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It's just not cricket

Happy new year sports economists.

Australia and India are halfway through a four game series of Test Cricket. Whether the series is completed will depend upon the outcome of an appeal against a finding of racisim made against one of the Indian cricketers in the recently completed 2nd Test in Sydney.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (the national governing body, abbreviation BCCI) has threatened to cancel the tour if the three Test suspension of Indian player Harbhajan Singh for racist remarks (allegedly) made towards Australian player Andrew Symonds in the 2nd Test is not overturned. Counter-claims from the Indians argue that Symonds may have sledged Singh first. There is a history of bad blood between the two players. On the 2007 Australian tour of India, Singh (allegedly) vilified Symonds, which, when made public, prompted Indian crowds to join in the vilification en-masse.

The world governing body for cricket, the International Cricket Council (ICC), has already responded to pressure applied by the BCCI by replacing the umpires for the 3rd Test, due to commence next Wednesday in Perth. The BCCI had demanded that umpire Steve Bucknor (from the West Indies) be replaced. Bucknor officiated in Sydney and was central to several questionable (ie bad) decisions.

From an economic perspective, the interest lies in the immense economic power of India and the governance structure of the ICC. Evidently the broadcasting rights from India represent the vast bulk of ICC revenue (I don't have figures to confirm this, but some reports have suggested that 70% of all ICC revenue comes from India). The ICC itself has a byzantine governance structure and, it would seem, little capacity to properly take chage of international cricket by reforming the governance structure to ensure that nations (India in this case) can't use the threat of 'taking their bat & ball and going home' when they don't like the umpire's decision.

There have been some bemusing elements to this saga:

- The Australian Test Cricket Team equalled the world record of 16 consecutive victories in the just-completed Sydney Test.

- Prominent members of the 'Sport Australia Hall of Fame', with America's Cup winning skipper John Bertrand leading the charge, have declared themselves moral arbiters and lodged a complaint with the Australian governing body Cricket Australia (CA), in suggesting that the Australian team plays the game too hard by engaging in verbal intimidation of opposing teams and players ('sledging' - is that term used in the US?):
http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23030424-2882,00.html

- Indian citizens have been burning photos, if not effigies, of the Australian players and the umpires, while Indian Test Cricket captain Anil Kumble has been declared 'cricket's new statesman' by one Indian newspaper:
http://cricket.indiatimes.com/Hail_Anil_crickets_new_statesman/articleshow/2690922.cms
http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/080107/2/x8vb.html?event=photos_sports

- The parents of Australian Test Cricket captain Ricky Ponting have been forced to change their phone number after receiving threatening messages:
http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23030460-11088,00.html

Here are a couple of general links to Australian and Indian websites for competing views and summaries of the matter:
http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23035596-11088,00.html
http://www.foxsports.com.au/cricket/
http://cricket.indiatimes.com/

Can the current economic and governance structure of cricket survive such challenges to the credibility of the sport and the ICC? What should be the structure of cricket? And how on earth would one push through any changes to improve the current structure?

(Disclosure: I teach a sports law subject with ICC CEO Malcolm Speed. My views here are independent of Malcolm's or the ICC's).