Timing is everything in cricket. BCCI president Anurag Thakur’s statement on Friday, that he’d ask the ICC not to place India and Pakistan in the same group at the Champions Trophy in England and thus ensure that their 4 June 2017 clash does not take place, is a veiled threat so superbly timed that it would take out two birds with one stone.
Thakur, an MP of the ruling BJP, said this "request" was “in view of the public sentiment in the country.”
“Looking at the current situation between both countries it is not advisable to have India and Pakistan in the same group of Champions Trophy, as there could be situation like we had in India during India vs Pakistan T20 World game in Dharamshala where we had to shift the game at the last moment,” he said.
“I will be suggesting to the ICC in our next meeting in October in South Africa that it will be better if we don’t have the two teams in the same group.
“We (BCCI members) felt that it will be better to inform ICC nine months in advance,” he added.
While he made all the right noises at the press interaction, it was the threat emanating from the statement which made it a lot more than merely reacting to events following the Pakistan-backed terrorists attack on the Army camp in Uri.
Thakur’s veiled message is timed just before the ICC meet which is expected to take up a number of issues, including bundling of matches for overseas television rights – which the BCCI is against.
Additionally, the BCCI is furious that the ECB has been sanctioned $135 million to host the 17-day 15 matches Champions Trophy whereas India received a paltry $45 million for the 27-day, 58 matches World T20 Championship held earlier this year in India. This apart, reports suggest the ICC is putting up a building in London for the event and the same will be handed over to the ECB after the tournament. More reason for BCCI to see red.
BCCI is also peeved that the ICC was not reacting to the Lodha Committee “interference” with the alacrity it did when other countries Boards were pressurized by their governments in the recent past.
The BCCI feels that the ICC is working against Indian cricket’s interests and hence seeks to do some course correction.
Cricket's cash cow
To understand the import of Thakur’s statement, a brief backgrounder would be needed. Following the horrendous flop show of the 2007 World Cup, the ICC took over the World T20, Champions Trophy and 50-over World Cup events.
Till then, these properties (barring Champions Trophy) belonged to the host nation. In 2007, West Indies were the hosts but suffered massive losses after India and Pakistan, who were expected to clash in the Super Eight in Barbados, failed to get past the group stage. India’s exit triggered a humongous drop in interest, television ratings, advertisements and the ripple effect was passed on to tourism and associated industries. West Indies Cricket Board is yet to recover from the losses. But the cricketing world learnt a very important lesson – a tournament’s success depended on India.
Subsequently, ICC, which took control of cricket’s world events, deferred to this truth by accepting television channels’ demand for marquee matches at every world event.
These marquee matches had to be meaningful ones and not inconsequential clashes which had no bearing on the teams or the tournament. The best possible way to hype up the entire tournament, it was felt, was by holding the marquee match right up front and by giving all stake holders plenty of time and opportunity to play it up in every way possible.
Certainly no marquee match in cricket could be bigger than an India vs Pakistan clash, and hence the Champions Trophy schedule was drawn to have this match at the start (4 June, Birmingham) and the allotment of tickets for the match through a Powerplay (lottery with clauses) system is set to take place this month.
Thakur’s statement now puts that marquee match tickets, advertisement spots on television, hotels and a whole lot of other sales in jeopardy. The public mood in India is largely not in favour of playing against Pakistan anywhere at any time. If Thakur feeds that frenzy, ICC’s marquee match and the revenues it was expected to bring, would be hit for a six.
The ICC, thus, is being forced to the negotiating table. Of course the complete boycott of Pakistan would certainly send that nation’s cricket into a tailspin.
Thus Thakur’s demand, while it is unprecedented, is designed to hit the ICC, ECB and conspiring cricketing boards where it hurts. This has the potential to snowball – keep watching this space.