Death of a Gentleman is a film about power and greed. As one of its co-directors Jarrod Kimber says, “this is not about cricket but about life and the things people love.”
The film, made by Kimber and his fellow cricket fanatic Sam Collins, tells how the game they love has been taken over by the three cricketing superpowers: England, Australia and, most powerful of all, India. One of the likely outcomes of this greedy grab is the death of Test Match cricket – the “Gentleman” of the title. The battleground is clear. It’s Test cricket versus Twenty20, the big three countries against the rest, money against sport. Where you position yourself on those conflicts will depend on how you answer the question posed in the film: does cricket make money in order to exist or does it exist in order to make money?
The filmmakers are in no doubt about the answer; they have travelled the cricketing continents in order to highlight how those who now run cricket are obsessed with power and wealth rather than the spread of the game worldwide. Although it is the second most popular game in the world, cricket is unique amongst major sports in that it is contracting in terms of its global spread. The power grab by the big three countries saw them take effective control of the ICC, the body that runs world cricket. It is also a money seizure in that those three will now hang on to more of the game’s wealth (52%) and pass less to the smaller nations. The amount set aside for the growth of the game has decreased from 25% of revenues to just 9%.
Furthermore, it is well known that national governments will invest large sums to develop Olympic sports. But any question of seeking to get cricket into the Olympics is viewed negatively by the big three for largely parochial reasons. Giles Clarke, former chairman and now president of the England Cricket Board (ECB), is unequivocal when interviewed in the film: “It would have an enormous economic impact on the game in this country. It’s a complete non-starter. We’re not going to be playing Olympic cricket for men.”
Viewers of this film will not find it difficult to spot those who Collins and Kimber see as the baddies and those who are the designated good guys. In the former category are Clarke, who comes across as arrogant, pompous and narrow minded and N Srinivasan, previously Chairman of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and now Chairman of the ICC. In the latter group are writer Gideon Haigh, lawyer David Becker who resigned on principle from the ICC and former ICC head Ehsan Mani. Also there is Baron Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice. His report on the governance of the ICC basically said that they lacked management and ethics worthy of the sport. It was almost entirely ignored. IPL founder Lalit Modi is a bit of an in-betweener. He is a useful stick with which to beat Srinivasan but his dubious past is mentioned and the purity of his motives is left in doubt.
The story is told with passion and purpose and the film moves along at a lively pace. Boring it is not, at least for those who have any interest in cricket both on and off the field. Of course, it is not perfect. There is a sub-plot documenting the rise and fall of Test cricketer Ed Cowan. It is a moving story of someone who devotes himself to his dream of becoming an Australian Test cricketer. He eventually achieves that dream, has some success – including a Test match hundred – and then sees it all snatched away from him by a combination of form and fate. It is a tale worth telling and it has some links to the main plot. Cowan is a devoted advocate of Test cricket and he experiences all the heights and depths of emotion that the longest form of the game offers. But his story probably takes up slightly too much of the viewing time and delays our next scary encounter with Messrs Srinivasan and Clarke.
It would also have been good if we could have heard more from Rahul Dravid, who much too briefly speaks up for Test cricket. One look on the website of Mr Srinivasan’s company, India Cements, and you will see that two of the company’s Vice Presidents are Rahul Dravid and M.S. Dhoni. He who pays the piper calls the tune. So instead of more from Dravid (164 Tests for India) about the challenge and joy of playing Test cricket, we get the views of Mark Nicholas (no Tests for anyone). And when Srinivasan and Clarke are captured by the cameras, so self-serving and hapless is some of the stuff served up by them that it is rather like shooting fish in a barrel. Srinivasan looks straight at the camera and declares that there are no politics in the BCCI, the body that runs Indian cricket; and you confidently expect (and, let’s be honest, hope) that his pants will instantly catch fire.
As it happens, Srinivasan’s fate has been worse, a case of poetic justice in that his political enemies in the BCCI have relentlessly pursued allegations of corruption and conflict of interest against him. As a result, he has been barred from his role with the BCCI – not that this stops him from hanging on to the role of Chairman of the ICC.
All cricket lovers should see this film, and not just see it and walk away. The film constantly begs the question: “What can I do about this?” Collins and Kimber claim to have the answer. They are starting a Change Cricket campaign – http://www.changecricket.com/ – which they hope will be backed by major figures within the game. Its focus is on ensuring democracy, transparency and accountability in cricket. The aim is to pressurise the ICC to embrace independent governance, as recommended by the Woolf report. This would facilitate:
a reversal of the decision to cut the number of teams at the 2019 World Cup
cricket becoming an Olympic sport
a re-examination of, and change to, cricket’s revenue distribution
It may initially seem like a forlorn hope, such is the grasp that the superpowers and their representatives have on the game. But all campaigns start small and some get bigger. And as the ancient saying goes, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN is in cinemas 7th August.