BCCI president Anurag Thakur has said he is against the idea of splitting Test cricket into a two-tier structure, ahead of an ICC meeting in Dubai next week to discuss the proposal. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Thakur said the proposal was "fundamentally against the basic purpose and identity of the ICC."
According to the proposal, which enjoys the support of the cricket boards of Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand, the two-tier system would comprise seven teams in the top tier and five in the bottom. Afghanistan and Ireland, as the leading Associate teams, will join the three regular Test playing nations in the bottom tier.
"As the governing body of the game, the ICC's job is to popularise the game and increase its global reach," Thakur said. "On the contrary, this system may be good for the top five countries, but apart from that, everyone else will suffer. On the one hand, we say we need to support teams like West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, while on the other, by bringing up something like this, we will cut their legs."
This is the third time in the past month that Thakur has spoken publicly about the BCCI's reservations on the subject. In early August too, he had reasoned it would hurt the smaller countries, whose interests the BCCI wants to guard. Last week again, he alluded to his opposition to the system on the sidelines of the two T20Is between India and West Indies in Florida.
Thakur said the one big ramification, if the ICC was to adopt the proposed two-tier system, was that it would directly impact the smaller countries financially.
"Currently, these teams make good revenue from TV rights when bigger nations like India and other countries go and play against them. Their revenues will nosedive and they will struggle further to support their cricket at the grassroots level."
Elaborating further on his stance, Thakur said that going by the logic of the two-tier system, marquee series like India v South Africa or England v Australia were top draws.
"And Bangladesh v England or Sri Lanka v Australia won't have that much support from the viewer. Just imagine if people are not watching a top team against a lower-ranked team, will they watch two lower-ranked teams playing against each other? This will further escalate the problem of viewers losing interest. At least today, when a so-called weaker nation is playing against a top-ranked team, exceptional performances are noticed, improvements are sought and benchmarks are set."
But going by rankings alone, Thakur pointed out, would be turning a blind eye to reality. As an example, he provided Sri Lanka's whitewash of Australia at home in the three-match Test series. "In a game of cricket, no nation should be taken lightly. The recently-concluded Australia versus Sri Lanka series is evidence of that. Sri Lanka, who are in danger of falling under the tier two category, annihilated Australia 3-0. How would that have happened had there been no series between them? So, it can't be said that only top nations will produce top cricket."
It is understood that apart from the support of some leading boards, the move to implement a two-tier system is being backed by one of the ICC's main commercial partners. Concerned about the fall in TV ratings in bilateral Test series, the system has been designed to enable more frequent "marquee clashes" that can generate more eyeballs, and, as a direct result, attract greater value from broadcasters. Thakur was unconvinced that a formula such as this could work in the long run.
"Commercial partners have a key role to play in the growth of the game," Thakur said. "Their concerns should be addressed and we should give them a fair hearing. But, at the same time, we have to see that the administration of the game cannot be seen from the standpoint of the balance sheet only. There needs to be a balance and we need to look at the overall health and growth of the game.
"Dipping TV viewership of Test series is a cause of concern, but two big nations playing against each other all the time won't guarantee you viewership. The recently-concluded India versus South Africa series was a battle between two top nations, but the TV ratings didn't reflect the stature of the teams. The reasons for decline in viewer interest in Tests are far more complicated than what they appear. Changing the format of the FTP will be like applying band-aid to an issue that needs proper scanning and research. On one hand, we say we want to develop the game in new areas, and on the other, we are making top countries wealthier and the lower-rung countries weaker.
"We oppose the system despite knowing that it will result in a financial windfall for the BCCI if implemented. But, as one of the key stakeholders of the game, we can't be shortsighted and we need to take everyone along."
According to Thakur, the proposal should have been discussed by a "limited" set of people instead of being deliberated at the board level. "This proposal should have been discussed by a limited number of people before being brought to the ICC table, and, frankly, should have been rejected at the proposal stage itself. Our focus is to hand-hold and strengthen global cricket. As a leader, BCCI is clear in its goal to expand the game, make it popular in new areas and strengthen existing members as well.
"This kind of two tier system works very well to support domestic cricket or where you have a larger pool of teams and the staging state associations are supported by their parent body and are not under pressure to generate their own revenues, or in leagues where things are considered strictly from a commercial perspective. As the global guardian of the game, we should have a larger perspective and bigger objectives."
Thakur's comments can be expected to resonate positively with the boards that will be directly impacted if such a system is implemented. Sri Lanka Cricket, for instance, already made its opposition to the split format clear in July, as have the Bangladesh Cricket Board. The West Indies and Zimbabwe boards, already battling financial troubles, are also unlikely to back any move that will dent their bottom line further.
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75