Ehsan Mani: I am very concerned about the state of the game

Former ICC president Ehsan Mani has in recent times been an outspoken critic of the undue influence of the Big Three on the International Cricket Council (ICC) and was recently subject of a tirade by the outgoing ECB Chairman, Giles Clarke, at the 2015 Wisden dinner. In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Mani spoke about his address at the Wisden dinner and sought to explain his point of view regarding the lack of support for the seven other full member countries, ICC’s lack of vision in not investing for the long- term future of cricket, the disturbing trend of players preferring to play in well-paying leagues rather than representing their own countries and his views on the staging of the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion.net (PP): Your address at the Wisden dinner was termed ‘disgraceful’ by some. What was the reason for that?

Ehsan Mani (EM): It was termed disgraceful only by one, Mr. Giles Clarke and no one else. There were about 700 people in the room and I expect about 699 of them agreed with what I said and a lot of them came up to me afterwards and said that it was an excellent speech and it was very relevant. There was nothing that I said in which I attacked the ICC or anything like that. The script of that speech is available for all to read and make their minds up about.

PP: So what exactly upset Mr. Clarke?

EM: Look it’s very simple. These three countries have taken over the ICC and I am very concerned about the state of the game. At least five of the 10 full member countries are in desperate need of help. That is 50% of ICC’s full membership. Basically, the five members are suffering from two things. The first issue is they are not receiving enough money and the second is the lack of quality cricket being offered to them.

Let’s take the example of the West Indies. Their players pulled out midway through the tour of India last year due to a pay dispute with the WICB. This was an unprecedented event. I am also concerned about the fact that players are putting playing in the IPL ahead of playing for their own countries. When that happens, there is something fundamentally wrong. The ICC have a very important role to play here to make sure that players represent their country as a first priority over any other event. The ICC needs to sit down with the organisers of these leagues and find a way to compensate the players who are called away to play for their countries. So, I did not say anything controversial there but simply pointed out an issue that needs a resolution.

Similarly when we talk about quality of cricket, let’s take the example of Pakistan, in the period from 2012 to 2018 England, Australia and South Africa will play 72 matches against India, in India. In the same period Pakistan will play just 32 matches against these three countries as its ‘Home’ matches. So this gap of 40 matches means that Pakistan is not getting enough quality cricket. Also it means that there is not enough quality content to monetise the game for Pakistan.

PP: In your address, you also spoke in detail about the situation regarding the associates and the development of the game. What was your primary concern there?

EM: I expressed a big concern about the finances of the associates. Now, the ICC has been saying that they are giving the associates a chance to break through the glass ceiling and play Test cricket. However, if you look at this closely whilst taking the example of Ireland, you see that England play them once every two years for one ODI in Ireland. That’s all there is for Ireland. I made the point that the full members have no appetite to play regular cricket in any format of the game against the associate members. I also spoke about the attitude of the full members towards the associates which was exemplified by MS Dhoni’s comments during the 2015 World Cup when he said “I agree that the Associates should play more cricket against the Full Members but not India ..; we have a very busy schedule and do not have the space in our programme!”

One more point that I made was that the ICC will pay the associates like Ireland approximately $2.5m per year from 2016. When in reality, it should be getting between $8-10m a year if it is to attract players; to become professional cricketers and keep them. Otherwise, Ireland will continue to be a nursery for English cricket. All the good players such as Eoin Morgan will be taken up by England or other countries. Additionally, when the associates such as Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, the United States, Netherlands, UAE and Nepal qualify for the World Cup they get a lot of benefits. These include government funding, sponsorships and a huge interest in the game in their respective countries. Then I also mentioned what soccer has done for developing the sport. I gave the example of how FIFA has developed the sport around the world and, in particular, in the United States.

FIFA had the vision to hold a World Cup there in 1994. As a result, soccer has a large number of participants and big following in the United States. In last year’s World Cup in Brazil, the US performed creditably, resulting in over 20 million viewers in the US watching some of its matches. This in turn translated into millions of dollars in revenues for FIFA. You really have to have the vision to invest for the sport and then you can reap the benefits.

PP: Why are you concerned about the future of Test cricket?

EM: There appears to be a lot of concern for Test cricket. However, the reality is somewhat different. About half of the bilateral series that take place feature two or less Test matches. When Sri Lanka toured England last year, they were offered two Test matches. When India followed them, they played five Test matches, purely as that would mean more money for the hosts. Then you have the example of the series between India and Pakistan which may take place at the end of the year. The fact is that India-Pakistan games attract a larger audience than any other bilateral series across the world, with hundreds of millions of people watching on TV alone. They are scheduled to play five games, but on the insistence of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), it will feature only two Tests. In addition the Test championship has been abandoned, purely on commercial grounds. What needs to happen is that each series must have a minimum of three Test matches. None of my concerns, including this issue, are very difficult to address. However, all of this requires vision and leadership and a rethinking of their own commercial interests by the full members.

PP: You seem to single out BCCI and IPL a lot of time for criticism. Why is that?

EM: I don’t have any issues with the IPL. The problem lies with the governing body of cricket. They have to say to a player such as Chris Gayle, that it’s fine for you to play in the IPL. However, when you are asked to play for your country then you have to drop the IPL and play for your country. What the ICC also needs to do is to ask the IPL to compensate a signed player if he is chosen to play for his national team in terms of the difference in earnings if he leaves IPL in the middle of the tournament.

Now the number of players who will be in this situation is a very small percentage. With the IPL generating millions of dollars for the BCCI, paying one or two millions dollars to some of the players as compensation is not a big deal. This would stop some of these players from refusing to play for their own country. Look at it this way, the countries invested in these players and the players became heroes in their countries by performing for their national sides. Then IPL comes along, and takes these players away. My big concern is that should Pakistani players be allowed to play in the IPL, they may well lose half of their team to this sort of a situation.

So, this is a legitimate concern I keep on bringing up. I have no issue with those who say that IPL is the best league in the world because it is. It is the most successful and effective cricket league in the world. I have nothing but admiration for the way they have done it.

PP: You still seem to be blaming the IPL for the attitudes of some of the players but do you not think that the onus is on the players when it comes to playing for their own countries in preference for IPL?

EM: Since they are getting more money from the ICC now, the English, Australian and Indian players don’t mind missing the IPL in preference for their own country. In fact, Indian players don’t have this issue as there is a special window in the international cricket calendar for them to allow for playing in the IPL. So if you take the example of English players, they will skip IPL for their own country as they are being paid well and being compensated adequately by their board. However, there is less money being given to the seven other ICC members and with less quality cricket available for them, they can’t even monetise the game in their countries. So for example, playing against Bangladesh doesn’t have the same financial advantage as say, playing against Australia or England.

PP: Should the other full members stop hoping for handouts from the ICC and develop their own systems and become self-sufficient?

EM: It’s not as simple as that. First of all, why should some members get more? All ICC members should be equal in stature. The fact is that other members will only get self-sufficient if they get the right quality of cricket they deserve. If they are to play Bangladesh and Zimbabwe then how will they get self-sufficient financially? You see, when I was head of ICC, we insisted in the FTP [Future Tours Programme] that every country must play each other once home and once away in a four year cycle. This way, every country had an equal chance in getting quality cricket and improving as a result of that. Also, they would be able to sustain themselves by selling their media rights and sponsorships etc. What they have done now is totally removed that condition and it is up to the countries to decide who they want to play and when. I gave you the example of the 40 matches that Pakistan will not play compared to Australia, England and South Africa. Those 40 matches would have brought in 20-30 million dollars to Pakistan. So how can you expect Pakistan cricket to become financially self-sufficient?

PP: You would agree though that Pakistan cricket has a problem in attracting good sponsors. Why is that the case?

EM: The only real way Pakistan can hit back in this case is by consistently becoming a well performing team and also by beating other good teams to become the best team in the world. Only then will sponsors run after you. So, for instance, if you were to analyse the earnings from TV rights, the BCCI gets 90% of its revenue from India, with England getting 70% from England and 30% from outside, whilst Australia get 72-73% from Australia. Pakistan on the other hand gets approximately 20% from local sponsors and broadcasters and therefore, rely heavily on overseas sponsors. The issue there is that in absence of the team being world beaters, Pakistan broadcasters want to find other ways of making money and do not think cricket is that important to them for earning revenue.

PP: How important is the advent of an IPL-style Pakistan Super League (PSL) for Pakistan and should it be held in Pakistan?

EM: Pakistan will have to organise a league of this sort on its own. If players are excluded from taking part in the IPL, which in my view is a purely political decision by the BCCI regardless of what they say, then Pakistan must strengthen its domestic cricket and the PSL will be an important step in this direction. In addition, the PCB needs to revamp the whole domestic structure.

The Pakistan Super League must be held in Pakistan, even if it means that it will lose money for a few years. In term of participation of foreign players, if you make it financially attractive where you are able to offer a few key international players the same money that they could get in IPL, then they will definitely come and play in Pakistan. As an example, during the recently-concluded World Cup, we had the likes of Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs sitting in a studio in Islamabad and analysing games. Pakistan is not as bad as the impression some people have and the PCB, to their credit, are working hard to deal with this issue but it will take time to improve this perception.

 

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from pakpassion.net)