Sometimes, small things point to bigger differences, and the disagreement between India and England over venues for the next tour is an example. The ECB, while expressing dissatisfaction that its players had to play in obscure places, said this would inconvenience the team’s travelling supporters.
The ECB chose not to take on the BCCI head-on but even this minor squabble points to a larger tussle unfolding behind the scene. India and England, once partners, have, for a while now, found themselves at different ends of the pitch.
The India-England rivalry has a past. Having entered Test cricket in 1932, it took India almost 40 years before Chandrasekhar spun India to the famous maiden victory at the Oval.
After that India and England fought in the Lord’s boardroom, in the ICC, over the supremacy of the MCC and over the democratisation of the world body.
Such battles resulted in the World Cup being rotated across Test playing nations and officials from the ‘non-white’ nations heading the ICC.
Gradually, and grudgingly, England’s grip over cricket slipped, helped largely by the growing economic power of India, and a new assertiveness that even suggested the ICC headquarters shift to Eden Gardens.
Lately, with the success of the IPL, the gulf has widened. For England, the IPL scheduled each summer, coinciding with what happens to be the traditional start of the English season, is a serious threat. It is a tournament that has the potential to wreck England’s century-old county calendar, trigger a players’ revolt and an exodus.
The threat is genuine, arising from simple economics — England’s players, even the best ones like Kevin Pietersen and Andy Flintoff, will abandon county cricket and move if the money is too tempting. The other sticking point is the issue of participation of ICL players in the nascent Champions League. Worried by such matters, an alarmed ECB was not just cool towards the IPL, they actively went on a crisis management mode.
The arrival of cash-rich, cricket-crazy billionaire Allen Stanford was Godsend because the tycoon pledged hundred million dollars for five T20 matches, which enabled them to keep their players in line. But this, the ECB knows, is only a temporary lottery. Nobody, however, crazed has that much money to toss around forever.
That is why the announcement of its own T20 league is a logical next step.
This will create a head-on collision with the Indian Premier League and it would be interesting to see how things unfold. Will India’s superior economic power prevail, or will the tradition, culture and systems of English cricket win over the brash entrant in the field? If players have a choice, where would they choose to go? The IPL or the EPL?