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August 22, 2011 7:42 pm
Sport and business may often be uncomfortable bedfellows. The recent problems at Fifa, the world football’s governing body, have demonstrated how difficult it is for sport to be run as a business. However, the cricket Test series between England and India demonstrates that sport can provide instructive lessons about how to use money to maximise resources and produce a winning formula.
This series saw England not only become the top Test nation in the world but also humiliate India, winning all four matches. Not even the most optimistic of English fans could have hoped for such a result. Bookmakers, who always have a shrewd idea about such things, were so convinced this was unlikely that, at the beginning of the series, they were offering odds of 25-1 against such an outcome.
The English triumph, and more so the scale of the victory, is remarkable given that India has been the number one Test country since 2009. Only three months previously, India also won the 50-over World Cup, something England has never achieved. The triumph is all the more remarkable because, as has been well-documented, India is the money bags of world cricket.
The Indians generate 80 per cent of all world cricket’s income. Such is the appetite for the game in that country that any Indian tour generates huge income for the host nation. The Indian tour of England will earn the English cricket board a pot of money through the sale of television rights back to India.
The money allure of the Indians even extends to what are essentially practice matches as the experience of Northamptonshire this summer shows. The Midlands county staged a two-day match for the Indians. It did not even count as a first-class match. Yet the county made a profit of £100,000, far in excess of anything they had ever made for such matches, and much more than most of their bread-and-butter county cricket matches, which lose money. The county last year made an overall loss of £27,000. Northants are not the only club losing money. The English county game is not profitable, most counties barely break even and are only kept alive by the subsidy they receive from the international game.
So how has England overwhelmed its richer Indian opponent? The English trick has been to realise how best to maximise what resources it has. County cricket may attract the proverbial two old men and a dog but that has been turned into an advantage. This has been done by converting it into a marvellous finishing school, producing players of high quality to represent the national team. Once they are deemed good enough to play for England, they are given central contracts and after that rarely ever play for their county. They concentrate on England and make sure they showcase their country to the best possible advantage to an international audience, just as England have done so brilliantly this summer. It is as if a company were to take one of its old plants, once profitable but now no longer so, and convert it into a research and development operation producing products that can be successfully marketed.
India in contrast has gone in exactly the opposite direction. In the Indian Premier League, the Indians have one of the most successful domestic sports competitions in the world. TV rights have been sold for billions of dollars and cricketers can earn a few million dollars for six weeks’ work, the sort of wages that not even footballers at the highest level of the game can aspire to.
But, far from using this money well, the Indian cricket authorities have allowed a rich caste of cricketers to develop whose primary loyalty is to mammon rather than to the national cause. So Virender Sehwag, one of India’s best batsmen, delayed his shoulder surgery in order to play in the IPL. The result: he missed the first two Tests and was clearly not fully fit when he did play in the series. The Indian board allowed this state of affairs, something the English cricket authorities would never have tolerated. In Indian cricket the talk is always about the eyeballs its product attracts on TV not on how the money could be best used to further the game.
The result has been that India, the rich man of cricket, has proved that money on its own is not enough to win sporting success. It needs to be used properly and methodically, otherwise a less wealthy competitor like England will triumph. In the retail trade, the superstore may always overwhelm the corner shop. But a smartly run sports corner shop, which knows exactly what it is doing, can beat a badly organised sports superstore.
The writer is an author and broadcaster whose book “The Spirit of Sport” will be published by Constable and Robinson in January
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