SREELATA S.YELLAMRAZU | 6 FEBRUARY, 2020
The Big 3’s Super Plan to Undercut the ICC
Not everyone has been enthusiastic about the proposal
The chasm could not be wider in the current state of affairs in cricket. Even as a handful of nations grapple with financial concerns that are suffocating the game, the Big Three are at it once more, trying to upstage the International Cricket Council with a proposed tournament they call the ‘Super Series’.
Even as India were soaking in the limelight of the first orchestrated day and night Test on home soil, against a contrived opponent in Bangladesh, newly elected BCCI president Sourav Ganguly dropped a bombshell three days before Christmas. Even Cricket Australia were reportedly caught off guard.
“Australia, England, India and another top team will feature in the Super Series, which begins in 2021, and the first edition of the tournament will be played in India,” Ganguly announced on the sidelines of a product launch, sending the cricket world into a tizzy.
Ganguly reiterated the idea by suggesting that the game could only benefit from the quality of cricket expected in the quadrangular tournament. And while Cricket Australia CEO Kevin Roberts talked about growing the game instead, neither idea thus far holds water.
The announcement came even as the ICC has been engaged in negotiating a new Members Participation Agreement with cricket boards, one of whose clauses restricts members from participating in a tournament with more than three teams.
With the ICC deliberating on the proposal to include two limited-overs flagship tournaments over the next eight year cycle between 2023 and 2031, thereby creating room for one ICC tournament every year, the BCCI’s proposal is being seen as going against the grain as far as revenue sharing and equitable distribution for other teams are concerned.
Not everyone has been enthusiastic about the proposal.
Faf du Plessis, the South African captain, was the first to speak out against the plan, claiming it went contrary to the game’s larger goals, and would only continue the trend of keeping the Big Three in the picture.
Speaking on the sidelines after enjoying a rare win for the team after the Boxing Day Test, du Plessis stated, “The last year or so, you can see what’s going on in terms of the big three countries. There is a lot of movement going towards that, a lot more matches being played against the top three, or big three. It’s probably better if you include more teams, the better to grow the game as much as you can.”
The news comes at a difficult time for the sport.
Cricket South Africa have been rocked by turmoil and financial bungling. The players’ association is up in arms against the cricket board over non-payment of dues and drastic changes to their domestic structure. New Zealand have posted staggering losses over the past three years. Pakistan continue to be beset by financial struggles, having only recently been the beneficiary of visitors to their home in over a decade. The West Indies Cricket Board too has been stuck in controversy for more than a decade.
Far from being buoyed by their inclusion on the world stage, Cricket Ireland announced that they were cancelling their home Test against Bangladesh due to commercial and financial constraints, and were handed a prompt indefinite postponement by hosts Sri Lanka who cited the lack of a broadcaster as mandated by the ICC.
While there is talk about quality cricket and growing the reach of the game, the intentions behind this move seem far from honourable.
The Super Series initiative is a blatant move to subvert the ICC’s efforts to introduce a limited-overs tournament resembling the Champions Trophy in the next cycle beginning in 2023. The BCCI appears to have taken a vindictive stance over what it believes is an unfair slice of the pie in remuneration for its contribution.
Revenue received from ICC tournaments would be divided amongst all members, including associate members, whereas revenue from the Super Series would accrue only to the Big Three. By blocking the dates of a possible ICC tournament, the BCCI is running its own agenda to remind the world that it brings in 70-80% of the world’s cricket revenue, and will not compromise given its grievance that the distribution of revenue has not been equitable given Indian cricket’s contribution.
Furthermore, with the ICC refusing to release more funds for a previously hosted Twenty20 World Cup citing the BCCI’s inability to grant it tax exemptions in collusion with the Indian government, the agenda of financial distribution was set at the time of Ganguly’s coronation.
The angst emanating from India’s wealthy cricket board is not new. If anything, the euphoria over the appointment of the former Indian captain to the post of BCCI chairman has quickly been diluted given that his moves in the immediate aftermath have held the distinct whiff of another contentious administrator at play.
His predecessor the businessman N.Srinivasan not only proposed a new permanent post at the ICC, but was thought to be the mastermind of the first ‘Big Three’ proposal in 2014 where the BCCI, Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board gave themselves sweeping powers to decide the revenue share for every other permanent and non-permanent member of the Council, with India predictably walking away with a giant share of the pie.
While the Big Three collapsed after Srinivasan was embroiled in shady conflict of interest issues emerging as a fallout from the corruption, betting and fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League, Sourav Ganguly’s proposal of the Super Series is being seen as evidence of the master puppeteer at play from behind the scenes.
That there is a divided world within each nation with regard to this initiative was evident when the early view from Cricket Australia chairman Earl Eddings emerged that this could topple the balance between looking after the game in one’s own country, and shouldering the responsibility of being Big Brother, and therefore one of the game’s primary custodians and gatekeepers.
Kevin Roberts, though, chimed a different tune, asserting, “I think it’s an example of the innovative thinking coming out of the BCCI with Sourav Ganguly as president. In his very short time, only a couple of months, we have already seen India commit to and host a day and night Test in Kolkata so, a brilliant result there. And now a suggestion around the Super Series, another potential innovation.”
Having briefly benefitted from the Big Three’s engagement at ICC headquarters, it appears Cricket Australia are willing to let go their chronic angst over the past year over India’s strategic refusal to play a day and night Test during the series that gave India their first overseas Test series win Down Under in 70 years. And over the BCCI’s refusal to yield to CA’s request to postpone the limited-overs series recently underway in order for Australia to culminate their cricket calendar with the Trans Tasmanian series.
“Nothing is confirmed yet,” was Ganguly’s last word on the subject in the midst of widespread speculation and criticism. It is becoming a familiar stance of his, whether it’s the case of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s status or issues on which he is expected to take a stand.
In the larger context though, is this the BCCI chairman’s bargaining chip against the ICC bastion, holding the Super Series as a matter of leverage to negotiate a greater share at the ICC, or merely a signal that he wants to seal his lips after a premature slip of tongue?