Monday, January 02, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 2nd January 2006

As published in "The Bahrain Tribune"

I am unlikely to be an apologist for, or a natural supporter of, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) described in the 2005 Wisden as one of the “worst [cricket] administrators in the world”. But with the departure of Jagmohan Dalmiya and the accession to power of Sharad Pawar and Lalit Modi it does seem that the Indian cricket scene is changing very rapidly. One of the consequences of this is that the International Cricket Council (ICC) will be in for a hard time as the BCCI flexes its muscles and challenges their authority. This can only be a good thing.

The substantive issue which has raised the temperature between the BCCI and the ICC is the international fixture list; the BCCI wants greater control of when and where the Indian team plays. They want fewer meaningless fixtures against the minnows of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and more lucrative matches against the top cricket nations. Bilateral talks have already taken place with Cricket Australia and are planned with the English Cricket Board and others.

To understand the underlying factors behind these developments we need to comprehend why the ICC is worried, it is all about power and money! Although superficially the ICC is all powerful in world cricket in reality this power is built on very shaky foundations. In essence the ICC owns the Cricket World Cup, but very little else. Virtually all of the ICC’s income is generated from sponsorship of the World Cup which is why they keep such a tight control of this tournament and its exploitation. It is also why the ICC promotes other events to try and augment the income stream from the World Cup. These events have been unmitigated failures. The ICC Champions Trophy was described by Wisden as a “Turkey of a tournament” and as one of the “Great Sporting Fiascos of our time”. Similarly the ICC’s other event, the so-called “Super Series” involving Australia and a Rest of the World team, was a disaster with poor crowds and lousy one-sided cricket.

The ICC’s other big idea is their “Test Championship” and “One Day Championship” tables. These tables purport to show the rankings of all the international teams in Test matches and One Day cricket, but it is only the ICC who sees these tables as anything other than mildly interesting. When England played Australia last summer they were not playing to improve their positions in the ICC’s table, they were playing for the Ashes. Similarly when India plays Pakistan later this month it will not be the effect of the results on their position in the championship tables that will be uppermost in the teams minds! Any table of this sort is going to be arbitrary - change the rules and you change the positions. The tables are not valueless, but they are a consequence of results not the driver of them. The ICC’s affection for its tables is partly because they seek to make sponsorship money from them and partly because it allows them to try and dictate fixture schedules. And this is the nub of the problem between the ICC and the Indian Board.

The BCCI in its new guise has realised just how powerful a product Indian cricket is. Lalit Modi has called it the “number one sports brand in the world” and the “number one sponsored team across all sports”. Given this they want control over when and where India plays and they don’t want the ICC interfering by trying to make them play meaningless fixtures against weaker teams at inconvenient times and with low income generation potential. There are risks inherent in what the BCCI is trying to do, not least the danger of lower interest Test cricket being pushed aside to allow more and more One Day Internationals to be played, but the BCCI has a strong case. Last year India played 21 ODIs but of these a ludicrous 10 were against Sri Lanka and a further 5 were against Zimbabwe and New Zealand in the meaningless Triangular series in Zimbabwe. Not one ODI was played against Australia, Pakistan or England over the whole year. Indeed India has not played World Champions Australia in an ODI for nearly two years (apart from one rained-off exhibition match in Holland). This is clearly absurd and something that the BCCI is determined to put right and if they take on and beat the ICC on this issue quite a few of us will cheer!