Eye on India: Big Three model wholly unfair but alternative could lead to costly isolation of BCCI

In this week's column, Dileep Premachandran offers his thoughts on the power struggle underway between international cricket's boards.

ICC chairman Shashank Manohar. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
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Almost a decade ago, as India contemplated abandoning a tour of Australia midway after Harbhajan Singh had been banned for alleged racial abuse of Andrew Symonds, Cricket Australia (CA) bent over backwards to make sure that the two remaining Tests and a triangular one-day international (ODI) series also featuring Sri Lanka went ahead as scheduled.

Even as their own players felt betrayed, the board did all it could to smooth ruffled Indian feathers.

The cynical looked at the bottom line. The figure being bandied about was $60 million (Dh220.4m) — that was how much a curtailed tour would have cost CA. And in the years since, it hasn’t been uncommon for other cricket boards to cite similar numbers when talking of the benefits of an Indian visit.

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Later that same year, a disgruntled Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) official gave me access to the agreement that the board had signed with its broadcast partner. The clause that had offended him clearly stated that SLC would guarantee “X” number of days of cricket against India. Failure to do so would result in only a partial payment being made.

It spoke volumes of the vice-like grip that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had over most of its counterparts across the globe. In that context, the International Cricket Council (ICC) vote from earlier in the week — which cut India’s share of the ICC’s broadcast revenue nearly by half ($570m to $290m) — could be seen as the weak taking a stand in their own interest.

For now, with Indian cricket administration in considerable disarray — an interim Committee of Administrators remains in charge, tasked with implementing the reforms suggested by a Supreme Court-appointed panel — they need not fear a backlash.

But at some point, once the uncertainty lifts and the unhappiness pervading the corridors of Indian cricket power crystallises, there could be a hefty price to pay.

Even CA, though the Big Bash is thriving, could feel the heat. Negotiations with their own players over a new framework for central contracts isn’t going well, and the Ashes are hosted only every four years.

In recent years, some Indian cricket officials had spoken of cultivating their own domestic season, and not touring Australia and South Africa during the Christmas-New Year holiday season.

That was mostly idle talk, but having staged 13 home Tests in 2016-17, India know there is enough appetite for the game on home turf. TV ratings were high, and millions tuned in to the livestream online as well. And that’s without the golden goose that is the Indian Premier League, going strong in its 10th season.

If India reassess those Christmas-New Year tours, either for purely commercial reasons, or in a fit of pique at what they see as others ganging up against them, some cricket boards could be in serious trouble.

Cricket South Africa, for example, stand to gain $39m from the overturning of the Big Three financial model (which was drawn up to ensure the BCCI, CA and the England and Wales Cricket Board earned a majority share in the ICC revenue).

That works out to roughly an extra $5m a year. Assuming that the eight-year stretch would include two potential Indian tours, that’s a huge risk to take.

But it’s not just the financial consequences that cricket-lovers everywhere should be worrying about. The votes, which BCCI officials see as India being isolated, strengthen the go-it-alone fringe in cricket administration.

For a while now, some officials have advocated a longer IPL or two seasons of it, at the cost of international cricket. The blueprint for them is US sport, where teams fight for domestic bragging rights, with little thought given to international competition.

The Big Three model was daylight robbery — with Australia and England willing accomplices — but this course correction which risks alienating India is no better for the game’s future. ICC chairman Shashank Manohar, who once defied India’s captain to prepare a pitch that led to a crushing Indian defeat (against Australia in Nagpur, 2004), has never been a popular man in cricket circles here.

Right now, he’s better off taking up permanent residence in Dubai.

THINGS TO WATCH FOR IN IPL:

The openers are queuing up

Gautam Gambhir is the top-scorer in IPL 10. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

After shoulder surgery, KL Rahul is unlikely to be fit in time for the Champions Trophy. Ajinkya Rahane, who opened with him in India’s last ODI, has been in indifferent form this IPL. Rohit Sharma, who has been a fixture at the top of the Indian order in recent seasons, has been in even worse touch since returning from injury. At the other end of the spectrum, Gautam Gambhir, top scorer in the competition, and Robin Uthappa, also in the top five, have been in red-hot touch for table-topping Kolkata Knight Riders. Shikhar Dhawan, India’s best batsman when they won the Champions Trophy in 2013, is also working his way back to prime form. It should leave the selectors with quite a headache, assuming India even travel to defend the trophy.

Tahir keeps embarrassing the scouts

Imran Tahir is the second-highest wicket taker this IPL season. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

Maybe it was his age that counted against him — he turned 38 a week before the IPL began, but Imran Tahir isn’t just one of the most pleasant cricketers on the circuit. He’s also been consistently excellent in both white-ball formats, and his non-selection in the IPL auction in February was a real eyebrow-raiser. But with Mitchell Marsh injuring himself on the tour of India in March, Rising Pune Supergiant turned to Tahir as a replacement. He hasn’t disappointed, and his superb spell of 3-18 against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Saturday evening took his tally to 13 wickets for the tournament. Only Bhuvneshwar Kumar has taken more. Each wicket, of course, comes with a celebration that’s hard to match.

Rashid keeps flying the Associates’ flag

Rashid Khan is the third-most economical in IPL 10. Money Sharma / AFP

There was a time when some thought the inclusion of cricketers from the Associate nations would be tokenism, and dilute the IPL’s quality. Then, they watched Rashid Khan bowl. Of those that have bowled more than 20 overs this season, only Harbhajan Singh (5.88) and Bhuvneshwar (6.34) have been more economical than Rashid, who has taken 11 wickets while conceding just 6.59 an over. With several IPL stalwarts — Chris Gayle, Lasith Malinga and Shane Watson — on their last legs, Rashid’s success could convince team owners to look beyond the usual suspects.

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