“Divide et impera (divide and rule) was the old Roman motto, and it should be ours,” said the Governor of Bombay, Lord Elphinstone while appearing before the commission investigating the 1857 mutiny. Now, 170 years later, Indian cricket is in grave danger of being suckered by the same old colonial policy.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India, the dominant force in the ICC for the past couple of decades, feels that the old Imperial Cricket Council (yes that’s what it was known as) forces are not reconciled to the loss of power and are using every trick to marginalise India in world cricket.
Their most obvious assault is on BCCI’s stream of finances which is dominated spectacularly by telecast rights. To put it in perspective, BCCI’s 10-year deal with Sony for the IPL is close to $3 billion while its five-year deal with Star is close to a quarter of that. In comparison, ECB’s four-year television deal is worth around $400 million while Cricket Australia’s five-year TV contract is for US $ 376 million.
The ploy is to grab part of the huge overseas telecast rights through couched sequences of bundling and therein lies the tale of two-tier Tests, Champions Trophy expenses, exclusion from ICC Finance Committee, Executive committee, etc.
The first signs that the gloves are off in this bitter battle came when the Lodha Committee beleaguered BCCI, through its president Anurag Thakur hit out at ICC chairman Shashank Manohar, immediate past president of BCCI.
Short of accusing him of colluding with forces from England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, Thakur said pretty much everything else: Manohar deserted the BCCI in its moment of crisis; he feathered his own nest by aiding in the change of ICC constitution without taking Board approval or taking it into confidence and that after using the BCCI to get to the post of ICC Chairman he was working against the interests of the BCCI.
Manohar in his defence said that he was ICC’s independent chairman and thus had to look after the interests of 105 countries and that it was not for him to cater to BCCI’s interests.
But that line of argument sounds strange considering that the ICC Chairman while speaking for other countries does not sound too enthusiastic about protecting the interests of his largest and most influential asset. Surely, if the Indian market collapsed, the game would not only lose its golden goose but be swamped by aggressive world sports bodies, football and basketball, to name two, who are desperate to grab a share of India’s market. These world bodies are investing massive time, money and resources in the hope that in future they could harvest a sizable chunk of the Indian market.
Manohar, who comes from a family of legal eagles – his paternal grandfather, father, uncle, he, his son are strongly entrenched in the profession while his sister is a High Court judge – could have been a great source of strength to the BCCI during its engagement with the Lodha Committee report. But for whatever reason he opted not to tangle with the Supreme Court and instead quit as BCCI president at the juncture it needed him the most. This is what Thakur referred to as the “captain deserting the ship” and thus not providing direction or owning responsibility as leader
A livid BCCI member said that Manohar had prepared the ground for shifting to the ICC by giving away BCCI’s advantage of revenue through the concept of the ‘Big Three’.
Manohar, on his return to post of BCCI president and subsequently replacing N Srinivasan as ICC chairman, did away with the Big Three concept that led to a loss of Rs 400 to Rs 1000 crores for the BCCI. He also helped tweak the ICC constitution and ensured that a chairman could not be removed in the manner that the BCCI got rid of Srinivasan. He waived the $42 million penalty that the West Indies Cricket Board had to pay BCCI for abandoning the tour of India. No wonder the other countries wildly hooted for him, said the member. “Compared to Srinivasan he’d be a lot more generous and easier to handle for them for these foreign boards.”
The source also laid BCCI’s liability of Rs 600 crore to Kochi Tuskers at Manohar’s doorstep.
While these are losses that the BCCI could live with, it is flabbergasted at the manner in which its “permanent seat” in the Executive Committee and the Finance Committee has been wrenched away. Not only has it been eliminated from these important committees, its former president has openly stated that it was not his job to look out for BCCI’s interests.
Shutting BCCI out of the two key committees would give other predatory nations a free run on the packaging or bundling of rights and these may be to the deterrent of the development and nurturing of Indian cricket.
The fact that the ICC has sought to take on the BCCI when it is being squeezed by the Lodha Committee report and hence vulnerable, is intriguing. Additionally, Manohar refusing to write to the government cautioning it of appointing a CAG official in BCCI in breach of ICC constitution has not gone down well with the Board. A similar caution had been issued to Sri Lanka last year and hence the ICC’s current stand vis-a-vis BCCI is revealing, to say the least.
But the BCCI will not let go without a fight. Thakur’s outburst, including the demand to see the Champions Trophy budgeting, holds Manohar responsible for some of the harsh anti-BCCI steps which might affect it financially and thereby relegate it to turning into a secondary force all over again.
Of course the last has not been heard of this, particularly when all three, BCCI, ECB and CA would be going in for a fresh bout of television rights in the next few months.
Hopefully those in control, both in India and elsewhere, would ensure that it won’t be a return to the ways of the manipulative East India Company all over again.