The Big Three and the challenge of balance in world cricket

There is no proposal yet for a percentage of the money made from the Super Series to be invested in developing the game

Updated - December 31, 2019 09:35 pm IST

Published - December 31, 2019 09:34 pm IST

BCCI president Sourav Ganguly.

BCCI president Sourav Ganguly.

Here we go again. The Big Three. Exclusive tournament. More money. Déjà vu. Déjà entendu. Seen that. Heard that. The BCCI-sation of international cricket continues apace following a brief lull while the Supreme Court came into and went out of administration in India.

The ‘Super Series’, an annual ODI tournament for India, England and Australia and a fourth team (breaking the ICC rule of not having more than three) isn’t confirmed yet, but could soon be. For what India thinks today, the world (of cricket) thinks tomorrow.

New BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) president Sourav Ganguly’s initiative has been welcomed by both England and Australia, the latter calling it “innovative”. It is a version of the unsuccessful plan five years ago when the Big Three hoped to take over world cricket. But the idea of making more money while forming an exclusive club was never shelved.

The International Cricket Council cannot take the moral high ground, for they too wanted more tournaments so there would be one every year from 2023 to 2031. This is not some arbitrary date, but the television rights cycle. Television, unlike cricket bodies, does not have the responsibility for developing the game.

Money from World Cup tournaments goes to the ICC, from bilateral tournaments to the respective boards. Cricket unites the money-making classes.

Most successful financially

Former BCCI president N. Srinivasan was not the first official in the world to put his national body above the world game, but he was by far the most successful financially. In 2018, the BCCI (Srinivasan was no longer president then, but he had set the template), sold television rights for a five-year period for over 4.5 billion dollars.

The ICC has traditionally been run by cricket boards that had the biggest financial muscle. In the case of England and Australia, that was made muscular still by the veto vote. This set up a bunch of “lesser” countries who were upset but powerless to do anything about it. In 1993, the veto was removed, and soon India began to emerge as the nerve centre of the game.

The former veto powers were quick to realise on which side their bread was buttered. As Gideon Haigh wrote, “England and Australia could either collude in or face exclusion from (the new dispensation). Pragmatically, they chose collusion.”

The new plan from the Big Three will see them get richer, but the others, especially the non-Test countries are left out.

There is no proposal yet for a percentage of the money made from the Super Series to be invested in developing the game. South African captain Faf du Plessis has said it is better to help develop the game than have more fixtures restricted to the elite teams.

All organisations, from the United Nations to international governing bodies of sports have an important question to answer. Should the respective national bodies focus only on what’s good for them, or do they have a responsibility for the bigger picture which might include giving a boost to the less fortunate?

Cricket Australia Chairman Earl Eddings referred to this when he said, “I think there's a balance between looking after your own backyard and understanding your responsibilities as a custodian of the global game, and I think that's always a challenge.”

Will widen the gap

While what Srinivasan did and Ganguly proposes to do might enrich Indian cricket, it will certainly widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. New Zealand Cricket has been losing money three years in a row; the West Indies Cricket Board is not in great shape either. Ireland cancelled matches recently for lack of funds.

In the long run, the imbalance fostered by the elite teams could return to bite them in the leg. You just have to imagine a 13-match series against Australia followed by a 17-match series against England ad infinitum to realise this.

The ideal solution lies where self-interest meets global need. As Adam Smith said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher or baker that we expect our dinner, but from their self-interest.” But that is a pipe dream.

The ICC is not strong enough to take on the Big Three. Earlier plans came to nought because its independent chairman Shashank Manohar rolled back the original Big Three proposal. He has said he does not wish to continue after his term ends in May 2020.

Should the BCCI be concerned about how the game develops in Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe or Ireland? The short answer is yes, for all administrators ought to be involved in all cricket. But money is a powerful argument, and BCCI-sation seems almost a patriotic duty for the Indian administrators.

There is an argument for it; equally there is one for pumping some of the money back into the world game. In cricket as in life, the strong have a duty to look after the weak.

That’s something to think about as a new year begins. Not a new decade, though — that will dawn on the same day in 2021.

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