Criticising India, or anything Indian, is a risky business. It is a fiercely proud country, a vigorously patriotic people when it comes to nationhood, a close-knit community no matter how far across the globe they have travelled or been scattered. They may fight with themselves, rail against their government at home, the Indian media may take every, single opportunity to put the boot into their politicians, but should an outsider point out idiosyncrasies or flaws, then anger and accusations can be quick to follow.
Columns of life as a travelling journalist in India I wrote during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the Cricket World Cup last year, were not well received in some quarters, with some of the Daily News in Durban, our sister newspaper, crying racism. This calmed down when, as a senior editor on the paper pointed out, readers realised there are few “sacred cows in the world of McCallum”. During the tour by India here in the summer of 2010-11, I wrote on Sachin Tendulkar, describing him as the “Little Master”. A letter writer was furious – as they usually are – asking why I had referred to him as “little”, believing it to be a slight. I did not have the heart to tell him that India’s captain, MS Dhoni, had used it in the press conference I had reported on.
Two days ago, Lawrence Booth, the editor of Wisden, wrote in the 149th edition of cricket’s bible and the first under his editorship, that cricket “stands at a precipice”, that India have taken it to the edge and have the power to pull it back. He blames the Indian Premier League and the obsession with Twenty20 cricket, “a Pandora’s box masquerading as a panacea”, for diluting the soul of the sport. “Twenty20 is a vital part of a fragile ecosystem. But a playful scrap every few hours can grate, and some administrators appear to be awaiting the second Flood.”
The “prevalence of the two-match [Test] series” has been a result of this, writes Booth – South Africa-Australia and Sri Lanka-England the most recent examples – and Cricket South Africa, Australia and England are as much to blame. India, though, are the most powerful cricket board in the world. They have a duty to cricket. “India have ended up with a special gift: the clout to shape an entire sport. Some national boards would struggle to survive without an Indian visit. But too often their game appears driven by the self-interest of the few… It is a perfect storm. And the global game sits steadily in the eye. India, your sport needs you.”
Booth has expressed an uncomfortable truth; the glamour of the IPL will not sustain cricket and that the mad rush for instant satisfaction and the quick buck is undermining the ethos of the sport. Let us hope he is not merely slated in India, but has stirred some there into thought and, perhaps, action.