Is Test cricket dying?
Why do West Indies, New Zealand play nowhere near enough Test matches as England or Australia?
Why do only 10 teams play Test cricket?
Why is cricket not at the Olympics?
Is T20 cricket steadily eroding the values of the traditional sport?
Is BCCI’s considerable clout in the ICC affecting the global game?
These are among questions that all cricket followers have discussed at some point, even if it has no definite conclusion.
The answers, it turns out, are nowhere near as neat or gentlemanly as the gentlemen’s game, as is seen in the documentary Death of a Gentleman.
Directed by Sam Collins, Jarrod Kimber and Johnny Blank, this award-winning investigative/sports film has stirred the cricket fraternity and fans for the grim reality it has laid bare. Cricket, in today's time is very unlike the pristine whites it's often played in and the recent dealings of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the game's governing body, shrouded in secrecy, are a cause for concern. DOAG released internationally in August 2015 and won the Television Sports Documentary of the Year at the prestigious Sports Journalists' Awards.
The film began as an exploration of if (and why) Test cricket is dying, but soon became an investigative documentary about the ICC and it’s management of the game. From the dominance of the ‘Big Three’ (the three richest cricket boards i.e. India, England, Australia) to the restrictive policies of the ICC, the filmmakers unraveled several threads that revealed just how murky the game’s administration is.
The documentary, shot over a period of four years, begins with the 2011 Boxing Day Test (remember the one where India were decimated?) and follows various Test series, the Indian Premier League (IPL), 'secret' ICC meetings, and fixing scandals. On the road to get answers, they talk to numerous people – from players like Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen, Rahul Dravid, to commentators like Ian Chappell, Mark Nicholas, Harsha Bhogle, Michael Holding, and even administrators including former BCCI chief N Srinivasan, former chairman of England and Wales Cricket Board Giles Clarke and former IPL boss Lalit Modi – with varying degrees of satisfaction.
While the players accept that the game has changed, the administrators remain amazingly obtuse. England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief Giles Clarke, particularly stands out thanks to his blatantly snobby attitude towards the filmmakers and their subject. But the biggest plot twist comes in the form of IPL boss Lalit Modi and David Becker, the former legal affairs head of ICC. From ambiguous responses, a sense of secrecy and controversial decisions from people in power, one gets an overwhelming feeling that what’s going on, in Kofi Annan’s words, is ‘just not cricket.’
The film’s narrative weaves alongside the sadly short-lived career of Australian Test batsmen Ed Cowan. Cowan, one of those rare Test-technical cricketers who think about the sport in an almost romantic manner. (He even wrote a piece titled When cricket is like being in love.) In this regard, DOAG answered at least one question - Why a player of Cowan’s caliber was dropped?
Cinematically, the film is well shot and tightly edited with each new angle revealed in a fluid manner, interspersed with non-linear narration that is edgy and steadily paced. The writing is especially powerful, a remarkable feat considering the filmmakers' confession that they started out without a concrete script.
However, underneath all this – the interviews, the damning revelations, the technical difficulties and the conflicts – the heart of the film is that the gentleman is indeed dying. And the gentleman in question here is not just Test cricket, but cricket as a global game.
No major sport is without scandal today, Sepp Blatter’s dealing with Fifa, tennis has been battling a betting controversy, athletics has been mired with doping allegations. But as one of the filmmakers and well-known cricket journalist Jarrod Kimber says, despite the corruption, these sports are still growing and there are numerous countries still playing it. But in cricket, of the 105 countries playing the sport, only 10 take part in the highest level and of them, only three gain the largest advantage.
There are several instances to back this up; the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) being too debt-ridden to pay players, the pay dispute between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the players that spilled onto the recent World T20, India reducing the 2013 tour to South Africa resulting in a heavy loss for Cricket South Africa (CSA). DOAG sheds light on these and several such reasons why cricket’s governing body and concentration of power is detrimental to the game's greater good.
But there is a bright side to the 'death' or 'dearth' of gentlemen's cricket - the changes that have taken place in the recent past. As Kimber pointed out, the Supreme Court's appointment of the Lodha Panel for recommendations to the BCCI and Giles Clarke being called before the UK Parliament are positive signs. The Lodha Committee and subsequent reforms such as the appointment of an inexpedient CEO may not be a direct outcome of the DOAG but the change is definitely creeping in. Kimber hopes that the documentary can be instrumental in helping the panel and other such bodies to regulate these changes.
In the end, it brings us to another question asked in the documentary by veteran journalist Gideon Haigh in the documentary, “Does cricket make money in order to exist or does cricket exist in order to make money?"
The answer is almost in the film again. 'That I wont accept', Srinivasan tells Collins and Kimber when asked about BCCI's domination. And this should be the phrase on every cricket fans’ mind after seeing the film – this death (or decline) of cricket’s core structure I won't accept.
As Kimber says, this is a story that needed to be told and we couldn't agree more, Death of a Gentleman is a story that every cricket fan needs to know.
You can watch Death of a Gentleman for Rs.99/- exclusively on TVFPlay here: http://bit.ly/DOAGOnTVFPlay