Economic Times

Shashank Manohar may think he has saved cricket. But what has he actually done?
© Economic Times

If turning wine into water was a skill in demand, Shashank Manohar would be the most sought after man on the planet. The man who claimed he was returning for a second innings at the helm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to save the game, left with his association in tatters. This was not so much abandoning a sinking ship as taking a speedboat from one to a luxury cruise liner that was on a speck on the horizon. And now, the man liberally misidentified as a messiah has applied his reverse-Midas touch at the International Cricket Council.

The decision of the ICC to not merely deny India a fair share of the substantial revenue it brings to the table, but to greatly increase what some other countries receive could well spell the end of international cricket as we have known it.

While the Big 3 formula for funds disbursement might have been overly skewed in India’s favour, with Australia and England only too happy to come along for the ride, it was amply clear that cutting India’s share from US$ 570 million to 290 million was unfair. If it was not so, why would the body making the reduction, offer to cough up an extra 100 million? While Manohar may stick to a particular line, the fact that he was ready to get out the chequebook is as good as an admission that the reduction in share was far from ideal. The question that is yet to be answered, is just how these numbers are dreamed up. How the figure can change so dramatically in the space of weeks or even days, is anyone’s guess.

If implemented — and it seems unlikely that India will take the extreme step of pulling out of the Champions Trophy — the knock-on effects have the potential to be disastrous. For starters, this formula disincentivises India from playing international cricket, especially multi-nation tournaments. It further encourages India to expand the Indian Premier League, not merely in terms of number of teams, but in duration and scope. A supplementary tournament, a mini-IPL overseas in September has been on the cards for the longest time, and now it is certain to be rolled out.

What’s more, handing out larger chunks of the pie to other countries empowers each to set up franchise-based Twenty20 leagues. While the IPL leads the pack, Australia’s Big Bash League is growing stronger by the edition, and both England and South Africa have grand designs for their own leagues.

Only recently Haroon Lorgat, the Cricket South Africa boss, announced that there was significant overseas interest in owning teams in their Global Twenty20 League. You can be sure that the owners of the Knightriders, both Kolkata and Trinidad, are drawing up plans, for there is enough Indian interest to add a Durban Nightriders to kitty. And, any owner who fields teams in multiple tournaments and geographies will want a continuity in squad and brand. It is not inconceivable that a player is contracted to a single owner for six or more months in the year to represent his team in multiple tournaments.

At the moment, cricketers require to be released by their home boards in order to participate in a T20 league. But the time may not be far away when a group that owns multiple teams refuses to release a player to do duty for his international team. In football this is already an entrenched practice and to believe that cricket will not go the same way simply because of tradition is naive. Cricketing geographies with a limited market are especially vulnerable. There is no way in which the West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka to name just three, can compete with the money on offer in T20 leagues. To expect players to indefinitely turn their backs on life-changing sums of money through some notion of loyalty to flag is unrealistic.

If this sounds unduly alarmist, consider the fact that even when only one genuinely cash-rich T20 league was around, Chris Gayle, he of two Test triple-hundreds, all but turned his back on the West Indies and has racked up more than 10000 runs in nearly 300 T20 games all around the world. Look at the challenge South Africa face in keeping Ab de Villiers happy. Having ruled himself out of Test cricket for almost all of 2017, de Villiers did not have a second thought about turning out for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. And, how could he, given the money involved?

It is true that all was not well with cricket. But what Manohar and the ICC have done is not merely killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, but having done so denying the rightful owner his pound of flesh. Being able to administer chemotherapy to cure a life-threatening illness is an admirable skill to have. But more important is the wisdom not to deploy it on someone who merely has the flu. Manohar believes he has saved cricket from the BCCI. It is, however, unclear whether the game needed saving in the first place, and equally crucially, whether there will be anything left worth saving once he is done and dusted.

(This editorial first appeared in the Economic Times on April 28, 2017)