The cricket boards of Australia, England and India have made clear their intentions for how they want cricket to be run. Whether or not that vision is fulfilled, potentially as early as the three-day ICC meeting in Dubai from January 27, depends almost entirely on how the smaller seven act during those meetings, on the sidelines and in boardrooms.
Reaction, at least official, public reaction, from those boards has been almost non-existent. A member of the New Zealand Cricket (NZC) board, Martin Snedden cautiously dipped his toes in the coming whirlpool, telling a newspaper: “Do we have power at the ICC table? Not a hell of a lot. Do we have an ability to influence and persuade? A little bit.
“The critical thing … [we] have to do is identify those things [in the report] that are most critical to us and try and ensure we secure the stability of a playing programme and the stability of revenue that we need.”
It is the kind of line, drawn from self-interest and pragmatism, that a number of the remaining boards The National has spoken to, are also drawing out. A number of them have already held or are in the process of holding internal meetings to discuss the report and its implication
There is clear range of surprise and shock – and anger – not just at the oligarchic nature of the proposals, but also at the surreptitious nature in which the plan was put together by the three boards and pushed on to the rest. “A mafia-style operation,” said one observer.
Some officials of these boards have said they still cannot believe what they have read. (A moment of rare levity in one internal board meeting asked who would be relegated if England, Australia and India finish sixth, seventh and eighth?)
Will there be clear opposition to it, however, at the meeting? It is looking unlikely. The smallest boards – financially – seem resigned to bargaining their acquiescence. To these boards, in practice little would changes under the proposed system.
Carrots aplenty will be dangled at the meeting later this month by the three: bilateral engagements, even it is believed, surrogate-hosting rights for some IPL matches.
What opposition there is - and it may be more stalling than outright opposing - may fall to the next two sides beyond the big three, on and off the field, Pakistan and South Africa.
Cricket South Africa (CSA), in fact, are potential wild cards in all this. Despite having easily the best Test side in the world, they have been ignored in the new plans; their projected share of revenues at every stage sits lower than even that of the Pakistan board.
Most conspicuously, they are also the only board not included as potential recipients of the Test Cricket Fund (for countries where Tests are financially unviable). That snub is difficult to justify but as much as a snub it may be, it is also being seen as yet more bait: do you want to be part of a top four, CSA might be asked, instead of a bottom seven?
The irony, especially after the past six months, is that Haroon Lorgat, CSA’s quarantined chief executive, may emerge as a key figure at some level. Lorgat’s feud with the BCCI has seen him sidelined within his own board from dealing with the BCCI and ICC.
But as the penny drops in his own board about the exact intentions of the big three, it may just galvanise them – and him – into some action. Lorgat was also, not coincidentally, the force behind the Lord Woolf governance review; as a recent ICC chief executive, could he be someone adept enough still to mobilise opinion around him?
Stalling may be an easier option, in asking first for greater clarity about the origins of vast structural changes that, The National understands, if signed off on now, will not be open to change for the next eight years. But even that will require some support.
One of the boards that did raise questions at the first meeting was Pakistan’s, asking questions about the methodology and workings behind the paper. But how sturdy can Pakistan be? They do not play at home, have no traction in engagements with India and a permanent instability within the board means they are in a compromised position themselves.
If it does come to a vote, seven out of 10 will be needed for the proposal to go through. Even to stall some collective mobilisation will be required, none of which, at this moment in time, is apparent. Boards have not been in touch with each other, mostly preferring to iron out their own positions before they arrive in Dubai.
Legal avenues may provide one last hope for those not in line with the report. As some officials point out, the legal mandate of the working party that produced this paper could, potentially, be questioned. It has become clear now that this was not a report produced by the actual nine-member Finance & Commercial Affairs committee of the ICC.
A number of those members, including, The National understands, the ICC chief executive Dave Richardson, were not even aware of the existence of the report. The working group from within that committee, it is believed, comprised only the ECB’s Giles Clarke, CA’s Wally Edwards and the BCCI’s N Srinivasan, who were helped by a number of cricket’s commercial figures, including Dean Kino at CA and Sunder Raman, the chief operating officer of the IPL.
On what basis, might challenge some, were these three drafting and presenting a report of such integral governing significance?
Ultimately, the dilemma facing every single one of the smaller boards was articulated by one official. “Do we endure long-term or take a hit now? We will have our first position on it when we get there, if others support it that is good but we would not want to look back in 20 years and have been part of something that was absolutely not the right thing to do.”
The only other guarantee, as cricket heads for a game-changing few weeks, is, as another put it: “It will get messy.”
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