The ICC plans on the revamp of international cricket borders on the insidious and unless the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is extremely wary, Indian cricket could have the equivalent of an East India Company exploitation of its resources on its hands in the near future.
The two-tier Test system that the ICC tried to foist on member nations during the six-day long meeting at Edinburgh last week was part of a grand plan to wrest greater control of the game and simultaneously reduce Indian cricket’s ability to generate funds. In the process the BCCI would have been substantially marginalized. It is to India’s good fortune that the smaller countries - Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe - staunchly resisted the ICC’s move to split the Test-playing nations into two leagues.
To get a grasp of ICC’s strategy it is necessary to understand the awesome financial muscle of Indian cricket. Earlier the BCCI was impoverished but when funds flowed in following the liberalization of the Indian economy, they turned the cricketing world on its head by forcing England and Australia to give up their veto in the ICC.
The ICC of those early 1990s was a pauper. It was Jagmohan Dalmiya as the first Indian to head ICC who introduced the ICC Champions Trophy in a bid to shore up the finances of the body. More recently the ICC took control of television and other rights accruing from the World Cup and the World T20 Championships by making them its properties. Earlier the rights to these events were with the respective host nation. The sale of rights to these events where India was the biggest draw, lifted ICC’s profile and made it flush with funds.
But even these are dwarfed by BCCI’s access to television rights. In 2009 it sold Indian Premier League TV rights to Sony for a whopping $1.6 billion and this agreement would run till 2017. Its deal with ESPN-Star is for Rs 3851 crore for Tests, ODIs and T20 matches in India and this is to run from July 2012 to 2018. These deals have contributed to make BCCI extremely wealthy and all its negotiation with the ICC stems from this powerful financial standing.
ICC’s Game Plan
The ICC, during its Edinburgh meeting which was attended by over 50 member countries sought to put in place three important changes:
1. Governance structure (do away with big 3 – India, Australia, England – concept)
2. Cricket structure (Two-tier Test championships, creation of leagues for Tests, ODIs & T20s)
3. Funding structure
Actually all three are inter-connected and have the potential to upset India’s apple-cart.
To start with, the ICC proposes two leagues for Test cricket: the top league of seven teams, all playing in six tours – three home, three away – over a two-year period. The second division league would consist of the rest of the Test countries. These two leagues would have relegation, promotion and play-offs built into them.
In ODIs the proposal is to have 13 nations in the mix with each playing the other on a three-match series either at home or away. This way each nation would play a total of 36 ODIs over a three-year period and the fourth year of the cycle would be dedicated to the World Cup based on rankings from the league.
The third format, the ICC T20 championship would remain in the two-year cycle rather than the four-year one proposed earlier.
The catch here is all these events, Tests, ODIs and T20s, would become property of the ICC which could thus mop up the money from TV rights for matches played in India! And remember this is a humongous amount.
Of course countries would be free to organise bilateral series beyond the ICC events (like the Ashes series, for instance) but the BCCI’s potential to raise funds from TV rights for its matches at home would be greatly compromised as the ICC would have smashed its exclusive hold over matches played in India and also its hold over matches concerning India elsewhere.
The ICC T20 championship would also reduce cash flows to IPL every other year. The damage these changes to media rights for Tests, ODIs, T20 matches could do to BCCI and consequently Indian cricket is enormous. Hence if BCCI walks into the trap, which ICC hopes to spring at its October meeting after failing to do so at Edinburgh, it would do so to the eternal peril of Indian cricket.