November 12, 2008

The battle of the boards

The ECB's relationship with the BCCI has been particularly fractious of late; the best England can hope for from this particular contest is a draw

Kevin Pietersen indicates how many Tests he'd rather play on England's tour of India © AFP

In one corner slumps the Old World, aching for the days when it had a decent punch and dominated the ring, did much as it pleased, reaped most of the profits and took no crap from nobody. In the other bobs the New World, the new boss, itching to land another humiliating blow as payback for all the centuries of prejudice, subjugation and subservience.

A simplistic, needlessly alarmist view of the relationship between the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Board of Control for Cricket in India? Maybe, but maybe not. On Sunday a lifelong, staunchly colour-blind friend confessed that he wished Ricky Ponting hadn't been so worried about over-rates in Nagpur that he forgot he had a match to win and a series to save. Things have come to a pretty pass when a fully qualified Pom roots for chaps in baggy green caps.

On the face of it, the two nations appear keener on each other than ever. Chicken tandoori is Britain's favourite dish. Bollywood is giving Hollywood a run for its money in the multiplexes. British Asians sit in Parliament. Amir Khan is British first, Asian second. Until very recently, England deigned to visit India once, at best twice, a decade - once each in the 30s, 50s and 60s, twice in the 70s and 80s (though there would have been a third in the latter but for Graham Gooch's South African dalliances) and once in the 90s. And that was in the days of fewer teams and slimmer options. Yet this current tour, thanks in good part to the much-maligned Future Tours Programme, is the third such expedition in eight winters. But to judge the situation in such terms is to misunderstand and underestimate the nature and extent of the behind-the-scenes argy-bargying between the BCCI and the ECB that so upset my pal.

Ian Chappell recently characterised the ICC as an "offshoot" of the BCCI. It is difficult to sustain a worthwhile counter-argument. Money has never talked as loud as it is doing in cricket now, and as the producer of an estimated 70% of the game's income, the BCCI is certainly flexing its muscles, acting in its own interests and calling a goodly proportion of the shots - much like the MCC and the Test and County Cricket Board once did. A little humility and a great deal more caring and sharing would not go amiss, not to mention a firmer grasp of the principles of enlightened despotism, but the inescapable fact remains: the New World holds every bit as many cards as the Old World once did. All of them.

Notwithstanding James Sutherland's recent criticism of the BCCI's fondness for appealing against disciplinary rulings, Chappell's fellow Australians have accepted the new order, for reasons strictly related to the fiscal and the pragmatic. However, if only because it wields considerably more economic muscle than CA, the ECB - which sees eye to eye with its Indian counterpart solely on one subject, namely the extremely prejudicial termination of the ICL - is not going so quietly.

Exhibit 1 is obvious. That decision to get into bed with Sir Allen Stanford, who wants to help Caribbean cricket back to its feet but also rather fancies the idea of being the man who sold cricket to the United States. The ECB sees him as an ally in its attempt to resist the advances of the Indian Premier League; hence what many Englishmen see, somewhat harshly, as the pantomime that was the Stanford Series. Ensuring West Indies' support at ICC meetings is another happy by-product. However, last weekend's news from Venezuela, where intelligence officers raided the Caracas branch of Stanford's offshore bank over claims that employees were paid by the CIA to spy on the defiantly left-wing South American nation, does little for the prospect of a beautiful relationship, much less a lasting one.

The BCCI is certainly flexing its muscles, acting in its own interests and calling a goodly proportion of the shots - much like the MCC and the Test and County Cricket Board once did. A little humility and a great deal more caring and sharing would not go amiss, but the inescapable fact remains: the New World holds every bit as many cards as the Old World once did

Exhibit 2 is Sean Morris, the unshrinking new chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, who summed up English grievances when he attacked the BCCI's decision to "devalue" the forthcoming series by confining hostilities to a "series" of two Tests. "The guys who control the purse-strings are now showing they have the potential to make or break a Test series in another country," he charged, referring to the Sri Lanka tour of England next year. "We are on the outside at the moment, and the Indian board have simply decided to devalue this series for their own ends. They're threatening other countries' Test contracts." And it is the PCA's constituents, who comprise the majority of the game's full-time professionals, who are at the sharp end of all this, whether risking county and international bans by playing in the ICL, or weighing up whether to tear up those central contracts and sign on the dotted line for Lalit Modi and the IPL.

Exhibit 3 is David Morgan. Welshmen are hardly renowned for taking up cudgels on behalf of the English (well, let's face it, however wrongly, the term "British cricket" has yet to catch on), but Cardiff is about to host an Ashes Test, the ICC president did use to chair the ECB, and he is clearly singing from the same aggrieved hymn sheet.

"Quite unacceptable behaviour" was his description of the proposed US$70m deal whereby the cash-poor Sri Lankan board committed its players to the IPL and its offshoots for the next ten years, thus scuppering next May's tour of England. Yet Morgan clearly forgot, or neglected to acknowledge, that that projected visit was not part of the FTP: Zimbabwe had been due to tour and Sri Lanka had merely stepped in as late substitutes. When a far better deal plopped on to the table, the change of heart was eminently forgiveable, given that the relationship between Sri Lanka's board and players can be conservatively depicted as constantly fractious. Yet while it may be unjust to accuse the BCCI of acting in a Machievellian manner, the fact remains that that tour would have clashed with the IPL, whose franchises are not exactly queuing up to sign Zimbabweans.

Exhibit 4 is Giles Clarke, the ECB's forthright chairman. Not a man who attracts fence-sitters. While many clubs believe he has the vision, verve and commercial nous to fur-line their pockets, many fans and commentators are livid at what they see as the short-term expedient of selling live broadcasting rights to Sky Sports rather than seeking the widest possible audience, flogging off the family jewels in exchange for a mess of potage.

"We have yearned for strong leadership for years and now Giles has come along and we are terrified," admitted one county chairman during the summer. Considerably more damning is Mike Soper, the Surrey president, who was beaten to the ECB chairmanship by Clarke and is contemplating running against him in 2010. "I don't know Giles Clarke particularly well," he conceded, "but I have not been impressed by what I have seen. We don't want some loose cannon flying round the world shooting from the hip. It's a titular role, about flesh-pressing. The tail shouldn't be wagging the dog. One county chairman - and there are others who feel the same way - phoned me and said he hoped Clarke gets back in in March because then he can come a complete cropper instead of half a cropper."

Clarke has fired many a dart at the BCCI. Primarily for, as he sees it, downgrading Test cricket but also because of the sneaky/successful (take your pick) way Modi has adapted the "Made in Britain" Twenty20 format for his and the BCCI's own, far more lucrative, ends. Yet Clarke, a sharp, resoundingly successful businessman, and hence something of a realist, is not quite the loose cannon Soper perceives. Recent evidence, indeed, suggests he is keen to keep up a placatory front.

Giles Clarke has diplomatically described the ECB's relationship with Lalit Modi as "sensible" © AFP

"We've been constantly dealing with legal issues, and the ICL in particular has affected our relationship with the Indian board," he admitted a month or so back. "Still, we've come through that and now I'd say I have a good personal relationship with [Indian board chairman] Sharad Pawar and a sensible one with Lalit Modi." Note the word "sensible", and the immense care which almost certainly attended its selection. "We're going in the right direction," he continued. "I hope this winter's Champions League is a great success and I believe we've taken the right decisions over the shape of our own English Premier League."

Wherein, one likes to imagine, lie the seeds of peace, or at least truce. Sooner rather than later the ECB is going to accept, has to accept, that the acronym war is unwinnable. Which means focusing its efforts on helping the ICC accept the need for a revamped FTP - complete with annual Test Championship - that forestalls any clashes with the IPL. It shouldn't be that arduous a task, for all that discussions have been deferred, just so long as there is a recognition that keeping the players onside is now paramount. Only then, one strongly suspects, will Clarke and company get what they want more than anything: the BCCI's consent to release its players for the EPL.

In other words, the very best the ECB can hope for is a draw. Jagmohan Dalmiya, the man who got backs up at Lord's in the first place, may have wanted to ban such defiantly un-21st-century things, but that is precisely the result that cricket craves.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jagadish on November 12, 2008, 21:31 GMT

    2001/2: ECB agrees to BCCI request for an extra 7th ODI since ECB had got BCCI to agree to Indian team playing an extra test in England in 2002.

    2002: India play 4 tests & 7 ODIs in the NatWest Series in England.

    2004: ECB got India to play 3 ODIs (NatWest Challenge), with the obvious intention of capitalizing on the Indian diaspora turning up in droves to watch their favourite cricketers.

    2006: BCCI got the ECB to agree to a 3 test 7 ODI series obviously because the ECB had got its pound of flesh in 2004.

    2007: BCCI returned the favour and India played 3 tests and 7 ODIs in England.

    2008: The series would have been a 3 test 7 ODI series, since it appears to be the agreement that the BCCI and ECB have reached. But England's players wanted to be home for Christmas. So the series became 2 tests.

    Sean Morris is implying that it is ok for the ECB to make money when India tours, but the BCCI devalues test cricket when England's players didn't want to stay on!

  • Bellapu on November 12, 2008, 20:29 GMT

    When there are certain terms and conditions placed before you sign in a contract and you did not go trough it, then its your problem, and all the IPL players and concept designing comes into play. Winging about it later is a silly thing to do. Before implementing a rule we should have make sure weather it is feasible or not. Well my support to BCCI and the board members is always there, and I think India had played most number of test matches than any other team. India 40 England 38 South Africa 34 Australia 31 Sri Lanka 28 So Please stop winging about the people who are doing good business and start learning how to do it. Yeah one more thing if there is such thing call 'ego' in this game that should be in 'non Asian teams'. I hate to say that word again cause its dividing the world apart. Grow Up guys, BCCI is doing far more better than any other board in the cricketing world. They know the pulse and capitalizing it. About ICL its the TV rights. Well Its my Opinion. God Bless BCCI.

  • Abhay on November 12, 2008, 18:51 GMT

    it's a cycle and now India is the power holder. How they use the power over the next decade is going to be crucial but cricket has survived various threats over the last 130 years and I am sure it will survive for another 130! People who want to jump into conclusions too quickly should remember that MCC was still a shoddy custodian and repeatedly showed scant respect to weaker cricketing nations for decades. Sri Lanka didn't get a full series in England for 25 years after it became a senior test playing nation. It is no good now blaming the IPL/BCCI/asians/money grabbers or whoever else you want to blame. I think ECB is in a real pickle because it cannot really allow English players to play a full six weeks of IPL unless the IPL is moved back to start in Early March each year and without the promised money of IPL shares ECB has to go to bed with dubious charecters like Stanford. I entirely agree that 7 ODIs or 4 too many and there should nave been a four test series instead.

  • Neeraj on November 12, 2008, 18:45 GMT

    To address some of the ridiculous points made on these comments: 1) Empty stadia - most of these are new built and located far from the big towns. Combine that with ridiculously hot weather, and you can see why million choose to watch from their air conditioned homes. Look at the TV viewing figures and you will get an idea of how popular Test cricket is in India. 2) BCCI destroying test cricket - I presume everyone missed the fact that India are now consistently playing at least 4 test matches against the top team - Australia. They are playing 2 against England because England are a rubbish team. Get over it. As for the SRL vs ENG series, it was never part of the ICC Future Tours Program. So no, the Sri Lankan players were completely sane to honour their IPL contracts. 3) The potential split into non-Asian and Asian playing countries is a pathetic vision, given that the former would barely scrape together enough cash to keep their cash hungry players from defecting to 20-20 leagues.

  • sitaram on November 12, 2008, 17:08 GMT

    The BCCI is beginning to look and act a lot like George "Dubya" Bush and his bunch of Neo Con Cronies. Siti Reddi

  • Mathew on November 12, 2008, 13:26 GMT

    Well, we've to remember that the chaps who're in BCCI, IPL etc now are the same folks who've been at the receiving end just a few years back. So it's only to be expected that they have not forgotten how they were treated by the old world as you put it. While I would not recommend the behaviour, I don't have any great sympathy either for the old world cronies' current predicament.

    About empty stadia for tests - it's difficult to sit in the indian sun for 5 days however exciting be the action in the middle. And there is no need either. Test cricket is my first love followed by ODIs - but I unless I am playing myself, I prefer to sit in the comfort of my living room under the fan and drink many glasses of fresh orange juice and watch as many slo-mo replays as possible. And it's always good to be able to pop out for a few minutes and bowl a few overs in the garage with whoever's watching tv with me. One can be really mad about cricket and not go to the stadium.

  • Ravish on November 12, 2008, 11:22 GMT

    When we were young we used to read books called AmarChitraKatha. It takes mythological events and condenses them into 10 or 15 pages so that a 5 year old can understand by vastly oversimplifying stuff and characters into good and bad. When I read this article I felt like reading that again. It takes a view point from a person from one side of the aisle, vastly oversimplifies stuff to condense it to a page, creates good and evil characters and then presents that side of the story. Good for presenting mythological events for 5 year old, but bad for current events. I used to be riled up by such over-simplistic presentation by cricinfo writers in past but soon I realized that it is a tactic to rile up people with a viewpoint from different side of aisle and get more eye balls and comments. When I realized the real intent of such articles I stopped being much bothered because these kinds of opinion pieces rarely present a holistic view and have a different objective in mind.

  • Julian on November 12, 2008, 10:24 GMT

    The IPL is a boon to the grassroots development of the game.Bowlers and batsmen are getting more attacking and fielding standards are improving.The fear that the IPL and 20-20 cricket could lead to the end of test cricket is baseless as, stemming from the tactics in the short form of the game, test matches are now more aggressive than has ever and more matches produce results, all of which has made it a lot more interesting to watch thus rejuvenating the game.Those of you hoping that there will be a split with sub-continental sides not playing any more tests, it's just wishful thinking...Dhoni's India has arrived in all forms of the game and exciting times are ahead...not for England and Australia obviously!!!

  • Shekhar on November 12, 2008, 9:17 GMT

    BCCI is putting down test cricket and that is my biggest concern. India Australia test series have been played in empty stadiums recently, Sri Lanka cancelled their unplanned Test tour to England because of IPL and England team will just be playing 2 test in India? There is only on organisation responsible for all this - BCCI. I rather watch India and England play 5 test and 3 Twenty20 in stead of 7 fifty over matches and just 2 Tests. One day cricket reduced to 50 overs cricket in the 80's but since then almost 3 decades have passed and we kept playing 50 overs, why? Now the new one day cricket has to be Twenty20 and 50 overs cricket has no place in bilateral ties. Can we please just play lots of test and lots of T20 and that way strike a balance.

  • Swami on November 12, 2008, 9:16 GMT

    The problem with articles such as these is the lack of objectivity, selective presentation of facts, lack of historical perspective and propagandist tone.2 test series .. ECB was offered 3 tests, but they refused as they didnt want to spend Christmas in India, although they dont have a problem spending Christmas in Australia.Its now being spun as if BCCI didnt want to grant a 3 test series.Incredibly,India-Eng is the first ODI in 2008 in India.Zim-Eng was supposed to be only ODIs and no test matches.As a substitute, SL is being called to play test matches!SL players are free to play whatever they want .. nothing to do with BCCI.If playing in England is unattractive for them, remember that inviting SL was unattractive to ECB not too long ago.Going to bed with Stanford .. not a single soul in BCCI or India has a grudge over English players earning millions .. good for them. Dont understand why the level of jealousy over players earning millions in IPL.

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