It’s too late to legislate the disbandment of the ‘Big Three’ comprising India, Australia and England. They’ve stolen cricket. The game’s last hope is that the people who care make their voices heard and their presence felt, writes SA Cricket magazine editor RYAN VREDE.
The idea that the minnow nations – and I call them this as a fair reflection of exactly how the ‘Big Three’ see everyone else in the game – can somehow mount an effective uprising from within the International Cricket Council is a pipedream. They will be crushed by the toxic trio’s financial might, and the influence and power that buys in the ICC, before any such uprising gets off the ground.
This power was achieved through two means: Firstly, a wilful collusion, then later a financial model that gave them everything they wanted.
The Hindu best describes the collusion, writing: ‘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,’ the publication explains. ‘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”.’
In 2014, what most referred to as the ‘Big Three’ model, which was adopted by the ICC. It gave the major share of the ICC’s revenue to the trio, based on their contributions to the council.
In simple terms, cricket’s rich benefited immeasurably from being rich, and used that advantage to get richer.
The revenue split went as follows: India would get 20.3%, England 4.4%, and Australia 2.7% of the total revenue for the 2015-2023 cycle.
Then something really weird happened in 2017. A measure of fairness prevailed, and the model was restructured, much to India’s dismay. Their share of the ICC’s revenue was greatly reduced to US$293 million across the eight-year cycle (down from US$440m), England’s was cut from US$150m to US$143m, while Australia stayed pretty much the same. Significantly, under the restructured model, identical amounts were offered to seven of the game’s full member nations (including South Africa), but it paled in comparison to what the trio would receive.
However, the gluttonous trio now had to figure out how to supplement the income they had lost. The answer, they determined, was regular bilateral series, and mostly contested between themselves.
Why bilateral series? Well, all income earned from ICC events goes to the ICC, who then share it with their members according to the aforementioned model.
However, revenue earned from bilateral tournaments goes to the respective boards. For India, England and Australia, who have massive cricket markets, an engaged and active fanbase, and established commercial partnerships (or a wealth of potential partners), this is gold. When that bilateral series involves two teams from the ‘Big Three’, it is a cricket series and money-printing business in equal measure. As the Times of India observed: ‘Cricket unites the money-making classes.’
Perhaps this helps you better understand why Australia would so easily ‘postpone’ a three-Test tour to South Africa. Or why England saw no point in honouring the ODI series here in late 2020, when (false positive) Covid-19 tests and supposed breaches of the bio-secure bubble in Cape Town gave them an out that had the facade of legitimacy to it.
It may also help you understand why the recently concluded Australia vs India Test and white-ball series went ahead despite immense Covid-19-related complications caused by cluster outbreaks in Australia. In light of this, it was hard to swallow Cricket Australia citing health concerns as an excuse for pulling out of the South Africa tour at a time when active case numbers were – and still are – dropping sharply, and when they were guaranteed everything from exclusive use of the bio-secure environment and government-sanctioned preferential treatment at private hospitals should a positive test occur.
Furthermore, it possibly explains why England and India will contest two five-Test series this year. India are also expected to host the World T20 later this year, further boosting their coffers. Then there’s the small matter of the Ashes series between England and Australia at the end of the year.
Lest we forget, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly continues to push for the formation of a ‘Super Series’, an annual ODI tournament for India, England and Australia and a fourth team (widely assumed to be New Zealand), which reports suggest is being considered for entry into the ICC’s Future Tours Programme. Ka-ching.
All of this while South Africa are scheduled to play the Netherlands and Ireland in the coming months – series CSA, at best, is going to break even on. The rest of the minnows have a similarly scrap-filled schedule.
Many of these members were already in financial distress prior to the pandemic. Now, because of an extended period of inactivity/reduced activity, versus the relatively packed schedule of the ‘Big Three’, the gulf between the haves and have-nots will grow exponentially and, most likely, irredeemably.
This deepens the trio’s power, while eradicating what little power everyone else had. The outcome leaves minnows at the mercy of India, England and Australia.
You get the picture?
This would be less disheartening if the ICC’s executive leadership showed any inclination to arrest, or, at the very least, curtail the trio’s the ever-growing power. Instead, the recently elected chairman, New Zealander George Barclay, appears to have zero will to take back control of the ICC.
Upon election, Barclay committed to looking after the interests of all members. In late November 2020, he then duly rolled over and played dead when the trio opposed the ICC’s plans to host eight events in its next eight-year cycle, on the basis that it compromised their chances of hosting the maximum number of bilateral series (presumably among each other).
The best Barclay could muster was: ‘There’s a lot of conjecture around whether it should be eight events, seven events, six events or whatever. I honestly don’t have a preference. What I want to ensure is that whatever we do end up with gives us optimum cricketing outcomes.’
One ICC board member, speaking anonymously, said: ‘There was an analysis done around six months ago that showed little or no impact on bilateral cricket from playing eight ICC events instead of six. Following that, all countries have pretty much accepted that eight events will take place now and there was little challenge at the meeting the other day when the outline of eight events was presented.’
And Barclay gets very cross when challenged about the widespread perception, held by most knowledgeable journalists covering the game, that he has a soft spot for bilateral series.
‘They [bilateral series and ICC events] are a massive consideration around what we do, so I would like to see those working together. I am sick hearing about the fact I am in favour of bilateral cricket over everything else. I want to see all of it work in perfect harmony,’ said Barclay.
He then peddled rhetoric that even Q-anon followers would struggle to believe. ‘There is no big three as far as I am concerned. I don’t subscribe to it at all,’ he said. ‘All members are important and should be treated equally. I do accept concerns of members could be different. I do accept that some of those bigger counties can provide certain outcomes to the ICC along the lines of hosting and revenue, so again we need to take that into account and recognise that. But there is no big three.’
How do you fix the biggest threat to the game’s very existence at an elite level (and as a result at all levels below), when you don’t acknowledge that the threat exists?
Barclay’s executive leadership team is made up of independent female director Indra Nooyi, and chief executive Manu Sawhney, both multi-millionaires with corporate backgrounds. I’d imagine that the plight of cricket’s paupers doesn’t resonate in any meaningful way with suits who are tasked with swelling the ICC’s coffers.
It should matter to the ICC, as it should matter to the ‘Big Three’. For one, there is no future for a cricket calendar marked by elongated bilateral series or tournaments between the ‘Big Three’, and there shouldn’t even be a countenance thereof. The game belongs to the people and should be played by elite representatives (in this context) of all the people.
Most importantly, in cricket as in life, the strong have a duty to look after the weak. In the absence of any discernible sense of this responsibility and duty, the game will die.
I wish there was a clear solution. But a sense of powerlessness sweeps over me when I think about the state of affairs and how the ‘Big Three’ have engineered complete control.
What remains for the disenfranchised is to make their voices heard consistently. Even that won’t be enough, though. It would require those lovers of the game and the media in Australia, India and England to care when there is no obvious reason for them to do so.
It would require powerful voices in the game from those countries to use their influence to pressure the trio and the ICC into change. Many, including Kevin Pietersen, Michael Vaughn and Shane Warne, expressed their disgust at Australia’s 11th-hour abandonment of their South African tour. But a couple of tweets won’t do. Theirs need to be a sustained effort, one that pulls in other influential voices to lobby for the minnows.
The game is on its death bed, struck down by the greed of a few. Only a sustained, collective effort will revive it.