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‘Nails in the coffin for world game’

Today Lalit Modi is raging. This is the old Modi. Ready to go to war. His targets, those who have re-ignited the ire, are the BCCI, England Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA).

cricket Updated: Jan 28, 2014 01:48 IST
Ed Hawkins

The last time I met with Lalit Modi he was becalmed. It was in September, just after the BCCI had confirmed a life ban. The waspish tongue had lost some if its sting and he admitted that there was some relief that the battle scars from his war with Srinivasan, the honcho of the Indian game, could heal. “I can get on with the rest of my life,” Modi sighed.

But today he is raging. This is the old Modi. Ready to go to war. His targets, those who have re-ignited the ire, are the BCCI, England Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA). It was recently announced that the big three — so called because they represent the world game’s financial muscle – wanted an overhaul of the International Cricket Council which would give them all the power.

Under a new executive committee called ExCo, the trio would have the ability to override all other countries, raising the fear that while India, England and Australia would get richer, the poorer nations would be destitute.

Modi is barely able to contain his anger at the thought of what he describes as a “cartel” before rattling off at a thousand miles an hour the various doomsday implications for such a structural shift.

An unholy trinity
“It’s a cartel, an unholy trinity and it threatens the future of the game,” Modi says. “I’m serious. How can it possibly be good for the other Test playing nations and the associate members that these three line their own pockets. It is a scandal and it must be stopped.
“They are going to kill cricket with these proposals. Great, India and England and Australia can play themselves to their heart’s content but they have put every other nation on the bread line.”

It is, however, predictable that Modi is zeroing the crosshairs on Srinivasan and with whom he has waged a bitter battle since his exclusion from administration.
“Listen, this isn’t about me and Srini. But if you want to make it about me and him fine. He doesn’t have the best interests of the world game at his heart. He runs the BCCI like a fiefdom, his own personal business. And now he’s going to run world cricket for his own interests.”
Despite it ‘getting personal’ Modi’s views are worth heeding.

But Modi makes for captivating listening when he begins to pick apart his ‘unholy trinity’, brandishing the position paper point by point and clause by clause. Of chief concern is the question of governance. With the eagle-eye of a man who is used to poring over contracts, Modi focuses on the cloak of invisibility which the boards appear to be granting themselves.

“They are saying they should have the power because they can bring greater stability but they don’t explain how they are going to do it. This is cloak and dagger stuff. Where’s the transparency? And then they say that each member will be given revenue share in line with the growth of the ICC. They are just lining their pockets.

“You can read it yourself. It is clear in black and white. Section one, page three, point E and I’ll quote it ‘Ensuring a fair distribution of revenues, recognizing the contribution of each member to the ICC both on and off the field’. The key word there is ‘contribution’. Well, of course Indian ‘contribute’ more in terms of money than Zimbabwe. But this is totalitarian. This is about the rich getting richer and screw the rest.

“Again, a little further down. Same section, same page but point f. ‘The need to streamline bilateral cricket arrangements and ensure the on-going relevance of all these matches to ICC events and the viability of cricket in all relevant markets’. Look, we all know what streamline means in this context. It’s reducing or getting rid all together.”

Avoiding small teams
“These three want to stop playing the small fry like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Sri Lanka. Because they don’t think people are interested in watching the lesser teams. But that cuts off the blood supply to these countries. In the short term the ‘Three Boards’ will be richer but long term? Only three teams will be left and who wants to watch that? This is why it is self-interest because in the long term, Srinivasan, Clarke and Wally Edwards (CA chairman) will be sitting on their ivory towers retired and living the very good life. They won’t care.

“Here is another clause that proves it. ‘No member should be forced to host uneconomic tours’. And another ‘There should be no Future Tours Programme agreement’ and they want to change the cycle of when teams play each other to a minimum of four years. These clauses are the nails in the coffin for the world game.
“Perhaps worst of all there is a clause in there which allows them to restructure the ICC in such a way they can control it for a very long time. It’s cleverly written for sure but people need to have their eyes opened.

“And there are threats too. It says that the ExCo teams will not play the smaller ones at all unless they agree to this deal. This is blackmail.”
Modi remains incandescent as he fires off each missive. He reveals more devil in the detail, information which may strike at the heart of every fan who wants cricket to remain global, fair and open to all. Fittingly, it is the breakdown of the financials which exposes a worrying flaw.
“They are proposing that they get all the power and all the money, ok? How are they going to do that? By getting a larger slice of the pie. Under the current arrangement of dividing up the $2.5 billion the ICC earns, everyone bar the ‘Three Boards’ are going to be poorer. I’ve looked into it, Ehsan Mani has looked into it. These are facts.

“Currently the BCCI, ECB and CA would get just over $117 million. When they get their way they’ll pocket greater sums. And guess who gets the most? Srini and the BCCI. They would earn more than $500 million, the ECB about $173m and CA $130m. As for the rest, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would see their income reduced by almost half. The associate members, as a group, now get $500m and that would be slashed to $210m. That is not right.
“They say they are doing this to protect Test cricket. What? Are you serious? You are protecting a format by ensuring there is no competition and that no other teams can invest in it? This is a joke. And they want promotion and relegation as well just to make sure the big shots never have to face the smaller teams.”
ICC’s vision flouted

The plan to ensure that only India, Australia and England host World Cup events from 2015-2023 can hardly be described, therefore, as innovative. Nor is it about taking the game to the people.

It is, in fact, in contradiction to the ICC’s vision for the game. And it’s ‘Strategic Direction’ is to have “a bigger, better, global game targeting more players, more fans, more competitive teams.” This is a red rag to a bull to Modi when, somewhat mischievously, I ask him about these ‘mission statements’.
“Suicide. Plain and simple,” he cries. “They are burning bridges, not building them. They should read that stuff again before they strike the match and reduce this great game to cinders.

“No matter what, three countries will continue to play against each other and reap the benefits. Where is meritocracy in this proposal if promotion and relegation of Test teams is based purely on the amount of money they have?

“What happens to West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan? Between them they have won four World Cups and yet they are being treated as also-rans? Where is the justice? Why should India, England and Australia have all the say? England haven’t even won a World Cup. What gives them the right?”

I wonder whether Modi feels the BCCI should be handed such sway when the organisation has had its name grubbied by links to match-fxing in the IPL?
“Ha! No, no, we’ve done enough. I think you’re now trying to upset me,” he laughs. “Everyone knows about that and they are all clever enough to work that out for themselves. It’s not about me. It’s about this document. It’s about stopping this ‘ExCo’, this rubber stamp. What this clause will do if this paper is ever implemented is that it will hand all and I mean all the powers into the hands of one individual – and that can never be good for an organisation.”
Quite. It’s not about Modi. And despite the reputation that goes before him for being hot-headed and contradictory, cricket would be dumb not to listen to him on this one.

Ed Hawkins is the author of ‘Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld’