<
>

'Economics alone cannot dictate Test cricket' - BCCI CEO

BCCI CEO Rahul Johri at a press conference Sajjad Hussain/AFP

In February, the ICC's chief executives' committee will put its finishing touches to the next Future Tours Programme (FTP) for the 2019-23 cycle. Earlier this month, representatives of the 12 Full Member countries along with the ICC operations team led by its general manager cricket, Geoff Allardice, fleshed out the proposed FTP, listing out the match-ups.

Rahul Johri, the BCCI's CEO, has been an influential voice in the drafting of the proposed FTP. Even as his counterparts have been sceptical about the future of bilateral Test cricket, Johri believes that, with the right context and balance, the longer format can remain stable and profitable. Importantly, Johri believes stakeholders cannot put forth the argument about economics being the sole criteria to determine the success of Test cricket. In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Johri expands on his thoughts including India's commitment to Test cricket.

Now that you've wrapped up fleshing out the proposed FTP, where does the BCCI stand on the health of Test cricket?

The BCCI is committed to Test cricket. It is evident the existing calendar, too. We played an extended Test season at home. We are playing South Africa, England and Australia in 2018-19 (before the World Cup).

In the new proposed FTP, India will play 24 out of their scheduled 37 Tests - or nearly 65% - against England, Australia or South Africa. Were there any parameters used to determined the opponents as part of the Test league since points would be at stake?

If you look at the framework for the Test league that has been created, we have to play at least six opponents in two years home or away and a minimum of two Tests per series. It is with us the prerogative of how many do we play and with who. We are looking at good content for the Indian fans, the cricketers, for the broadcasters, for all the stakeholders. It is our responsibility to ensure the best possible content and context.

Is it true that the operations team focused on performance and stature of the opponent, as some media reports noted, before penciling in the opponent?

That is not how we approached it. We have to provide the best cricket for the benefit of BCCI, for the benefit of all our stakeholders. And we feel that if we can deliver the highest quality of cricket then your previous question on [the health of] Test cricket gets answered. Our focus is to deliver the best value for all our stakeholders. With that premise we have built the FTP.

India will play 12 out of 19 home Tests and 12 out of 18 away Tests against Australia, England, South Africa. Do you look at this as the marquee series?

The top team is India, firstly. For India to have the best context we believed [playing those teams is] the best way forward to build the FTP. There is no doubt India remains a popular opponent but unfortunately it is not possible to play everyone.

The media rights for Indian cricket are up for renewal from April 2018. India do not play much cricket till the 2019 World Cup at home. Was that a factor, too, when you chalked out the new FTP?

Our ambit was clearly 2019-23 in the new FTP. From the media rights standpoint a good balance between home and away which ensures quality content at home is of paramount importance. Delivering the best value for all stakeholders was a significant premise in every possible way. So we have to strike a balance between all the variables.

In this proposed FTP India will play on average two fewer Tests per year than in the current FTP.

That is incorrect. If this new proposed structure was not there, under the existing FTP, India were scheduled to play 15 Tests at home and 21 away. But in this new proposed FTP India are scheduled to play 19 Tests at home and 18 away - so overall we are playing two more Tests actually.

"The BCCI sets global benchmarks in terms of revenues or rights fees for every format. A lot was said before the IPL media rights tender too, but the [eventual] IPL rights proved the pre-eminence of Indian cricket and set the benchmark for cricket leagues. I am extremely confident when the BCCI bilateral media rights tender opens it will once again set a benchmark for international cricket." Rahul Johri

But do you agree that there has been a deep, growing concern about the health of Test cricket and its future in the present form? Did you and other CEOs take that into consideration when you sat for numerous meetings before fleshing out the FTP?

Our stance remains to stay committed to Test cricket. The mandate given to us in the BCCI is that Test cricket is a very important component of the overall cricket structure.

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland recently said "alarm bells" have started ringing for Test cricket. According to Sutherland the commercial value of Test cricket has fallen especially in the Indian market. Do you agree?

That is James Sutherland's view. Not for me comment on it. As CEOs of our boards, our primary responsibility is to execute the directions given by our boards. We are not cricket specialists. While economics plays a role in sport, only economics cannot dictate how Test cricket is played.

Even Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India, the global broadcaster, says the "economics of Test cricket" do not work. He feels the popularity of the game drives the economics. And the popularity has been falling. How do you look at it?

The BCCI bilateral media rights will be out soon. The result of that will deliver the answer. We are extremely confident that we will deliver the best value for Indian cricket. The BCCI sets global benchmarks in terms of revenues or rights fees for every format. A lot was said before the IPL media rights tender too, but the [eventual] IPL rights proved the pre-eminence of Indian cricket and set the benchmark for cricket leagues. I am extremely confident when the BCCI bilateral media rights tender opens it will once again set a benchmark for international cricket.

During your tenure BCCI has stuck massive contracts from title sponsorship to team sponsorship to IPL media rights. Do you reckon those deals would play a positive influence on the bilateral media rights next year?

The positive trajectory that has been set will continue.

Can you talk about what the players and Indian team management have told you on Test cricket specifically. What is their vision of India in Test cricket?

We have a constant dialogue with the team management. We take their feedback extremely seriously. And our actions manifest from those conversations.

Are the players in favour of five-day Test cricket or are they open to four-day Test cricket?

The ICC Cricket Committee has made robust recommendations on this subject. And we endorse those suggestions.

The ICC Cricket Committee is not yet in favour of four-day Test cricket. You support that, then?

Yes.

What about the players on day-night Test cricket? India are the only big Full Member country to not have played pink-ball cricket.

I feel it would be too premature to jump the gun on this. It needs a lot of deliberation and hence I said the general body of BCCI will discuss day-night Test cricket threadbare. And whatever decision the BCCI general body takes, we will implement it.

You tried playing the Duleep Trophy under lights once, but discontinued that experiment. Why? Did the BCCI's technical committee weigh in with their thoughts and what were they?

The BCCI is an organization which is at the forefront of innovations. We played the Duleep Trophy to experiment with pink-ball cricket. That experiment continues. How it manifests itself is the decision left to the BCCI general body. Once the specialists decide, we will implement it.