After a seemingly hectic few days of meetings and negotiations, the International Cricket Council has taken significant steps towards rolling back the governance and revenue distribution models enacted in 2014 by what can be accurately described as a hostile takeover of cricket by the Big Three boards of India, England and Australia. Shashank Manohar, who swiftly transitioned from BCCI president to ICC chairman in 2016 – thanks to one of those changes to the world body’s governance in 2014 – is now leading the charge for the renewed “desire... to work together for the betterment of cricket, utilising [ICC’s] expertise appropriately and pursuing the growth of the sport around the world.”

On the surface, the proposed changes do sound great: a two-year Test league, a 13-team One-Day International league, a regional qualification process for the World Twenty20, a new(er) model for revenue distribution, consistent use of the Decision Review System in all international cricket, voting rights for three Associate members with equal weight of votes for all Board Members regardless of membership status, and a few other things. These changes were agreed upon in principle through a 7-2 vote (India and Sri Lanka opposed; Zimbabwe abstained) and the final decision will be taken, after extreme negotiations of which we are sure, in the next ICC board meeting in April 2017.

Sri Lanka voted no because they said they did not have sufficient time to consider the proposals, but there could be other reasons too. Zimbabwe, probably miffed at the possibility of being clubbed with two Associate nations in the Test league, abstained. India’s representative Vikram Limaye, one of the four court-appointed Committee of Administrators, voted against the proposals because the panel was formed only a few days before the ICC meeting and there was “no scientific basis” behind the revenue distribution model. It is possible that since CoA are only temporary caretakers of the BCCI, Limaye may have chosen it wise to not make any binding commitments.

Hammering while the iron is hot

According to some reports, the BCCI stands to see its share of ICC revenues decrease by a whopping 34% from the 2014 financial model expectations, while every other cricket board would see theirs increase substantially. There was no real scientific reasoning behind the 2014 model either; BCCI took credit for the fact they operate in a country of cricket-obsessed billion people. England and Australia, cohorts in the Big Three, were instrumental in drafting and pushing through the changes, now once again stand to gain even as they and BCCI no longer seem to share the same financial vision.

The new revenue model apparently was designed on the basis of “equity”, “good conscience” and “common sense and simplicity”. This has as much foundational strength as the Big Three’s we-bring-in-more-money-so-by-God-we-will-take-out-more-money principle. With the long-running court struggles of the BCCI, and hence their weakened position in the ICC board, world cricket’s governing body chose to hammer while the iron was hot and essentially presented this proposal as a fait accompli.

Shashank Manohar has been all talk and no action as ICC chairman (Image credit: PTI)
Shashank Manohar has been all talk and no action as ICC chairman (Image credit: PTI)

When Manohar became the ICC chairman, he said a lot of aspirational things that sounded good and continues to do so with pronunciations of caring for the “long term benefit of the sport from the largest nation to the smallest”. But what he accomplished is to push through changes when the biggest power broker was decidedly at its weakest. It is true that BCCI has routinely strong-armed its way through, especially in the N Srinivasan years, but as Limaye argued at the meeting, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Opportunistic politics

England and Australia, the two biggest revenue generators after India, have played opportunistic politics to undercut India at the ICC. Giles Clarke, he of “I’ve got every right to put my board’s interests first” fame from the documentary Death of a Gentleman, led the Big Three efforts and is still the president of ECB, and has now gone to the other side. Some of the prime movers from Australia from 2014 are gone now, but self interest still reigns supreme there as well.

The revenue distribution models, of 2014 and 2017, are both flawed and seem to value the contribution of the cricket boards for something they really had no hand in. Unless cricket boards come to dictate procreation policies of the countries they find themselves in, it does not make any sense to award a large chunk of the revenues to one nation, and the members – at least those that have equal voting rights at the ICC table – all have to be given differing revenue amounts. Some argue that sharing the revenue equally is a waste, especially on a board as corrupt as the one in Zimbabwe. True, but push for accountability and transparency in governance, and harsh penalties including the termination of membership when the expectations are not met.

If Manohar was serious about his ambitions of running a sport that is equitable to all its members, this was the opportunity to level the playing field. The various boards still have their own revenue streams from bilateral cricket and their own domestic T20 franchise leagues. The ICC money needed to to go to all the nations evenly, to grow the sport globally. Instead, we have been given the same old ideas – with a new fresh smelling coat of varnish – and the big boy boards looking out only in their self-interests, and the big chunk of ICC’s money still going to only a handful of nations. The new boss is (almost) the same as the old boss.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, and all that.