. So is the BCCI, whose corrupt and dysfunctional state cricket associations are run mostly by politicians. With Indian agriculture in deep trouble should the honourable minister, who is the head of BCCI, worry about 11 men in whites? No wonder a nation of a billion people can’t produce a decent cricket team.

Things are about to change, however. A new venture, the Indian Cricket League (ICL), will soon begin playing cricket with six local teams, and this will grow to sixteen in three years. When 176 players play on television night after night, millions of viewers will judge them. Talent will no longer remain hidden. Rishwat and sifarish will not get you selected by state cricket associations. ICL will become a nursery for talent like the professional sports leagues in America and Europe, and India might even field a world beating cricket team soon. BCCI will fight tooth and claw to defend its monopoly, of course, but it will fail in the end. For Subhash Chandra, the man behind ICL, knows how to break monopolies. It was his Zee Televison that broke the Doordarshan’s monopoly in the 1990’s.

India was a sick economy in 1991. It took the medicine of competition and went on to become the second fastest growing economy in the world. The same could happen to Indian cricket. Competition is like a school in which companies learn to improve. Competition created excellent companies like Infosys, Airtel, Jet Airways, and ICICI Bank. Indian Cricket League could also become a world class brand as international players vie to play in it. So BCCI, don’t play spoilsport. Let’s do a 1991 on Indian cricket.


Achintya said...

Very true.At the same time quality of play & players should not be compromised.Competition has been by & large good for India but in sectors like education,we have a long way to go before we can ensure a sufficiently high standard of quality education in Primary,Secondary as well as higher education.

Benedict said...

Agreed how wonderful it would have been if BCCI had genuinely welcomed ICL. BCCI reaction clearly reveals the fact that they run cricket not with the cause in mind. Its the bureaucratic process that they revel in.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mr. Gurucharan Das - India was bankrupt in 1991 and had to accept the world bank policies and scummb to the GAAT treaty due to the pressure from Washington and the rest as is history.

Why are you pushing dust into the eyes of the people from the truth...
At least you should not, there are many others who are doing that.

Rinki Battacharya