‘Once bitten, twice shy’ ought to be the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators’ (CoA) guiding principle when they receive ICC’s draft of the World Test Championship.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), it may be recalled, were short-changed by around $200 million when the share of television revenues for the multi-nation mega events (2015-2023) was apportioned not all that long ago. The CoA was gullible then, and would, therefore, need to be extra cautious when the roadmap for the World Test Championship and ODI league is laid. Simply put, these two proposed events have the potential to wreak havoc on BCCI’s revenues from Tests and ODIs as well.
While draft for the conduct of these events is yet to be circulated, a story in a Mumbai tabloid claimed that it was being formulated in a manner that would negate the necessity for an India-Pakistan clash in the initial stages. This would strip the BCCI of the need to seek the Indian government's permission, which is mandatory for any sporting ties with Pakistan. With the government out of the way, ICC would then have to deal with only the CoA and a moth-eaten BCCI.
The ICC had easily outsmarted these two to scuttle the 2014 proposal and formulated a new deal earlier this year. The ICC kept India out of the working group that re-drafted the 2014 deal. Then, after giving other countries hefty hikes and downsizing BCCI’s share of television revenues, it brought India into the meeting to ratify the changes. Naturally, India was outvoted and lost around U$200 million in the process.
India could have dragged ICC to the negotiation table by threatening to boycott the ICC Champions Trophy, but one CoA member tweeted and gave statements that India would take part in the 'Mini World Cup', thereby weakening any attempt to force ICC’s hand.
He later claimed that he was tweeting in his personal capacity. But the damage was done. Even if the BCCI had threatened to stay away from the Champions Trophy, there was no guarantee that the CoA would have backed their game.
The proposed World Test Championship has, likewise, the potential to be yet another ‘surgical strike at Indian cricket’s money power’.
The ICC might well decide that smaller nations Zimbabwe, West Indies, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa do not have the capacity to enter into million-dollar television deals and thus appropriate the rights to the events.
Its package approach could grab the television rights of matches involving India, like in multi-nation events — World Cup, World T20 Championship and Champions Trophy — and then offer it to the other countries, thereby smashing India’s hold on Tests and ODIs television deals forever.
The World Test Championships and ODI league, once they are in place, would ensure that there was no nuance for bilateral series and thereby drive down the value of Indian cricket for television rights.
ICC want to wrap this up as quickly as possible, probably when CoA and a truncated BCCI are still calling the shots in Indian cricket. In their haste to ensure that these events come about, they are even willing to forego two heavyweights of cricket, India and Pakistan, playing each other in the early stages of the event.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), probably more clued in to the possibilities, is so alarmed by what this lack of bilateral series against India would condemn it to, that it has stated that it will not agree to the ICC’s World Test Championships unless it gets to play its share of bilateral series against India. Of course, it could be bought over if it was offered a larger slice of the pie, but that’s another matter.
Meanwhile, the CoA and the BCCI would do well to ensure that they are not fooled yet again. They were tricked once and hence must ensure that they never again fall into the same trap. Their best option would be to not trust the present disposition and instead ask them to come up with a draft proposal after the 2019 World Cup.
Of course, the ICC would try its best to allay BCCI’s fears. But the manner in which the 2014 deal was sabotaged must never be forgotten. If it could happen once it could happen again and again.
BCCI would do well to ensure that it is made a key member in any drafting committee and that the voting mix is not loaded against it. BCCI and Indian cricket stand to lose the maximum from any reorganisation and hence it would be prudent for them to ensure that their backs were made stab-proof.