March 17, 2014

'Why would you do a Kerry Packer?'

Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards knows the value of keeping India happy. He talks about their recent negotiations, the ICC's future, and wanting more teams to be competitive

As the architect of Australian cricket's vast governance reforms, Cricket Australia chairman, Wally Edwards, had similarly grand ideas for the ICC when he took up his post on the executive board in 2012. However, the board's opposition to the Woolf Report, which recommended changes of the kind Edwards had ushered in at CA, forced the former Test opener and businessman to look at other ways of imparting change, and placating India. The results were unveiled in January, with a series of ICC resolutions that have concentrated power among the "Big Three" of India, England and Australia, while adding market pressure to encourage the improvement of cricket nations. Edwards spoke to ESPNcricinfo about the new landscape, and how cricket got there.

How early after the Woolf report was tabled in 2012 were you thinking in terms of alternative governance models for the ICC?
When did I start thinking about it? It was handed down at my second meeting, and I'd already started talking to Srini [N Srinivasan, BCCI president] about what he thought about life before that. That was one of my primary aims when I became chairman, to try to find out from Srini and others what they thought about the ICC, where it was at and how we could improve it. There was a lot of complaint about it - I didn't understand it until I got there and spent 6-12 months talking to people.

You have mentioned dysfunction before. When you went to the executive board and sat on it, what made that dysfunction so immediately apparent?
Debate was non-existent really - what I could call normal debate about subjects. There was a very unhappy India in the room, very unhappy with pretty well everything that was happening, and it was very disheartening. You'd leave a board meeting and think, "Well, what a waste of time that was." To me, it wasn't the way you should run an organisation.

My assessment was that management were isolated from the board. There were a number of reasons for that, and it was not where we wanted to be. Everyone said that. Even when we were trying to get John Howard up [as ICC vice-president] everyone was saying we need someone in there to try to reorganise ICC to make it a better business, and it was just a matter of talking, finding out what other people thought and then slowly try to form a plan that might work.

The idea of having permanent members for the smaller ExCo committee is a salient one. Did that come about at your suggestion?
I can't remember where it came from, to be honest. Certainly we talked a lot about the idea of how the United Nations works, with a few nations leading the organisation a little more, a la the UN Security Council, but it was fairly obvious that if we, the three bigger nations, didn't take a bigger leadership role, no one was going to. It was a matter of putting your hand up and saying, "Look, let's see how we can make this place better." The last thing Australia would want is a takeover of the ICC. That whole concept's ridiculous. We don't need that. We want to see ICC a very productive and good organisation for world cricket, and that's all I'm trying to do.

It would appear a high level of good faith will be required for these resolutions to go through smoothly. Also, there is great importance placed upon the relationships that currently exist between N Srinivasan, Giles Clarke and yourself.
Everything depends on that. Whether it's me or South Africa or anybody. A lot depends on personal relationships in this world, and cricket is one of those businesses. Country-to-country relationships are very important and one of the roles as chairman of Cricket Australia is to try and cultivate that with every nation. That's what I've been trying to do since I took on the job.

That being said, are you confident the new structure will be robust enough to withstand changes in those relationships and personalities? You, Srini and Giles won't be around forever.
I think it will. I assume that when we appoint our next [CA] chairman, he'll be a capable person who understands what we're doing and is fully informed about what I've been trying to do, and will continue to do the work. He'll probably do it in a different way, he or she, or with different approaches, but fundamentally I will expect they'll know what we're trying to do and that's to have a good ICC that puts on good events.

We've got to understand what we expect out of the ICC and try to make it work. We've got to sort things like DRS out - that's just one issue among many. Rankings system, points system, how do we make cricket better from the back-end to the Test and one-day end? That's my interest. What we're driving at is to make cricket work better, and make the competition side of it work better.

That's why we had to break the glass ceiling, because just the market force of people going up and coming down will put more emphasis on cricket, especially those countries at the bottom end who are not putting as much energy and money into getting their top-level cricket better. At the moment they have this guaranteed right that they can sit there at numbers nine or ten, let's say, and not improve. Maybe now they'll have to improve - we want them to improve.

Look at India, in 1980 - where were they? And they won a World Cup in 1983, cricket took off in that country and they've been fairly well run. A lot of people criticise BCCI but look what they've achieved, and not one dollar of ICC money has been required to do that. If Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, West Indies and a few others could take a leaf out of their book, cricket would be better off. We want ten or 12 or 15 nations being competitive.

It's not just a matter of how many are playing cricket or how many nations are in the ICC, but the quality of cricket. That's what I've been worried about and wanting to improve, and the meritocracy thing is exactly that - to say, "If you do better you'll get more money, and we want you to get better, we want you to focus on playing better cricket." In this new deal they will all get more money. No one's going backwards, and we want teams 8 to 16 to get a lot better and want teams above eight to get better also. We've just seen the difference it makes when a team like New Zealand does what it just has [against India]. It's easy to say, "Why do we get a bit more money than South Africa?" It's the principle. And in reality it's not a lot of money. The most important money is: "Does India tour you?" We all know that.

How has the relationship between the BCCI and Cricket South Africa progressed in recent weeks?
As I understand, they're going well. They've signed an FTP for the next eight years with India, and everything's moving forward now in a positive light. I'm pleased with that.

There are fears around the world that as time goes forward the IPL will expand and cause a greater strain on the schedule for international cricket.
We've had lots of talks about that, and that was a real possibility before we came to all these agreements. There was a very real chance that India would have gone on an IPL voyage and left world cricket behind. That was said more than once. If that had happened, you were looking down the barrel of a Kerry Packer moment. It would have been easy to say, "They aren't going to do it, they want to play in World Cups", but that was a reality.

And we have a commitment from them that IPL will not change during this eight-year cycle. Dates won't change, the start date won't change, and the length of the tournament won't change. They've given us that commitment and that was important to us. IPL is important to them, and to the world of cricket players who make a lot of money out of it, [but] we didn't want to see it grow. We've also negotiated with India to pay the countries more for their players. For particularly the small nations, every dollar counts. We've got good understandings on that. They've been very straightforward and I believe them.

"Why would you risk turning the IPL into a travelling circus that would take all our good cricketers 12 months of the year and leave us with second-rate international cricket?"

I wanted to ask about ExCo, which began as a small committee of three but is now expanded to five, the Big Three plus two other rotating members.
We don't have an ExCo now but we needed one, because we have two boards. ICC and IDI [ICC Development International], and these boards vote as ten full nations and three Associates on each board. The IDI is where all the money comes in, the raising of money and how it's spent. But ICC sits over there with no such committee working with them. [We thought that] to run the place better we should probably have another committee there. It doesn't mean anything other than it's a sub-committee of the board. They can go away and sort things out on behalf of the board, the board then in the end has to approve it. So there's no entrenched power at all, because the board can overrule anything.

If India are on an advisory or recommendation committee, and so if India are a part of any of those recommendations, you wouldn't expect them to be defied, would you?
Well, what's different? If India want something around the board table right now they usually get it, because they have got enough nations that say, "I'm not going to rub India up the wrong way or they might not come and visit me", and that's reality. India are strong and we've got to recognise that. But what we want them to do is be part of the decision-making process and be in the ICC rather than just turning up and being aggressive, angry and unhappy. That's where they are, they are unhappy.

The reality is to this day we still haven't got an MPA [Members Participation Agreement] signed yet for the next media rights cycle. ICC management has been trying for a year to get it signed and it still isn't. That has to be resolved by this next board meeting. That's one of the building blocks. They've said more than once, "You can have a World Cup but we won't be coming." We can argue they might come, but will they come to Champions Trophy or a World T20? They might not. I can easily see them not coming.

And you're not prepared to take that chance?
Well, why would you? If you can find a progressive way to improve the place, why would you take that chance, why would you do a Kerry Packer, where the Australian board just said "b***** off" with the deal? Why would you risk turning the IPL into a travelling circus that would take all our good cricketers 12 months of the year and leave us with second-rate international cricket? It's not a pretty thought. But it's possible, and they know that. Maybe in the end it will still happen one day, but I don't think it will happen in the next eight years.

Something that was a big part of your thinking in Australia was wherever possible bring some independent voices into the game and its governance. Is ExCo the sort of committee that in future might see an independent member or two?
It's possible. And it makes some sense. We've got independent people on the finance and audit committee now. It's possible, but at this point in time it's not likely to happen because it's one of the grizzles from all the other countries, "We want to be on it, we want to be part of the four, five." But certainly in the short term it will be all Full Member people on those committees.

I think we've come to grips that [the ICC] is a members' organisation. It is a debate that's gone on for a couple of years and will still go on. It's not FIFA or the IOC. It doesn't make the rules. It doesn't do the FTP, never has and never will, in my view. It was set up to help organise international cricket on behalf of the members. Umpires, security, anti-corruption, those are its main roles, and being a forum for members to go and talk and decide things.

What's your experience of implementing reform in Australia versus at the ICC?
Completely different. For one, Australia is a lot more contained. We go to the ICC four times a year, you're there for two or three days and that's it. You don't do a lot of talking unless there are big issues. We've done a lot in the last 12 months, but you don't do a lot more talking outside that and that's a problem. It won't be too bad if we can get it to run a little better, a little tighter, make the money go further, get meritocracy.

The idea of getting other countries to play Test cricket was impossible to achieve. You could have them in the way we have been having them but it would have been a long haul for anyone to get in. And if you're not good enough you shouldn't be there.

Your term as head of ExCo is two years. Will that go on beyond your time as CA chairman?
I won't be there for two years. CA will take that chair for the two years. And that's purely to settle things down, to get things to work better. I'm working on a new code of ethics at the moment. We're going to put on an ICC World Cup in Australia in 2015, and maybe that can be done better than it has been and more efficiently.

How are the details being pulled together?
By the various committees. We've got to start on how the rankings might work better, how the bottom end in all forms - T20, World Cup cricket and Test cricket - will work. How you move up and down and who you play, and how much money you get.

Is one of the sticking points what sort of cricket a demoted nation can play - Full Members will still want to schedule Tests?
That's one bit of detail we are not sure about yet and needs more talk. They'd obviously love to stay there and be called a Test match-playing country and play Tests and keep losing. But it's not good for Test cricket in that case. But I've got respect for them.

I think Bangladesh should, at some stage in the future, become a good Test cricket country. It's disappointing they haven't shown more progress, and there's a long way still to go. We've got to give them more encouragement, got to get them more focused on it. If they don't, they go down, and that's the biggest incentive of all.

Australia, India and England are no longer exempt from relegation?
No longer exempt. I didn't want that in the first place, but it was put in there because of the broadcasters. Australia get reasonable TV rights but we don't pull the big money. We're about equal with Pakistan, a bit more than South Africa and the USA, that's where we rank.

Day-night Tests are on the CA agenda as we've seen with the Sheffield Shield round. How much more money would a day-night Test be worth?
I've got no idea, but I know that Perth rates substantially higher in the evening, like Boxing Day rates. So obviously there's more people watching in the evening when they're at home. That's the common-sense approach. I still think there's a long way to go to prove it's a good concept. It's all to do with people being able to come to the ground and watch and also sit at home and watch. If you're at work it's not as easy.

A few people have raised the question that Australia is one country where Test cricket is strong, therefore why would it need to go into the night?
That's still a debatable point. I'm not a great believer in it, but I'm only one person and I wouldn't impose my will to that degree. I think it's worth trying. You should trial it fairly rigorously, though, before you start playing Test cricket. But potentially it fills grounds up. If they can come at 2 or 3 o'clock and go through until 9 o'clock. There's still sunshine in some places. But even though we could, we don't do that in Perth now. I can't work it out. We start too early in Perth. We could start later in Perth and Sydney as well, but no one wants to. This is one of the Catch-22s we face. We could extend it by an hour, but it seems we need to extend it by two hours.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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