Hasan Minhaj is back with another ‘India’ episode. This time, again, it’s on one of the top three things that riles up the 1.4 billion of the country – Cricket. The other two being politics and religion of course. The episode titled ‘Cricket Corruption’ aims to highlight the secret underbelly of a game that unites an entire subcontinent, if not the world, and present it to an unsuspecting American audience (sorry Alabama!).
The episode finds Minhaj at his top form and is significantly better than his ‘Indian elections’ episode, which you can read about here. Hasan starts off by setting the context and dives into the history and significance of cricket as a global unifier; a tool of colonial ‘upliftment’ used by the British Empire in the past. As Hasan moves between punchlines on misplaced ‘colonial supremacy’ to the ‘ignorance of United States’ (as usual) of a sport that’s nearly a religion to a significant quantum of the world’s population – the audience gets a deep dive as to why the sport is so important to the ‘brown man’.
Hasan runs the numbers to prove it. The now iconic ‘Patriot Act’ infographic screens show the viewership of a single India-Pakistan match is at 1 billion, which is equivalent to 9 American Super Bowl finals and 52 Game of Thrones finales. That’s how important cricket’s role is in the cultural zeitgeist, beyond the US borders.
Once established, Hasan pivots to the two main focus areas – the global bully that is BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and the giant money-making machine that is the IPL (Indian Premier League). While the episode is titled ‘Cricket Corruption’ Hasan stops just short of hammering in the accusations, focusing instead on data, facts and numbers to strengthen his story. It’s an effective ploy.
Hasan’s questions and inferences are on point. Is BCCI a bully? Yes, look at their ‘power play’ in the last few years. Was Lalit Modi corrupt? But Hasan’s ‘pinch-hitter’ this time isn’t his content; which is top-notch, of course. It’s his candid and hilarious interview with the man himself, Lalit Modi. Lalit Modi, the first of the exiles, lord of the IPL, the breaker of Cricket formats and the godfather of IPL cheerleaders – gives Hasan Minhaj an interview!
Modi is candid, confident, honest (apparently!) and clearly in on the joke. What ensues is one of the most fun interviews of the show, and for those with some context to cricket and the IPL backstory, the segment is a ‘late-night’ comedy coup! That interview by itself covers the price of admission. However, like most ‘Patriot Act’ segments, it is also layered, hilarious and poignant. When Lalit Modi admits his role in galvanizing the power consolidation of the BCCI – it is clear to the viewer who or what the main villain is. It’s not Modi, not BCCI and certainly not the sport or its players. It’s the money – and it has always been the money.
Hasan rounds up the episode with the topic of cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics. Here, he doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the BCCI and their attempts to sabotage cricket’s recognition as an Olympic sport, for fear of losing power, and by extension money. Overall, the episode is incisive, inclusive and quite funny. The tragedy however is, that unlike the subject matter, the content of this episode will never reach the billions it is intended for. Hasan posits that the current state of the sport’s management possibly needs an overhaul – but doubts that will ever happen, given how the balance has already shifted.
But again, it’s not all doom and gloom. The story on the Afghanistan cricket team will melt your heart and make, for a moment, even a ‘cricket atheist’ like yours truly, believe in the power of the sport. That’s the thought Hasan leaves you with – that cricket is and always has been a great unifier and it’s time, the sport is allowed to do so once again, far from the greed of the clergy.