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The Battle for the Soul of International Cricket

In the days of nationalism and patriotism, nuances and the larger picture can often be ignored. When it comes to ‘celebrity leaders’, there is no actual debate of what they are doing. Rather, a story is told of simpler times. When everything was great because this one man (it always is a man) did or stopped.

Sourav Ganguly’s ascent to power was seen through this very prism. What he did as India captain had filled people with hope that he will be now a global leader. Especially in Pakistan, where cricketers with lots of Youtube Channels are shaping opinion saw this as a positive. Given their personal history with the man, it could be seen as a positive at least in their point of view.

But facts, unfortunately, paint a very different picture. Hours before Ganguly was named BCCI chairman, he was nowhere in the running. Suddenly, the hidden forces of Indian cricket conspired and he was elected unopposed.  All tainted individuals who the Supreme Court of India had in a way ousted were back. Now with the backing of BJP President Amit Shah in shape of his son Jay Shah, the days of the mid-2010s had returned at least for BCCI.

But things have changed significantly on the global front. Ironically, Shashank Manohar, an Indian was instrumental in breaking the Big three hegemony. Numerous steps were taken to break India’s monopoly in the game. Giving Afghanistan and Ireland test status and T20 status to over 100 members was a step in that direction.

Similarly, since Manu Sawhney has taken over as the Chief Executive of the ICC, things have gone in overdrive. Sawhney who was born and studied in India has tried to follow the FIFA model to some degree. While the Big three make money playing bilateral cricket amongst each other, all other boards rely on money from ICC tournaments. Hence, it is in the interest of the Big 3 to play amongst each other. While, for all other boards, ICC tournaments are key for survival.

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In the next Members Participation Agreements (MPA) the ICC had prohibited any tournament with more than three teams to protect the value of ICC tournaments (apart from Asia Cup). They also were planning to host an ICC tournament each year including one with the top six ODI sides on the ICC Champions Trophy format. This meant less time for the Big three to make money playing bilateral cricket. The three big boards, were inherently against it, with the BCCI being most vocal.

Therefore, this idea of the four-nation tournament has been floated. It might be a bluff to counter the ICC’s move. If ICC is able to generate enough revenues of its own, it will be able to create more leverage. With the English Cricket Board and Cricket Australia acting cautiously, there is room for the ICC to manoeuvre. Yes, the ICC needs India on the side but India needs global tournaments to maintain its appeal. As much as the common Indian fanboi would like to argue that the world is “jealous” of them, this is about keeping power and money with India as the ICC tries to wrestle away control. While the COA was in control of Indian cricket, steps have already been taken in that direction.

With another change expected at the BCCI in not too distant future (unless the Supreme Court dilutes the Lodha Commission’s recommendation), Ganguly appears in a rush to leave a mark on Indian Cricket. Even if he fails, it will be a good sell for the Indian audiences. Results in the age of populism don’t matter. Noise is all ‘leaders’ want. ‘I fought for the rights of India’ would be his pitch whether he decides to go into politics or wait out the Supreme Court mandated cooling period before returning to the BCCI. These few months are too short a time to make an impact on a global scale.

For the ICC this is a critical time. Shashank Manohar who has been instrumental in ensuring that the ICC stands up for cricket’s interest doesn’t want another term at ICC due to health issues. But with Narayanaswami Srinivasan back in power, he might be considering another run to ensure that all the work he has done goes to waste at the whims and wishes of few old tainted men.

For all the cricket boards cannot be trusted to look beyond their very immediate interest. It comes back to the ICC’s management showing strength to save the soul of international cricket.

Asjad Khan

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