Inside the International Cricket Council’s corridors of power: Different, but same same

Shashank Manohar's appointment as the new head of world cricket was announced in such mundane, time-honoured fashion, perhaps a recognition that neither is his election the start of the dismantling of the Big Three’s world, nor is it the end.

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The headquarters of the International Cricket Council (ICC) last Thursday morning looked no different, still airy, glistening and exuding the constant recycling newness and nowhereness of hotels and airports. They smelt no different. Within its walls, they did not sound much different either. Except, of course, that they could no longer be the same.

On Thursday morning, the ICC announced in a press release that Shashank Manohar had been elected unopposed and unanimously in a secret ballot as the new ICC president.

Somebody with a sense of humour – or a simpler sense of vindication or hyperbole – might have been tempted towards an alternative release, a mock obituary: “In affectionate remembrance of the Big Three, which died in Dubai on May 12, 2016, deeply lamented by a small circle of three sorrowing men and no friends and acquaintances. RIP.”

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Manohar is in, N Srinivasan is out, nursing his wounds, maybe biding his time. Wally Edwards has wandered off into the sunset, pleased, you suspect, to be walking away from the mess he helped create. Giles Clarke ... well he is around but one senses, or wishes, a little deflated of the hot air that has propelled his ICC days.

Thursday, of course, was just one day. If such a potentially significant development was announced in such mundane, time-honoured fashion, then perhaps it is in recognition that neither is Manohar’s election the start of the dismantling of the Big Three’s world, nor is it the end.

Earlier in the week Manohar had descended from one position as the unacknowledged head of the cricket world as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI so that he could ascend to another, as the acknowledged head of the cricket world at the ICC.

Already that is one of the critical corrections of the previous regime, that the ICC head must not be at the same time an official of a member board so avoiding any potential conflict of interest. An Indian is in charge of the ICC but, in theory at least, the BCCI is not.

To Manohar’s credit, he has pushed quickly on that amendment. It was only last November, after all, when he arrived in Dubai for the first time as the ICC head who replaced Srinivasan and immediately realised the tangled interests in play.

On the sidelines, as the BCCI head, he was also meeting the Pakistan cricket chairman Shaharyar Khan to try to break the logjam preventing a bilateral series between India and Pakistan. As a BCCI official, he did not want the series played in the UAE. But as the ICC head, he had to bear the best interests of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in mind as well, interests that were counter to those of the BCCI.

“Today was the first day I went to ICC office,” he said at the time, when asked about this conflict. “So give me at least some time.”

Much else needs to be undone, not least, the financial revenue distribution system put in place in 2014. The ICC is making a point of the fact that it considers Manohar to be its “first elected independent chairman”. That independence will be fully tested in Manohar’s attempts to, if not entirely undo then partially scale back the revenue model that further stretches the inequality between the wealthiest and poorest boards.

The change to that amendment, it has been sensed among some members, will not come so easy. None of the three boards of India, England and Australia will want to give up a bigger share of revenue.

Manohar has spoken of the possibility of cutting the BCCI’s share by six per cent but it is not the figure itself that is important. The biggest problem with that revenue model was always its opacity. Nobody knew how the figures had been calculated; indeed, it is clear now they were arrived at arbitrarily, with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) negotiating the BCCI down from an amount they figured they wanted for playing in ICC events.

The BCCI argument that cricket’s economy should be thankful to the Indian market needs, as priority, to be backed up by the kind of economic research that this sport has rarely made public. It has become an accepted wisdom that 70-80 per cent of cricket’s money is generated in India but there is no public research that backs that up, or even explains how such a figure might be measured.

And if such work exists, then it probably does not venture into the terrain that Ehsan Mani, a former ICC head, has done, by pointing out that the BCCI has nothing to do with the size of India’s economy, so to demand to be paid more because of it is, philosophically, problematic.

That, and even greater reform and change, is still some time away. Manohar is clear in that he wants to oversee some of it. That is good to know though in parting, cricket will do well to keep in mind that during Manohar’s first regime at the BCCI between 2008 and 2011, the adversarial equation between the BCCI and the world actually grew.

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