New wine in old battles, as money makes the game go round

The two key words in cricket in recent years have been “context” and “reform”, the latter for off-field activities and the former for the on-field.

These have led to the establishment of the World Test Championship, and to changes in the way the International Cricket Council as well as the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the de jure and the de facto governing bodies of the game function.

Two years ago, Shashank Manohar, the independent chairman of the ICC wrote: “It is no secret that in our recent past the ICC has taken decisions that were not always in the best interests of the game.” The same can be said of the BCCI which has argued that since it had the biggest audience and generated the largest income, it should also get the highest financial returns.

In 2014, along with England and Australia, India presented a new formula to the ICC where this was spelt out. Then came the Supreme Court rulings, the end of Narayanswami Srinivasan’s reign, and for a while, cricket administration in India became inwardly-focussed. India did flex their muscle internationally now and then, though, threatening to pull out of Champions Trophy, for example.

Governance exercise

As far back as in 2012, the ICC commissioned a governance exercise — but the Woolf Report, which suggested 65 recommendations based on best industry practices and a more equitable distribution of funds, was laughed off the table by India. The BCCI continued to believe that reform was for others, those who generated less money and thus had less influence.

Now that the new BCCI has emerged as a version of the old — the office bearers take charge today — some of the old battles are set to resume too. Manohar, who read the signs just before things got really messy domestically and chose to see cricket from the distance and objectivity of the international body, has his role cut out. As the independent chairman, he will have to focus on reform regardless of what happens in the individual national boards.

He has commissioned Cricket Australia chairman Earl Eddings to recommend governance matters for the ICC. The working group with Eddings is significant for not having a representative from India — but one may be added later after the BCCI is in place.

The ICC, by pushing through the draft proposal for a World T20 every year and a 50-over World Cup every three years (for the 2023-2028 cycle) at a meeting in Dubai, a few days before the induction of the BCCI office-bearers, has played the game much like the BCCI itself.

During an in-between phase when the old guard hadn’t relinquished office and the new hadn’t taken charge, the acting-secretary Amitabh Chowdhury flew to Dubai to represent India. This, against the express orders of the Committee of Administrators, and probably following a friendly telephone call. His vote for the draft proposal, or even his abstaining from it was crucial for carrying it through.

Ganguly’s reservations

President-elect Sourav Ganguly is against the three-year cycle for the World Cup. The BCCI is against this and other proposals that will mean a reduction in its earnings if ICC tournaments cut into the days available for international matches, and the proposed ten-team IPL. The CEO of the BCCI, Rahul Johri has sent a list of objections to the CEO of the ICC, Manu Sawhney, saying the changes would not be “prudent”.

The BCCI, which has been fighting the Supreme Court can now go back to fighting the ICC, bullying other countries and threatening to pull out of tournaments or bilateral series. This has been the tried and tested method for some years now. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Bullying, however subtle, was an ICC strategy in the early days too when England and Australia ruled, and enjoyed veto power.

It is difficult to sympathise with the ICC’s current strategy since that body is playing the game in the BCCI manner. Money does this to organisations, apparently relieving them of the responsibility to the sport itself. It gets particularly piquant in this case since India appear ready to carry their domestic politics into the international arena.

The BCCI’s argument is that it cannot be deprived of its revenue stream, which will happen if the ICC increases the tournaments it controls directly. The ICC maintains that as the governing body of the sport, it has a responsibility to look after the interests of all its members. Somehow, by their manner of functioning, neither side can claim the moral high ground.

In 2016, when Manohar took over at the ICC, his first move was to eliminate the concentration of power envisaged by India-Australia-England. As former president, he understands how the BCCI works. But good intentions can be ruined by bad procedures.

Ganguly said when he was elected unopposed that he was surprised at the board politics. If he nurses political ambitions, his new job is good training ground.


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