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Cricket and the Olympics present a sporting relation that baffles and fascinates at the same time. The Olympic movement would love to include cricket in its fold. Yet, the people in charge of international cricket happen to find the idea unappealing.
Cricket was once part of the Olympics, though its inclusion in the early days of modern Olympics was thought to be a joke. Back in the Paris Games in 1900, a cricket match was played between Great Britain and France. The British team was a touring club side; the French one was made of English expats. Never has Olympic gold been so easily earned.
The modern story of cricket’s returning to Olympics is very different. I had an insight into this when, a year ago, I went to Lausanne to interview Jacque Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee. He said, “Whenever I can, I catch some cricket on television. When I work at my office, whether at home or here, I put the telly on and I have a Test or a one-day match on. I work and once in a while I hear a big roar and I know something has happened—an lbw or a run out, and I watch the replay.”
Rogge’s high regard for cricket dates from the time when the 70-year-old, seen as the most powerful man in international sport, went to stay with relatives in Cornwall, England. “I was 12 or 13, this was sometime in 1956 or ’57. It was on the lawn of their house. They showed me the stumps and gave me a bat. It was not a proper pitch but it gave you a feel for the game.” Conscious of a delicious irony, the Belgian added, “Yes, they introduced me to French cricket, but I didn’t know it was called that...I can’t play cricket, but I know the rules. I love the game. I have watched Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Pietersen, Shane Warne, all of them. It’s tactically very interesting, a game of patience, a game of great skills and the only sport where, after five days, you can have a draw!” Rogge added: “We would welcome an application. It’s a sport with a great tradition.”
Yet, the keepers of cricket’s sacred flame at the ICC have no desire to apply. Partly this is because Indians—who, as moneybags of the game, have an influence over it—would not like it to be subject to IOC discipline. Yet it also does not find favour with David Collier, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board. The Olympics are held at the height of summer, in the middle of the English season. In an Olympic year this would pose major problems for English cricket.
Indeed, despite the fact that there is no cricket at the London Olympics, such has been the dislocation that the Test series with South Africa sees the Oval—traditionally the venue for the last Test—host the first Test. Lord’s, which will host the archery competition, is forced to move the summer Test to late August.
Now, you can argue that if baseball could have been present at many previous games, why not cricket? Because, baseball does not have to present a lesser form of the game to be part of the Olympics. In cricket’s case, as Rogge himself admits, Olympics cricket would not be Test cricket. It would have to be the limited overs variety, possibly Twenty 20.
This would strike at the very idea of Olympic competition. The ideal of the Olympics is that the best compete against each other. The Test format is the highest form of cricket. T20 cricket is masala cricket; to have that at the games would mean a mere tamasha at the world’s greatest sports meet. It would devalue both cricket and Olympics.
But, rugby sevens, which is not the full version of the game, will be coming to the Olympics, so why shouldn’t T20? But this is where India comes in.
Rugby wants the Olympics because it is a useful way of reaching out to a global audience. However, with millions watching in India, cricket has no lack of appeal. We do not need masala Olympics cricket to make it more popular.
The author’s latest book, The Spirit of the Game, is out in paperback; Follow Mihir Bose on Twitter@mihirbose