If the talk of cricket is around, can intrigue be far behind?
As India prepares for one of its lengthiest periods of playing Test cricket – 13 at a stretch – the news making the rounds is more about global television deals, the possibility of a split in world cricket and an ugly spat between the Indian Board and the ICC.
First, the Indian Board attacked the ICC for discriminating against them and threatened to pull out of the Champions Trophy to be played in England. The ICC president, Shashank Manohar, responded with near full page interviews given to Indian media where he not only defended himself vigorously, but even accused the Indian Board of twisting facts.
His most telling comment was that “I am the president of the ICC and naturally look after their interests. Let the Indian Board look after Indian interests.” This vertical rift between the two bodies, one supposedly to look after the interests of all the cricket playing nations and the other after its own, does not augur well for the future of the game.
At the heart of the matter is not the interest of the game or its future, but the revenues to be earned from television deals. Since India on its own generates more money than the other boards, with the IPL revenue now adversely affecting the earnings of the other major cricket playing nations, this skirmish between the two could lead to a full-blown war.
Indications of the fight taking a turn for the worse became clear when Indian Board president Anurag Thakur, literally lashed out at Manohar, saying he deserted a sinking ship by moving out and taking the ICC top job.
Among the many points raised by Thakur, especially his concern for Test cricket and the smaller countries, may or may not have substance, but his tone and tenor suggested that Manohar has now become the enemy of Indian “interests”.
He even blamed the Lodha committee recommendations for undermining India’s clout and called it government interference in sports administration. How a judicial verdict which even bars politicians from holding administrative posts in the board, is government interference is unclear. His larger point was that since the Indian board is at its weakest at the moment, the ICC and Manohar are trying to take advantage of its vulnerability.
To cut a long argument short, this is a battle in which Australia, England, South Africa, with the help of New Zealand and Pakistan have joined hands to enhance the value of their telecasting rights which are up for sale for a ten-year period by mooting new ideas, like the two-tier Test system.
Whether this will help to curtail the shrinking popularity of Test cricket or help the minnows to improve, needs greater clarity and debate. The unfortunate part is that instead of a debate, what we are seeing is a fight over profits and losses with India clearly having the veto power in their hands.
Since India does not need any financial support from anyone and can survive in good health even in isolation, thanks to the profits made through the IPL, this crisis has the potential to derail world cricket as we know it.
That is the reason why both parties need to act sensibly and not drive towards a split, which could result if India actually withdraws from the Champions Trophy.
As has often happened in the past, it is the money and not the interest of sport that is dictating what shape the future of cricket will take. Indeed sad, but unfortunately true.