London: Tony Greig has appealed to the BCCI to abandon self interest and "embrace the spirit of cricket and govern in the best interests of world cricket, not just for India and its business partners."
Greig, the South Africa-born former England captain, utilised his invitation to deliver the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture from Lord's, to call upon India to "accept its responsibility as leader of the cricket world" and ensure that the long-term future of Test cricket and the less powerful Test nations were prioritised above short-term commercialism.
At present, Greig said, India's power was being used to undermine the credibility and worth of the ICC and self-interest was preventing beneficial advancements such as the universal adoption of the Decision Review System (DRS) and a coherent international playing schedule. Greig also criticised "India's apparent indifference towards Test cricket and… its indifference to the urgency to introduce anti-doping rules and the rumoured corruption hanging over the IPL.
"Unfortunately," Greig said, "India is pre-occupied with money and T20 cricket and sees its IPL and Champions League as more important than a proper international calendar. To compound the problems, India has not only sold part of the game to private interests but some of her administrators are seen to have a conflict of interest, which makes it more difficult for it to act in the spirit of the game.
"We can huff and puff as much as we like and have all sorts of external reports," Greig continued, "but this situation can only be resolved by India accepting that the spirit of cricket is more important than generating billions of dollars; it's more important than turning out multi-millionaire players; and it's more important than getting square with Australia and England for their bully-boy tactics towards India over the years. It's ironic that the world, including India, rightly worships at the Nelson Mandela altar because of his conciliatory attitude but then India eschews his approach by indulging in a little pay back."
The Spirit of Cricket lecture began in 2001 and was named after the late Colin Cowdrey, the former England captain and a past MCC president, who, together with another former president Ted Dexter, were instrumental in including the spirit of cricket as the preamble to the Laws of the game. Last year Kumar Sangakkara gave a widely acclaimed Cowdrey lecture where he talked about controversial issues within Sri Lanka cricket and also about the importance of the sport in his country.
Rarely if ever, however, has the Cowdrey Lecture been used to deliver such an obvious rebuke to a specific national board. But Greig, who relinquished the England captaincy in 1977 to play and recruit in Kerry Packer's rebel World Series Cricket, has never been one to shy away from a battle and pulled no punches in suggesting that India were now too powerful for the good of world cricket.
"Much of the game is controlled by the BCCI because it controls enough votes to block any proposal put forward at the ICC board meetings," Greig said. "The reason for this is some countries would not survive without the financial opportunities India provides. What is just as disturbing is through the Champions League, South Africa and Australia have a partnership with India and are unlikely to risk offending India. The current Champions League 10-year contract generates just under a billion dollars and is 50% owned by India with Australia and South African sharing the rest.
"As a result of the dependence on India the process adopted by the ICC is simply not working. The ICC cricket committee for example is made up of a group of top class current and former players and umpires. They go to great lengths to make recommendations that they consider in the best interests of the game. These recommendations are then submitted to the CEO's committee for approval, which normally happens as a formality. The recommendations are then raised at the ICC board meeting and if India doesn't like them, they are, at best, modified or thrown out. It's a sorry state of affairs and very frustrating for those who give so much time to getting things right."
Greig did find some praise for the BCCI, crediting them for their successful commercialism and the decision to utilise profits from the IPL to ensure that past players were cared for. "We must acknowledge and praise India for embracing the spirit of cricket through the financial opportunities it provides, which has enabled a number of Test playing countries to survive, and some to thrive," Greig said. "World cricket would be in a sorry state if it weren't for the money shared with other countries from India's television deals.
"If there is proof of the leadership India can provide, it is the recent announcement of a one-time benefit payment of $13 million to former national and domestic players for their services to Indian cricket."
But he insisted that such strength carried with it a responsibility and called for India to wield its power more judiciously. And, on the day when the ICC's executive board, chaired by BCCI chairman, declined to act on the recommendation of the ICC's cricket committee or chief executives committee and apply the DRS universally, Grieg's words on the subject were particularly timely.
"It can't be good for the game when the media devotes so many words and so much ink to bad decisions, which ultimately undermines the integrity of some results," Greig said. "The DRS is not perfect, but it does err in favour of the umpires' decisions and according to the ICC, fewer mistakes are made with its use. And furthermore, there is less conflict on the ground.
"India has two reasons for opposing it: One, because its superstars had such an embarrassing experience with it in the early days. Two, the BCCI argues that the DRS is too inexact. Ironically, the spirit of cricket is batting on both sides in this one. The cavalier approach says DRS is not in the spirit of cricket, but on the other hand, the Indian superstars should act in the spirit of cricket and accept the majority viewpoint."
Elsewhere in the speech, Greig called for the introduction of lie detector tests to help in the fight against corruption, reasoning that it was no greater an imposition into the private life of athletes than routine drugs tests, and called for the IPL to be expanded into "an Asian League" to include teams from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Each of those boards, he said, should be given a financial stake in the competition, which would enable them to finance their other cricketing obligations. He also called for Australia to welcome New Zealand teams into the Big Bash and for England to "set up its equivalent of the IPL and include teams from the West Indies and one team from Ireland."
Despite his concerns, Greig, now aged 65, insisted he was optimistic for the future of the game. "Fortunately, I think most of the problems can generally be addressed if India invokes and adheres to the spirit of cricket," he said. "Mahatma Gandhi said: "A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. As cricket certainly resides in the hearts and souls of Indian people I am optimistic India will lead cricket by acting in the best interests of all countries rather than just for India."