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Sharda Ugra

And then there were three

The only two cricket boards in the world who could together call BCCI's bluff and rally support chose instead to get on board with India's programme

Sharda Ugra
Sharda Ugra
Have Cricket Australia and the ECB vetoed their own claims of being responsible global leaders?  •  Getty Images

Have Cricket Australia and the ECB vetoed their own claims of being responsible global leaders?  •  Getty Images

The ICC's working group "position paper", a document that has rattled world cricket, was put together by three men. Their assistants, it is assumed, did the typing, spell-checking and formatting but in essence it was three men who were dictating to a fractious sport how it should run itself.
Let us not refer to them as Australia, England and India, for that is an insult to the good folk and cricket fans in those countries. Let us refer to them by name in alphabetical order: Mr Clarke of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Mr Edwards of Cricket Australia, and Mr Srinivasan of the Board of Control for Cricket in India have, between them, produced a document that has sent the rest of the cricket world scrambling.
When the document went public, the first reaction was to dismiss it as a mere draft. Mr Clarke blithely told a newspaper he couldn't say much about drafts, "We get through a lot of those." When FICA criticised what it read of the document, Cricket Australia expressed its "disappointment" through Mr Edwards opting for a non-"traditional" approach by talking about ICC discussions that were technically yet to happen. "We talk to other ICC nations across the table rather than via the media."
Mr Srinivasan said nothing, but his board secretary, a Mr Patel, told a newspaper that this document was a "legitimate right… a question of understanding, not a question of power game". Sort of like understanding physical strength when a seven-foot thug twists your arm.
The BCCI's approach, like much of its public conduct in dealing with other nations, remains reprehensible but predictable. For the past few years, it has been consistent in its distaste of the ICC, whose staff have casually been told by BCCI reps in Dubai that all ICC departments are going to be shut down soonish and it will end up as a six-member operation - not in Dubai.
Nothing that the BCCI says or does should surprise or shock anyone anymore. Like the BCCI working committee's unanimous approval of the proposal, slyly mentioning that India's participation in ICC events was conditional to the proposal being passed by the ICC's board.
When the paper was first outed, the CA and ECB spin doctors produced a web of doom intertwined with hope: this had happened because the BCCI was threatening to leave us; it was the best way to keep India "in the tent"; the document draft was, in fact, a beautifully complex masterplan drafted by Mr Clarke and Mr Edwards to stay true to the spirit of cricket, retain the primacy of Test matches, and prevent the collapse of all cricket known to mankind.
The vast majority of cricket fans and anyone who criticised at the document were advised, with dismissive head-patting, to refrain from "knee-jerk" responses, to seek "balance", understand "nuance", get hold of the facts. (What more mind-altering facts about the triumvirate's plans for governance and revenue distribution are available outside this 21-page document, is a mystery.)
When the BCCI's working committee made its not-so-veiled threat linking participation in ICC events with proposal approval, we birdbrains finally understood. The draft proposal was not a hard-fought solution against a BCCI ultimatum, it was the ultimatum itself. Six months of apparent sweat, negotiation and document-drafting had resulted in the following: the BCCI wouldn't compete in ICC events unless it got more cash, and Cricket Australia and the ECB wanted to make it very clear which side of this argument they were on.
The only two cricket boards in the world who could together call the BCCI's bluff and rally support chose instead to give it credence and even credibility with their spin-doctoring. They jumped onto a runaway train in the hope that, even if they didn't work out a way to control it, at least they could get enough of the loot on board.
For none of the big three are World Cup earnings vital for survival. The seven nations left out of their inner circle are the ones who need to use that word more often
When it came to restructuring the ICC's framework and divvying up its earnings, there were, unlike what Mr Edwards said, only two other ICC nations that Cricket Australia talked to across a table. In doing so, along with the ECB, they hung seven other Full Member nations and (a much larger cast of Associates and Affiliates) out to dry. This is opportunism at its most smelly.
To everyone seeking to disguise inequity as pragmatism on the part of CA and the ECB, here's a question: What if this document had emanated from a different unholy trinity? Say a combination of the BCCI, Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa, which left out the ECB? Or BCCI-ECB-CSA, which left out Cricket Australia? Or a combination - BCCI-PCB-CSA - that left out both? What odds then of hearing the words "nuance" and "balance" and "crikey, don't be hysterical"?
The fallback reason for the ECB and CA going down this path is predictable - an increase in projected earnings from ICC events is vital to their "survival". But that is untrue. For none of the big three are World Cup earnings vital for survival. The seven Full Member nations left out of their inner circle are the ones who need to use that word more often.
In 2012, the ECB signed a four-year deal with Sky TV worth in the region of £280 million. It is 80% of the board's income, and they have 23 sponsors. Cricket Australia has 18 commercial partners and last year they negotiated a successful five-year deal with the Nine network for US$500m. As much as the BCCI may want us to believe otherwise, many of those deals have nothing to do with the BCCI's money.
Three former heads of the ICC have found the document distasteful. "Giving into blackmail never works," said one, "what will the next demand be? And the next demand?" One has questioned the financials, worked out without any supporting documents to explain the calculations arrived at or the projections made.
After I read blogger Russell Degnan's excellent financial assessment of the proposal paper on Thursday, I asked him if he could provide a figure for what an ICC World Cup, minus a sulking BCCI, would financially look like.
His answer: half of ICC profits would be affected and turn into a 15% to 20% hit on the other seven Full Member nations. His calculations were simple. Bilateral matches involving India normally earn the rights holder "between US$5 million and $10 million per match." It is what ICC World Cup matches earn, he says, on average even though most matches don't involve India. "The crux of the question is whether the Indian public still has an appetite for a World Cup without India. ICC profits could probably be expected to halve, which would shave 15% to 20% off the budgets of the Small Seven."
The numbers and the calculations can be argued over, but they were worked out by a cricket fan in a quick turnaround email. Just like that. Former ICC president Ehsan Mani, and head of its finance and marketing for six years offers a different calculation in his ten-page note on the position paper. If India did not participate in an ICC event, while there would be a "significant reduction in the value of ICC's commercial rights" but "not a reduction of 80% of ICC revenues." He states that, "From discussions with the broadcaster," the estimate for a World Cup without Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies has in fact, pegged the reduction in ICC revenues to somewhere between,"30% to 40%." Well, knock me dead.
What would be interesting to know is if CA and the ECB discussed and calculated the prospect of ICC events without India among themselves. They have dealt with the current BCCI regime in only one way, acquiescence. The end result has always been the same. This time they gave in but also ensured they made a profit. Or at least a projected estimate of a profit.
Opting for a radically different route would have taken brazenness and courage but cricket in Australia and England would not have imploded. The proposal that the two boards are party to, though, has increased the prospect of that happening elsewhere.
A BCCI official at the working committee meeting called its outcome: "formalising dadagiri." The word dadagiri roughly translates to: bullying or throwing your weight around, the BCCI's calling card these days. The formalised dadagiri is now expected to take place in cahoots with two other heavies. Should this proposal go through - and there appears every chance that it will - the ECB and Cricket Australia will have vetoed their own claims of being cricket's responsible, forward-thinking global leaders.
Which leaves the sport with none.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo