"Death of a Gentleman"
This is a film about power the effects of which, Lord Acton summarised famously like this:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
We follow two young cricket fans and tyro writers Brit Sam Collins and “larrikin” Aussie Jarrod Kimber (shown at a screening in London) as they journey around the world in search of the heart of cricket, especially Test cricket. What they find is a heart that is diseased and beating (just) to artificial and alien stimuli that unless something radical happens will overwhelm and kill it.
Early in the film we see the Rev. Andrew Wingfield Digby once “spiritual adviser” to the England cricket team (!) who extols the “Spirit of Cricket” – a spirit that revolves around integrity and honesty. As we progress we realise that these values have vanished, at the top of the administrative tree at least, to be replaced by power, ambition and greed. 140 years of international cricket history is being buried in that urban monument to greed and avarice Dubai – the home of the “International Cricket Council”.
Test cricket is the foremost casualty – the supreme form of the game is unique because (as Ian Chappell puts it) it is the only form of the game that is “not just about winning”. He means the draw I think, but also that “taking part” in a Test match has elements to it that simply do not and cannot apply in the overcrowded and transient world of limited overs cricket. This truism we see charmingly with the arrival at the top of Aussie opening batsman Ed Cowan who makes his Test debut at the MCG and later scores a hundred against South Africa at Brisbane before, sadly, his career hits brick wall in his first Ashes Test Match at Trent Bridge in 2013. He hasn't played international cricket again. He features strongly in the film because whilst the head honchos of the game plot in their own interests this young man revels in the delights of the game itself and what it can offer. He is a metaphor for the sprit of cricket and a real reference against which the darker side of cricket can be judged.
The late Tony Greig was interviewed and asked about T20. He says that “The world has got faster” hinting at the instant gratification that comes from a couple of hours of “Cricket’s new zeitgeist”. (There is a bit of symbolism also in the competition between Cowan and David Warner to open the innings for Australia. Utterly different players - and it’s the practitioner of the zeitgeist who ultimately gets the nod not the slow and patient Cowan).
So what of the administrators? We get a clue of the myopia and delusion at the top with Cricket Australia's James Sutherland who says “Test Cricket is in fantastic shape” . Contrast that with the view of West Indies veteran commentator Tony Cozier who says poignantly when talking about the decline and penury of West Indies cricket “The administrators [at the ICC and elsewhere] don't care about West Indies cricket”. The “fantastic shape” Sutherland refers to applies only to India, England and Australia. Elsewhere Test cricket is being lost in the tornado of greed and excess that is the Indian Premier League, the mind-set of those who run it, and their sponsors the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI). Test Nations other that the three big players are “virtually bankrupt” and for them playing Test cricket makes little financial sense.
Of those at the top at the time the film was being made the then CEO of the ICC Haroon Lorgat was the only one to take seriously the criticism of the governance of cricket that was already rife. He commissioned the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf to prepare a report into the governance of cricket. This immensely thorough and meticulous 68 page report was published in February 2012. It was summarily rejected by the ICC and Lorgat left his job and returned to South Africa shortly afterwards. It was not just the ICC and, of course, the BCCI that found the Woolf report made uncomfortable reading. Giles Clarke, Chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), rubbishes it in the film. He not only denies that the report was a correct report on the status quo and dismisses its recommendations (“nonsense”). He also suggests that Woolf didn't “understand” because he was not a cricket insider. (Echoes here of the ECB’s reference in another context to those “outside cricket”!).
Haroon Lorgat was not the only principled casualty of the ICC’s determination to close ranks. One of the most impressive voices on the film is that of David Becker for some years the ICC’s “Head of Legal”. He resigned when he saw a dysfunctional pattern of governance emerging. One of the signs of this, he says, is the way that the BCCI president “N. Srinivasan and his backers were controlling world cricket” . Srinivasan is at the heart of the problem of cricket governance. His company India Cements owns Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise team Chennai Super Kings and he is currently being investigated regarding betting on IPL cricket matches and his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan has been indicted for passing inside information to bookies and is in custody. Srinivasan became the first chairman of the ICC On 26 June, 2014.
Another casualty of the ICC’s control of everything was Tim May. In June 2013, the first chief executive of Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA) FICA stepped down citing a lack of willingness in the International Cricket Council to bring in governance changes to tackle 'corruption and malpractice' within professional cricket. May says that the players “will go where the money is” and that this is contributing to the lack of balance between Test cricket and the IPL.
The IPL started in 2008 and is now without question the financial powerhouse of the game. Australian journalist Gideon Haigh sums up the impact of the IPL in the film with the question “Does cricket make money in order to exist, or does it exist in order to make money” – the IPL suggests that it is the latter. Similarly in the same year the American entrepreneur Allen Stanford and the ECB did a deal for a $20m one off “winner takes all” T20 match in Antigua. In the film Giles Clarke is asked about this event but refuses to comment. It is, he says “irrelevant” and that he “doesn't talk about it”. One can see why - Mr Stanford was at the top of a giant Ponzi scheme and is now in jail having sold the ECB down the river.
The legal smell around world cricket is not confined to Stanford, the IPL and other dodgy activities. An example of how power is exercised was in respect of the refusal of the BCCI to let the Indian team fulfil in full its planned 2013/14 tour of South Africa. This was seen by some as a punishment by the ICC/BCCI of Haroon Lorgat (by now South Africa’s cricket CEO) for what he tried to do to shift the ICC towards better governance (Woolf etc.). A shortened tour meant a big loss in revenue for the South African board of around R200 million (US$ 20m) so the punishment, if that is what it was, hit them where it most hurt.
The idea that cricket might become an Olympic sport was actively canvassed and had much support – especially in countries where the lack of finance inhibits the sport expanding. Unsurprisingly the ICC was against the idea “A complete non starter” says Giles Clarke principally because, he says, it would interfere with the English cricket season! (I kid you not). Around the same time as their refusal to support this expansion of the game the ICC reduced the number of participants in the 2019 World Cup from 14 to 10! How many sports, asks Gideon Haigh, are shrinking and actually want to contract? Good question!
Allen Stanford said that “Sport is entertainment” but the film asks whether, when money becomes the be all and the end all, T20 tournaments such as the IPL are really cricket – or even sport - at all. When N. Srinivasan says “We believe in Test Cricket” it is hard to believe him – his eyes suggest something else. Another gem is when he says that when the ICC members sit at the table “We are all equal” – well we know from Animal Farm what that means ! He sits personally on a pile of conflicts of interest so high it is barely believable, but he is the Executive Chairman of the International Cricket Council. Go figure!
So who is cricket actually for these days? The film gives a list. The administrators (obviously); broadcasters; Sponsors; elite players; advertisers – they are the ones who benefit from the “monetisation of the game” as Gideon Haigh puts it. What about the spectators? Former IPL Chairman and founder Lalit Modi appears in the film and argues that the IPL was for the fans. He is a fierce critic of the current world cricket set up. He has his reasons for that of course and the whole relationship between Modi and the BCCI is a mire it’s perhaps better not to enter. Suffice to say much of what Modi says rings true and he could hardly be regarded as an uninformed spectator!
At the end of the film we here the voice of Lord Woolf saying with sadness “If you dine with the devil use a long fork”. There are those at the top of cricket gorging themselves with the devil and it’s ruining the game. The producers of “Death of a Gentleman” have the ambition to use it to launch a campaign to Change cricket and to try and restore the values it once had. Those who love the game will wish them well.