Cricket administration announcements do not arrive with fireworks or a clash of cymbals. Understated is their thing, but the appointment of Shashank Manohar as the ICC's first independent chairman - given what it means and the ripple effect it could set in motion - appeared aimed at being completely underwhelming.
A few quiet paras on the ICC website on Thursday morning, and 45 minutes later, a media release. Like hearing an FM radio announcer going, "By the way, gotta say long live the king, because, yeah, like, y'know the guy before him, he's dead… And now for something completely different…"
The ICC usually does a very good job of living with its "completely different"s. In less than two years following the Big Three takeover, the higher echelons of the game's administration - which sought to control its organisation structures and revenue stream - have turned on a dime. The swift and uncontested creation of the post of an independent chairman is meant, in theory, to ensure that the person at the top of the ICC will think, speak and act for the global game. Not like in the old days, when the man at the top was technically detached from but more often than not a quasi-envoy of his home board.
The Big Three takeover worked on the same principle, though it disguised greater benefit for select boards under some cool corporate nomenclature. This despite the fact that within the ICC there was already an awareness that the global game needed an overhaul not directed by a closed, insular clique of the powerful, but rather propelled by a coming together of the collective.
The uncontested choice of Manohar as the ICC's first independent chairman has been driven by a few factors. The first was an open declaration weeks into his second tenure as BCCI president that he believed the 2014 constitutional revamp was nothing but "bullying" by "three major countries".
That he belongs to the most major of them all would give confidence to Manohar's supporters among the ICC's directors that he will have both the confidence and clout to act as a counter-balance against any future BCCI muscle-flexing. It also helped that Manohar was not in any way involved with the Big Three revamp, unlike the other contender for the chairmanship, the former ECB head Giles Clarke.
To the smaller seven Test nations, chairman Manohar's accessible persona was far removed from that of his more aloof predecessor N Srinivasan. "He made all the right noises," one of the members said, "about what was wrong and needed to be righted." During the ICC World T20 in India this year, representatives from six boards visited Manohar in Nagpur to persuade him to pitch for the job.
Loyalties within the ICC are, of course, fluid, motivated by self-interest and/or fear of retribution. The members who have voted so emphatically for Manohar are the same who voted his predecessor Srinivasan in as the ICC's first chairman, despite the tumult over his role in the BCCI, following the Supreme Court's intervention in the 2013 IPL corruption case.
What the ICC needs at the moment - both to give and receive - is the utter opposite of the Big Three approach of authority exercised through force and arm-twisting. It is the world game - across three formats - that needs a collaborative pulling together by member boards to keep bilateral cricket relevant in an altered broadcast market at a time when the audience dynamic is shifting.
Manohar's main focus over the next two years of his tenure as ICC chairman involves two key areas, the first of which matters largely to administrators and the second to the average cricket fan around the world:
- There is currently a working group already re-examining the 2014 changes to the ICC's constitution, centered around the Big Three's ambitions. The first move towards dismantling the more inequitable parts of the proposed changes has come with the speedy ratification of the post of independent chairman on Monday, May 9. There is a good distance to be covered still but it is understood the Woolf Report is not likely to be dug out and dusted off again to act as a source of guidance. The Woolf Report strictly belongs to a category called "not under consideration". Unlike in the case of Manohar's experience with the Lodha recommendations, he could ensure here that the reform structure he will try to push past his ICC board of directors will contain far fewer restrictions and caveats. The first and simplest of the rafts of re-amendments will come up for discussion at the ICC's annual conference in June.
- What fans care about, though, are their team's fixtures. It is here that Manohar could push for and sign off on some fairly progressive changes. A rehaul and refreshing of the old Future Tours Programme, converting it into something both sustainable and equitable has already been under way for the last 12 months, with an aim to rescue bilateral cricket from torpor. A post-2015 World Cup meeting with television executives reminded board officials that the most profitable events for broadcasters tended to be ICC events and domestic T20 leagues. Bilteral cricket between the "core" nations (England, Australia, India, South Africa) was still a profitable business for television, but did not make as much profit as before. Tours by India did make the home boards some money, but not in as outrageous quantities as earlier (case in point: India's tour of Sri Lanka in 2015, when the SLC had to ask Ten Sports to bid twice before arriving at an agreeable figure).
Every other smaller nation has been struggling. Over the last year, ICC committee meetings have discussed the various possibilities that could give bilateral cricket enough context for broadcasters to invest in it. It is from where the idea of day-night Test cricket came into being, how the idea of a Test championship has returned to public debate (in a league-like format covering a larger period rather than a two-month scramble) and that of a points system across formats has been thrown into the open. Maybe mini-seasons with format-specific windows. Everything to create an appetite for nation-versus-nation contests that would translate into profits. It is now believed the bilateral cricket broadcast business - even with Indian cricket in the mix - has, in terms of assessment of rights value, course-corrected itself.
A new blueprint with a reworked FTP could turn up at the end of the year, one that tackles the hurdles over current bilateral deals and financial agreements between boards, broadcasters and sponsors; and sorts through a packed events calendar to generate a collective approach to scheduling.
In his three decades in Indian cricket administration, Manohar has been known for plain speak and for being an obsessive stickler for form and protocol. He cannot say so in public, but it is known the IPL does not move him much
It is in these key months that an ICC leadership with a world view, a freedom from home-board interests and a generosity towards the concerns of smaller nations will be mandatory. The ICC is now hoping that with a very narrow window of opportunity - two years for their first independent chairman - before them, Manohar can be that reformist. It is certainly what he has said he is, and in a seven-month tenure as the BCCI president he has actually made some dramatic changes in that board's operations.
Over his three decades in cricket administration, Manohar has been known for plain speak and for being an obsessive stickler for form and protocol. He cannot say so in public, but it is known the IPL does not move him much, nor does modern technology like mobile phones and email. His career as a lawyer allows him to spot and take advantage of legal loopholes and argue all sides.
In his first term as BCCI president, his most glaring misstep, along with other powerful BCCI colleagues, was to let the BCCI constitution to be amended, allowing a board official to own a financial stake in the IPL. The consequences of that change are being felt painfully by the BCCI today. In Manohar's more recent, second term as BCCI chief, he has pushed through every possible reform: the appointment of an independent CEO, an ombudsman, a transparent statement of accounts and expenses, and "Project Transformation" with Deloitte to "strengthen" the board's governance structure and "revolutionise its operational practices".
Word about Manohar's BCCI reforms package has got around and the ICC's Full Members are upbeat: "We are very optimistic. I think we have the chance of recovering the lost ground," the member quoted earlier in this article said.
There are, of course, a few other theories - that Manohar has played his cards extremely well and only for his personal gain. That he has abandoned the BCCI, during its tussle with the Supreme Court, for the supposedly far less stressful position of ICC chairman. A fair reckoning, which must however take into consideration that the BCCI had itself nominated him to be an independent chairman of the ICC. So how angry could his BCCI colleagues be at the moment?
Then comes the more dramatic view: could Manohar, in fact, be a BCCI mole or a Trojan Horse sent to ensure the BCCI's full internal control of the ICC? While that one does cover a fair range of conspiracy theories, a few thoughts arise. How much more control does that mean? And if the new chairman's independence is a mere fig leaf, then the international game is in bigger trouble than accepted. These theories will, of course, be duly tested starting about now.
A few weeks ago, discussing the Lodha report and the ferocity with which the Supreme Court had gone after the BCCI, a Supreme Court lawyer in the know about the case talked about the direction that the proceedings were likely to take. Every Supreme Court judge, not least its Chief Justice, the lawyer said, wanted to leave behind a "legacy judgement", for which he will be remembered and celebrated.
Manohar has left behind the BCCI and a legacy judgement it is dangerously close to, and given to himself the time and space to fashion his own legacy as a global cricket administrator.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo