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Rebel league a real threat to ICC

The Sex Pistols poster kept falling off the wall because the Blu-Tack wouldn’t stick, and the communal bathroom facilities left a bit to be desired, but by and large I have nothing but happy memories of my accommodation in my university hall of residence.

  'Rebel' league could give ICC a run for their money
The way forward: Kapil Dev

And rather bizarrely, it was in that communal wash area that I first heard the news about Kerry Packer – one of my fellow students rushing in and announcing to the world, “have you heard about what’s happening with Tony Greig?”

Back in May 1977, cricket was heading out of sport’s Premiership and in to non-league. Packer’s announcement that he had signed up more than 30 of the world’s best players, including Greig, the England captain, for his ‘rebel circus’ reinvigorated the game to the point where three decades on, we have the multi-million dollar business that Test and one-day cricket has become. But beware. Is Packer Two on the horizon?

If you’ve been following events in India over the past few weeks, you’ll be aware that Kapil Dev, one of the iconic figures of the game on the sub-continent, is the figurehead of a breakaway competition, the Indian Cricket League (ICL), which is restoring the word ‘rebel’ to cricket’s vocabulary.

Bit by bit, one or two well-known players are signing up for the league, and while, as things stand, it doesn’t have the international game quaking in its boots, at the same time it is firing a warning shot across the International Cricket Council’s bows, and they ignore it at their peril.

India is the new power base of cricket, certainly in terms of wealth, and in particular media wealth. Politically, the sub-continent is a volatile part of the world, and that volatility is reflected in the machinations of the cricket authorities, but be in no doubt that there are individuals with Packer-esque current accounts, who will be watching the ICL’s fortunes with great interest.

This domestic battle between Dev and the Indian cricket authorities could have huge ramifications for the international game as a whole with, just as 30 years ago, television rights at its heart. This after all, is a sport that contrived, despite all the business acumen that has come into cricket in recent years, to organise possibly the least impressive World Cup ever staged.

It’s almost impossible to imagine – actually it is impossible to imagine – a football World Cup bombing in Brazil, or a Rugby World Cup failing in New Zealand. Well the ICC took cricket’s equivalent to the West Indies and made it a laughing stock.

This is a sport in which not all of the national cricket authorities have become as commercially and financially astute as they should have been as the game has expanded.

This has left it, and its star names, vulnerable to the threat of a big-money take-over, if the price is right. You can guarantee that in Mumbai and Delhi there were individuals who watched the shambles unfold in the Caribbean, and thought – knew – that they could do better.

The politics of cricket still straddles uneasily the black/white divide. The game’s leaders at Lords and in Sydney may publicly say they don’t regard the ICL too seriously, but they must know that even a glimmer of success for Dev’s operation, will perhaps open the door to the really big hitters who can see a sport ripe for further development outside the existing structure.

Dev says the best thing to do is just “wait and watch.” But the game needs to watch with its eyes wide open.

The ICL could turn out to be a complete catastrophe, with the rug pulled from under its feet by a unified front from all the main Test-playing countries. It could equally, in a cricket-mad nation, be setting the standard for taking the sport to a new level.

These days, it’s not semi-naked students rushing into bathrooms that break news, but 24-hour television and mobile phone text-alerts. The effect is the same though. And while 30 years on, student bathroom facilities still border on the disgusting, the ICC must ensure they’re not complacent about the threat at their door.

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