“In this world of cricket, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get to control the discourse.”
If Scarface’s Tony Montana was alive and up on his cricket, he’d probably have something like that to say after the reaction on social media of Japan’s 10-wicket defeat to India at the Under 19 World Cup this week.
Bowled out for 41 and chased down by defending world champions within five overs, the result once again provoked several on social media to stick the boot in and criticise a lack of competitiveness between two teams on the global stage.
Many used this flawed example to justify the shrinking of the men’s World Cup to ten teams, among other decisions. Unaware of their unusual qualification path and their story, Japan were defenceless.
Though it took one ESPN Cricinfo social media post to reveal that it might not exactly be the fans’ fault for this backward thinking. When coverage becomes so centred on just a few cricketing countries, the story outside is never heard.
News and match reports are dominated by the ‘Big 3’ markets of Australia, England and India, with their domestic competitions also filling the site with content. A Test series between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe had almost gone unnoticed until an Angelo Mathews double century wrangled some of the attention.
Any university media student can tell you that the most important factor in coverage is who the coverage is owned by. Those within the media oligopoly, like News Corp and ESPN’s owner, Disney, can control the narrative. Outside of the dominant media flow, a contra-flow lays underneath. When a contra-flow team like Japan enter a World Cup against the big boys, errors and inaccuracies stick out like a sore thumb.
There’s no question India dominate world cricket at multiple levels. On the field, they boast a strong side across all three formats, and financially it is well documented that the BCCI take a lion’s share of funding, even before reaping the profits they drive internally. Though it is the more understated facet India controls that truly drives the blinkered perspectives on cricket: its discourse.
While India’s population of almost 1.4 billion people gives them an immediate advantage, the likes of ESPN Cricinfo and Cricbuzz at times only perpetuate the outdated thinking of new teams playing international cricket. Simply, the business model of attracting sub-continental markets forces a focus of attention to delivering content central to the sub-continent.
Media houses with this tunnel vision fail to see cricket’s contra-flows, which happen to include the progress and regression of cricket’s ‘lesser’ Full Members, and the Associates attempting to build the game. Being dubbed ‘minnows’ (a word that needs to be eradicated, but that’s for another time) at this year’s U19 World Cup after being semi-finalists two years ago, Afghanistan used their thumping win over South Africa to remind people where they stand. On the other side of the coin, many still cling to some notion that Kenya stands as one of the biggest challenges in the emerging game. They don’t.
This narrow look on cricket outside the dominant outposts was shown in all its shame by a video by ESPN Cricinfo, attempting to profile the Japanese Under 19 team. More holes in the video than Swiss cheese exposed a lack of knowledge and research; from errors discussing player background, to incorrect information on Associate cricket’s framework. Unfortunately, it also proved that by dominating in its coverage, its indoctrinated readership barely noticed the problems. It only took condemnation from the emerging game’s union of fans, and the Japanese Cricket Association, to call it out. The video was subsequently removed.
The worst part of all this is that ESPN Cricinfo has the leading workhorse in covering Associate cricket in Peter Della Penna, while Cricbuzz features the excellent Bertus de Jong. Anyone who has crossed paths with Peter can attest to his hard work, multitasking as a photographer, writer, and as a statistician for himself, jotting down ball-by-ball details on his trusty yellow notepad. The best part? He plays no favourites. If something untoward plays out, he’s likely to be the first person to call it out. So why, with Peter in the wings, was he not consulted on any Japan coverage? That’s driving a Fiat when you have a Ferrari in the garage.
There is no doubt ESPN Cricinfo has been pioneering in cricket content across three decades, and barring this extreme example, it continues to lead the charge. Though just like leaders in every field, they need to be kept on their toes. Kohli needs Smith. Messi needs Ronaldo. Google Chrome needs Firefox. The free market needs competition to exist. Cricinfo is no different.
As a trickle-down effect of this, other organisations ran stories with the same mistruths. From papers to online publications, blatant factual errors were made, with this video their only source. How can you judge how ‘Japanese’ someone is based off a name alone? The criticism across the board was more xenophobic than factually correct. Since when does your dad’s name solely dictate your nationality? Since when was it a problem to have heritage from more than one country? In this ever-shrinking world, do you know how many people have dual-nationalities, or parents with dual-nationalities?
Every single Japan national team player is Japanese. How do we know? Because they all qualify to play for the country, and it takes an amount of time significant in their upbringing as people for them to do so.
Japan’s performance on the field may not have been inspiring to Full Member superpowers, but for developing nations it is quite the opposite. For a big jump in improvement, only a few things need to be ironed out and fortunately (and in defence of the 16-team format) they are issues that only exposure to the world’s best can fix.
Technically, the entire order showed a good grasp of the game. None of them had faced the pace of the Indian quicks, and it was obvious none had played against a leg-spinner with as much guile as Ravi Bishnoi. Even after watching Bishnoi’s wrong’un frame by frame via replay, many remain baffled as to how he makes the ball turn from off to leg, when there are no obvious changes in comparison to his conventional leg break. Bishnoi already has a US$280,000 IPL contract with Kings XI Punjab and could well take the spinning reigns for his senior team in the next five years. For Japan, it’s taking on that experience and building on it. Japan will never feel they have lost at this tournament. They either win or they learn.
Former South African batsman, now a coach and commentator, HD Ackerman, seconded this sentiment, making comparisons to Japan’s well-documented progress in rugby.
“They came here in 1995 in the Rugby World Cup to South Africa and got beat I think by 145 points against New Zealand,” Ackerman acknowledged during the television broadcast.
“In 2015 they beat South Africa. In the latest World Cup they beat the Irish so the one thing about Japan is they go away and say ‘Right. That’s the standard. This is where we need to get to.'”
Japan lost that rugby match 145-17 in 1995, but Ackerman’s point stands. Everybody’s progress begins with one match. One innings. One experience. And no one can ever be the best until they compete and eventually beat the best.
This is something that cricket’s audience need to realise, or at least re-acquaint themselves with after the inspiring story of Romania’s Pavel Florin in 2019. Someone’s residence or background does not have to be a decisive factor for someone to pick up a bat, nor a divisive factor for someone to criticise their participation in cricket. We might pick up a bat for the first time at 3 or 30, or in Sano instead of Sydney, but we must realise that the feeling of cracking a cover drive or beating someone’s defences brings universal glory. It’s the single superpower the game can have over everyone.
In the game’s coverage though, the responsibility lays on the shoulders of cricket’s gatekeepers, who appear to be at a fork in the road – either sell out and get on the gravy train while being unmasked by everybody else, or provide the coverage that encompasses the world of cricket in all its outposts.
After all, Kohli needs Smith to be great.