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Has BCCI obtained the complete support of ECB and CA? Will they support all the demands of the Indian Board, however outrageous they might turn out to be? Arunabha Sengupta wonders about the extent and the reason behind the alliance of the Big Three.
“There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?” This had been the famous quote of media tycoon Kerry Packer when he had met the Australian Cricket Board [ACB] in 1976 to negotiate the rights to televise cricket.
One can debate about the response of the ACB — as it was known in those days till it became Cricket Australia (CA) in 2003. Because of various reasons, not all of them noble and righteous, the Board resisted the inviting propositions and the lure of dollar bills.
However, refusing the flirtation, they soon found their affairs fall out of bed with rude awakening. The power of money roared in like never before, in the resulting quake a huge chasm was created in the cricket world and the game threatened to fall through the cracks.
It took two years for the situation to return to normalcy under the ostensible cloak of traditionalism, but cricket was never the same again. And now, nearly four decades later, the cricket world threatens to collapse again under the weight and turbulence of extreme cash flow. The epicentre of this new financial storm that may result in sending the game out of the window is the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI).
Rules of the game have metamorphosed since those days when Packer was trying to revolutionise cricket telecast and India was stumbling and tottering under the yoke of emergency. Television deals are now the life-blood of cricket, and majority of eyeballs that remain glued to the telecasts saw the light of the day in India. Many of them in boom time India.
CA speaks more or less the same language, having recently forged a deal with Nine Network worth US$500 million. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is right up there — with a £280 million deal with Sky TV.
With such similarity of thought and action, N Srinivasan and his cronies perhaps did not even have to repeat the question of Kerry Packer to CA — or ECB for that matter. They have already acquiesced to be the willing bed-fellows of BCCI.
The history of the cricketing boardroom has indeed come a full circle. The very Boards that had snubbed Indian cricket repeatedly till not too long ago have now clutched on to BCCI’s expensive coattails, hitching a ride on a maverick bandwagon that seems set to be out on a mission to run over all the sense and sensibilities surrounding the game.
But how strong is the pledged allegiance of ECB and CA? Will they stick to the writing in the much condemned positional paper to the minute detail?
CA has apparently informed Fairfax media that they will try and negotiate the controversial clause that exempts the Big Three from relegation in the two-tiered Test system. The clause that gives India, Australia and England such rare privileged status in sporting contests has ostensibly been drafted with the sole intention of “protecting ICC income due to the importance of those markets and teams to prospective ICC media rights buyers”.
Perhaps ECB also has similar intentions that still carry a hint of the much-hallowed English sporting traditions. We will have to wait and watch how these negotiations transpire. It will perhaps give us an indication whether it is really an attempt to save cricket from dysfunctional leadership, just an attempt to prevent India from breaking out of the setup carrying the supposed 80% revenue from the game with them, or simply an attempt at a ruthless business merger with a keen eye towards maximising profits for the big fish.
Of course, BCCI has assured that the proposal is not set in stone or a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ kind of deal. It is after all just a draft and they have merely mentioned in passing that they can withdraw the Indian team from International Cricket Council [ICC] tournaments if their demands are not met. “It is clear that it is a draft and members can discuss it with their respective boards and it can be discussed in the ICC board meeting,” a BCCI official has assured. Quite like the mafia is prone to saying, “You can tell me whatever you want to, but in the end do what I say.”
One waits to see how far CA and ECB will play ball under these increasingly obvious ground rules.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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