Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 June, 2010, 12:00am

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? It seems everybody, judging by the meek responses from the International Cricket Council and the ACC, its Asian counterpart, on India's decision to pull out of the cricket competition at November's Asian Games in Guangzhou.

The move, together with the decision to deny associate members like Hong Kong the chance to play at the Asia Cup - which begins on Tuesday in Dambulla, Sri Lanka - proves the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is only concerned about money.

Otherwise, how can you explain these baffling decisions? Backed by the influence and power of a billion-plus marketplace, the big bad BCCI calls the shots. And no one has the guts to tell them what they are doing is detrimental to the interests of the sport.

Cricket will make its Asian Games debut at the Guangzhou showpiece, a move heralded by the ICC and ACC as an important milestone for the development of the sport, not only in Asia, but more importantly in China.

China is the ultimate prize for all sports from cricket and rugby, to basketball and soccer. If gurning and tiddlywinks were mainstream sports, they too would be interested in getting a foothold.

So when the Olympic Council of Asia announced last May that cricket - the flashy Twenty20 version - would be included in the Guangzhou Games roster, everyone from Lords to Kabul was overjoyed.

Here at last was the recognition that would ignite the game across Asia - or so it was hoped. It might still happen, but the absence of the most powerful cricketing body in Asia, and indeed the world, will result in the event losing its lustre.

The BCCI said 'international commitments' were behind the move to withdraw both its men's and women's teams. That's poppycock. Isn't the Asian Games an international commitment?

Couldn't the BCCI have told New Zealand, who are touring India in November, 'Sorry, mate, but we have made a promise to the Asian Games, so can we change the dates?' The Olympic Council of Asia's president, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, described India as one of 'the drivers' for getting cricket included for the first time and vowed their best teams would enter. He has been proven wrong.

It was India who pressed for the Twenty20 format at the Asian Games. Now they have done a U-turn. Why?

One report suggested it might be because the Asian Games comes under the World Anti-Doping Agency's ambit, not because Indian players are on a high, but because of the 'whereabouts' rule.

While India cricket had said it would comply with Wada, its 'whereabouts' clause has been the bone of contention. The controversial rule requires elite athletes to make themselves available for out-of-competition testing for one hour a day, all 365 days in a year.

Indian cricketers last year refused to meet a Wada deadline to comply with the rule, saying it intruded on their privacy and was a potential security risk.

Or is politics the reason for staying away? India and China have fought their fair share of border wars but these days they are more economic rivals. Could it be that age-old animosity caused the people in power to rule the cricket team shouldn't go to Guangzhou and thus give face to China?

Yet money is most likely to be the root of this evil. The Asian Games does not offer any prize money, only a medal. Why bother sending Sachin Tendulkar and company when they can stay at home and draw millions to television? That's a money-spinner.

Money - and an apparent tight schedule - was also the reason why it was decided that associate members wouldn't take part in the Asia Cup next week. This is a major blow to teams like Hong Kong.

Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates qualified for the Asia Cup - if the ACC had gone with the winners and runners-up of the ACC Trophy in 2008 - and had been expecting US$300,000 for participating. This is what the Hong Kong Cricket Association banked the previous time they qualified as proceeds from television sponsorship. US$300,000 is nothing for a big body like the BCCI, but for the HKCA it's the difference between being able to pay its staff on time and running a shoestring development programme. Yet this year the test sides led by India decided to close the door on the minnows to cut the tournament's duration and save time.

It is the dream of every cricketer from smaller nations to play one-day internationals against top-class opposition. The Asia Cup offered this opportunity. But the big boys don't have time for us.

In the meantime they play meaningless triangulars elsewhere. And they create time for the money-driven IPL.

The BCCI has made a big mistake, while Sri Lanka and Pakistan will apparently send second-string sides to the Asian Games - they also have test series at the same time against West Indies and South Africa respectively.

What India and the rest fail to see is that the novelty of playing in an Asian Games should have been used as an opportunity to spread the game across Asia. But then the BCCI does not have the broadcast rights to cricket in Guangzhou and, in the end, this is what matters.

Meanwhile, we have not heard a hint of criticism from the two governing bodies at the BCCI. Which goes to show who calls the shots these days.