India Block Plan To Resuscitate Test Cricket

I

Hey England. Hey Australia. Hey South Africa. Hey New Zealand. Hey Pakistan. Hey West Indies. Hey 72% of international cricketers. You want a two-division structure for test cricket? Well tough luck. We’re the mighty BCCI and we do what we want. You can stuff your plan to save test cricket and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

Today is a very depressing day for international test cricket. Even though the majority of test cricketing nations and the overwhelming majority of players realise that test cricket is in peril, and that a two-division structure might have added context and interest to the longer form, the BCCI have effectively vetoed the idea at the ICC chief executives meeting in Dubai. Their only supporters were the notoriously inept Sri Lankan board, and a Bangladeshi board who have single-handedly failed to make their national team competitive for several years under the existing structure.

Although most accept that the two-division plan wasn’t perfect, and that it might have been a risk for lower ranked teams, it’s significant that the West Indies backed the proposal. This suggests that the idea had real merit and the dangers were somewhat exaggerated – after all, the Windies were one of the teams in danger of a supposed irrelevant existence in division two.

I think we can all assume from this result – as if we didn’t know it before – that the ICC isn’t really a democracy. It doesn’t matter how many countries are in favour of a particular proposal; what really matters is what India want. They hold all the power and can effectively shelve any proposal by threatening to withdraw from lucrative tours.

In opposing two divisions, the new, and seemingly extremely belligerent BCCI president Anurag Thakur, claimed that the proposal would damage test cricket rather than help it. His specific reasons for reaching this conclusion were as disingenuous as it gets:

The BCCI is against the two-tier Test system because the smaller countries will lose out and the BCCI wants to take care of them … it is necessary to protect their interests. In the two-tier system they will lose out on a lot, including revenue and the opportunity to play against top teams. We don’t want that to happen. We want to work in the best interests of world cricket and that is why our team plays against all the countries.

If that’s the case, Mr Thakur, why are you so vehemently opposed to pooling TV money and distributing it equitably amongst these smaller nations? You’d have to be incredibly naive to perceive the BCCI as some kind of cuddly uncle unselfishly ‘caring’ for cricket’s vulnerable children.

What’s more, the BCCI’s stance doesn’t take into account the financial pressures South Africa are under – they would have received longer series against the best nations and a subsequent increase in revenue – or the aspirations of Ireland and Afghanistan who would have been granted test status had the two division plan gone through. It seems that Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are the only smaller nations that count.

At least the BCB president Nizamuddin Chowdhury admitted that he only voted in his particular country’s interests: “We are delighted we could convince other members of the negative impact it would have on Bangladesh cricket.” But what about the interests of test cricket in general? And it’s not like Bangladesh have improved much over a lengthy period of time while playing the stronger test teams. All they ever do is get thrashed.

So what does all this mean? Basically we’re back to square one. Test cricket is dying and little is being done to resolve matters. The BCCI have also poo-pooed any prospect of a World Test Championship. Instead we’re left with the vague hope of some kind of playoff between the top ranked teams every now and again. Meanwhile, the BCCI are considering the implementation of a second IPL to be played in September. Yeah, that’ll help.

This whole situation is incredibly frustrating. The BCCI seem like a giant roadblock bent on promoting limited overs cricket at the expense of tradition and preventing equality in funding. Not only have they made their opposition to pooling television money very clear, they’re also putting pressure on the seemingly progressive ICC president, Shashank Manohar, for failing to serve his nation’s interests. Here’s a quick heads up Mr Thakur: it’s the ICC’s job to serve world cricket’s interests, not India’s.

Although the BCCI have spent some time trying to boost crowds at test matches in certain cities, perhaps worried that empty seats will cost them sponsorship money, I remain entirely cynical that they care about test cricket. I also resent their posturing as a moral bastion, ostensibly opposing the two-division system because they’re worried about poor little Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

I think most people think the reality is somewhat different – especially in a week when they’ve cried foul that the 2017 Champions Trophy in England has been allocated a far bigger budget than the World T20 in India earlier this year. Call me a cynic, but the World T20 was so disorganised that no amount of money would’ve improved it.

As I’ve said before, the two-division format was far from perfect. For starters, Australia’s recent defeat in Sri Lanka wouldn’t have happened because the countries might have been in different divisions. However, with a World Test Championship proving difficult to schedule, test cricket is fast running out of options.

Instead of worrying whether consigning Bangladesh or Sri Lanka to division two would make their problems worse, why not be more optimistic? It’s quite possible it might force their respective boards to get their houses in order.

I’ll leave you with the wise words of South Africa’s captain AB De Villiers, a man who knows a thing or two about the issues facing test cricket and the threat lucrative T20 tournaments present to the game:

We (South Africa) have already raised our intensity and urgency just knowing that a Test league might happen. There’s nothing like the pressure and adrenaline that comes with knowing you need to win matches. It’s time for all international matches to have more meaning.

Instead the BCCI have opted for more tediously one-sided series, in which batsmen and bowlers massage their averages while everyone quickly loses interest. If test cricket wants to evolve, and it wants to survive, the best way to do that is to raise standards. Two divisions would have done that. Surely that’s better than doing sod all?

James Morgan

About the author

James Morgan

James is a freelance copywriter, writer and author. He's a founder and co-editor of The Full Toss.

19 comments

  • James, I’m not sure I agree with much of this analysis.

    There are lots of different aims for a Test structure, and competitiveness is only one of them. This is particularly true of a nation that needs to attract crowds, sponsors and (importantly) their players to the competition being offered. Do you think the West Indies players will play in a glorified Intercontinental Cup? What happens to them if they don’t?

    Saying they will “get their house in order” is borderline ridiculous. Nations have access to the players that are in their system. They aren’t clubs that can recruit better players or restructure. Their resources are only peripherally related to the money they earn.

    But the broader issue I have with this is you seem to be unduly focused on the BCCI for reasons that escape me. The ICC is a flawed body, but it is still democratic. A proposal needs a 2/3 majority of full members – 7 votes. The first rule of politics is make sure you have the numbers, and the bottom line is they didn’t.

    The BCCI have their own reasons for rejecting the proposal, non-monetary ones. But what about the members that did vote for it? Let’s not be naive that this is some altruistic exercise on their part. Did CA and the ECB offer to pay a shorter Ashes series to accommodate more teams (of course not)? Did they offer to share their enormous revenue streams from their home market (of course not, they offered to share the away market – meaning India)? Instead, having complained endlessly about the quality of opposition they face at home, and with their own broadcasters firmly in mind, they tried to restrict the teams they’d need to play.

    There will be other plans. The press release indicates as much. Most likely the West Indies, knowing four nations were against it, are angling for something else. But this particular proposal largely helps two of the Big-3 to restructure cricket to their liking and stuff the smaller members. Funnily enough, they rejected it. That’s politics. The ICC, CA and the ECB seem uniquely bad at playing it.

    • Russ, the article focuses on the BCCI because they’re the ones whose views count most. A clear majority of both players and national boards supported this move. And yes, I disagree that the ICC is democratic. If it was truly democratic, the shameful power grab by India, England and Australia (which is being reversed) would never have happened.

      It’s far from ridiculous to claim that boards like the West Indies, Sri Lanka etc might get their houses in order. Don’t you think that some of those countries’ problems stem from poor administration amongst other things? They control how revenue is spent and shape the club structures underneath. That’s their job. They’re not a passive body. Hasn’t the ECB’s decision to introduce central contracts and two divisions helped the England team? The convey belt of talent, and how that talent is developed, is very much the responsibility of international boards.

      I’m also unsure what other plan you now expect to come to fruition? The test championship has been shelved. Two divisions has been shelved. Everyone seems lukewarm about even a simple playoff between the two top test teams. What do you think will happen & how will it revive test cricket? I see no reason for optimism at this point. Surely only a competition of some sort will revive interest?

      • James, sure, administration matters, but English success is more likely to be good fortune as central contracts and two divisions. Australia is pretty exemplary in its organisation but it still produced some of the worst performances in its history in Asia over the last few years. There is a massive dose of luck in who turns up to play for you – being big helps, but WI and SL are not that. Sri Lanka were a disordered mess when Murali rolled in, and a disordered mess when he left. But one great player with a bit of support can be the difference between being pretty mediocre and pretty decent.

        A majority of FICA players could mean anything. They don’t represent all nations, and are much larger in the four boards pushing hardest for it. Yes/no survey questions are worse than useless for gauging believes (or even knowledge of the subject). Ehsan Mani was against it, and there is no stronger and more consistent voice for good governance and international expansion than him.

        I never said the ICC was perfect, but it is intensely political. Failure to account for that by the ICC is why this proposal failed. And again, this is because CA and the ECB have consistently pushed to reduce access to top-level Test cricket, and most boards don’t want that. If the BCCI is so important (and they are), why aren’t they on-board? That’s like trying to pass legislation without prime ministerial approval. That’s literally the first thing they should have made sure of.

        I mean, we can bitch and moan about the BCCI all we want, but it is hot air. The BCCI aren’t unreasonable. And they are one vote of ten. Historically they are much more progressive than Australia and England. I don’t see that supporting the concerns of smaller nations is a bad thing, even when they are legitimate. Fundamentally, it just wasn’t that good a proposal.

        On the future. Reread the press release. Boards are still interested in improving context. Even those who rejected had specific reasons (they don’t want to be relegated, and fair enough). They have gone back to discuss it, and we’ll see. As I’ve written dozens of times, cup competitions work better than leagues, that’s why they are standard practice for international competition, and there is plenty of scope to create one. If the ICC wasn’t so ham-fisted they’d have realised this six months ago.

        • Draws make cup competitions very difficult in test cricket. I’m not saying the ECB and ACB are altruistic (long time readers of this blog will know that) but I can’t agree that the BCCI is ‘progressive’. When it comes to the press release, we’ve seen this kind of thing all the time: no firm commitments just the usual guff. I severely doubt anything will happen. For all 2 division’s faults, I really think it was the most realistic plan to reform test cricket.

          Just a quick note on England’s success being ‘good fortune’ and not down to central contracts or two division. I think that’s a minority view that doesn’t have much traction. It’s pretty well accepted by players and pundits alike that these things have made a huge difference to England’s fortunes. Before central contracts players used to turn up the day before the game, spend little time with their teammates, and then return to their counties for a domestic match the next day. It was a ridiculous arrangement.

  • The two division proposal was likely to finish Test cricket in the West Indies and seriously damage Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. All of them need decent opposition to get any sort of crowd support for Test cricket

    • Hi Simon. Welcome to TFT. I understand the arguments against 2 divisions but if it was going to finish test cricket in the West Indies, why did the Windies board vote in favour of 2 divisions? And how do Bangladesh benefit from the current arrangements when they simply get beaten heavily all the time? And what about Ireland and Afghanistan, who would have gained test status as a result of this (albeit in division two)? The interests of these minnows should count too. The situation is quite complex and nuanced. South Africa currently get very short series against the best sides. They’d get more money and exposure if 2 divisions were introduced – thus easing their financial crisis.

      The point I’m trying to make is that two divisions suited the majority. It’s near impossible to make everyone happy. I don’t think it’s right for the interests of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to override what’s best for the majority and test cricket as a whole i.e. every nation, including associates and affiliates. The major point is that under the current structure test cricket slowly dies EVERYWHERE. Anything is surely preferable to that.

    • Simon, did you watch the recent WI Test series against India (surely decent opposition?). The stands were deserted and the standard of cricket mostly abysmal. The last Test was a farcical abandonment.

      I loved the old WI team – but I also love the current Afghanistan side. Why would you deny someone like Mohammad Nabi the chance ever to play Test cricket out of nostalgia for something that’s long gone? It doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

  • Well said, James – and it’s a sad day for international cricket today. I’m gutted for the Ireland and Afghanistan players who looked to have Test cricket withing their grasp, only to have it snatched away again. When Thakur talked of “smaller nations” he clearly didn’t mean them! The 7-5 proposal was far from perfect – but it was a move in the right direction.

    The BCCI are not the only villains here, but they are the main ones. Zimbabwe only retain FM status because they always vote with India on the ICC (and other FMs don’t want to create the precedent that FM status can ever be lost). The corruption at the ZCB is legendary – and as for their commitment to Test cricket, they recently cancelled a series against SL. The idea that they have a vote in all this and all the associates don’t is sickening.

    There seems to be real trouble brewing between the BCCI and Manohar. The new chair of the BCCI has been visiting Srini and, according to Indian news sources, he’s playing a card straight out of the Srini handbook – threatening to boycott ICC events, starting with the CT. There also appears to be zero chance of a fairer revenue-sharing arrangement. The BCCI meet the IOC to discuss cricket joining the Olympics soon and if they do anything but quash that idea I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Even if it went ahead. the model I’ve heard they’re considering involves only eight teams playing in the Olympics which makes an absolute nonsense of spreading the game. The only place there’s any genuine concern about spreading the game to is the USA because they think they can make a fortune out of US TV rights.

    Although I’m unhappy about their position, I can understand why SL and Bangladesh were very concerned that Test cricket in D2 wouldn’t be supported. The 2014 reforms have really poisoned the well of trust. The richer boards clearly demonstrated that, when push comes to shove, they will put their own wealth above all. Giles Clarke is still our man on the ICC, there to remind them of 2014 every time they meet. (Wasn’t Clarke going to be grilled by a House of Commons’ committee – what happened to that?).

    About the only thing I’d slightly disagree about is what you wrote about India’s commitment to Test cricket. They are playing 18 Tests in less than 12 months so that seems a strong commitment (although what condition their bowlers will be in at the end of it is another matter). They are also reportedly the main obstruction to Colin Graves’ dream of four-day Tests.

    • Cheers Simon. It’s an interesting point you make about India playing lots of tests. I’ve heard this mentioned by India fans as evidence that the BCCI is committed to test cricket. I have a slightly different take though. The major nations probably play too much test cricket. The large number of Ashes series in recent years makes the whole thing less special. One could argue that India play these games to spread their TV revenue around the world but I’m not so sure it’s clear cut. Test cricket needs to be special. I would be in favour if they cut the number of matches but made the matches they do have more meaningful (and of a higher standard).

  • India and Indians in general don’t like test cricket. It’s all about 2020 biff biff for them. Sadly for the game, they have the population to mean their say goes. Cricket is dying and only a fool would say otherwise.

  • Whilst I supported 2 divisions I was always unsure how it would work.
    I liked the fact it would simply give more meaning by instantly creating a league I don’t think anyone was quite sure how fixtures world work.
    The bigger picture is we seem to be floating from one idea to another in the idea that test cricket needs saving.
    For me its bigger than that, cricket as a whole needs saving, tour schedules are a mess, there’s too much meaningless cricket and too many pop up T20 comps.
    Maybe its time a broad church of people with varying interests got together , hold brainstorming sessions and came up with 2 or 3 different ideas of how international cricket could work and grow (steadily) for the next 20 years.

  • I am unsure about the merits of the 2 division proposal but see this issue as symptomatic of a much bigger issue, the lack of any sort of ‘fit and proper person’ test for those in positions of power in cricket. The records of many individuals in such positions in the authorities in most of the sub continent nations is especially worrying and merits the focus on the BCCI. The failures to properly come to grips with the various scandals, whether it be match fixing in Pakistan or ‘sex for selection’ scandals in both Pakistan and India suggest incompetence at best. The symbiotic relationship between politics and sport (not just cricket) in India makes it an especially smelly mess.

    Of course, the BCCI is not alone in its venality and cricket has only itself to blame for allowing scandal after scandal around the world to be swept under the carpet, from racial selection policies in South Africa (both under apartheid and by the ANC!) to the Windies Board scamming its own players to the ECB dismissing allegations against its own players (such as Stewart) without any transparency or apparent investigation. But the BCCI stands above all these simply by virtue of the financial dimension, with plentiful evidence of rakeoffs, bribes and sweetheart deals running into many millions.

    It would seem that the obvious candidate to next head the ICC is Sepp Blatter now that he is available.

  • I agree with Andy, I think the administrators have become separate from those who truly love the game. Money is the new god now. Cricket and the quality of it has fallen by the wayside. But as long as billions is made world wide in TV rights then every thing must be okay mustn’t it?
    Watching last nights T20 game with England and Pakistan. Seeing the huge support for Pakistan. You could see they were right up for it. That is what needs to be cultivated, be it at Test match, ODI or T20 level. Shame that game nor the others were not on Free to Air TV. Crickets lack of visibility is killing the roots of the game. Only the administrators cannot see it.
    (Apologies if I have veered off topic here James)

    • For me, lack of FTA coverage (the elephant in the room whenever just about anything about cricket is discussed in a UK context) is another reason why the two-tier proposal wouldn’t have made much difference. What’s the point of creating “context” when nobody will be watching?

  • Hi James I think it’s always good th have some other perspective too . I would suggest reading Sharda ugras article in cricinfo where she exposes the ulterior motives of CA ECB etc both in terms of two tier test cricket and pooling of overseas rights which are quite interlinked.
    I am no huge fan of BCCI but they are not the villains in this mess as you suggest in your article.
    And coming to some specifics in your article…you write about the majority of players want it , it would not count as majority of players who were polled were from the 4 countries supporting two tier test cricket
    You harp on about how Bangladesh is thrashed every time , I tell you we could have a very interesting series this summer considering that bang beat England last two ODI matches they played each other. They recently beat South Africa , India and Pakistan consecutively in series wins. Banglasedh are very good team on their turf just like every damn country is now.
    You do not expect people to relegate WI , Sl , bang just so that we can give a test to Mohammad Nabi for nostalgia sake .. sure?
    Two tier tests immensely helps the TV rights of nations like aus England saf ind , but still India has blocked it . What does that tell you? What could be the gain of India in blocking it ?and no I am not taking betterment of smaller nations as an answer. What could be gain of aus England Saf in accepting two tier tests? and no I am not going to take resucitation of test cricket as an answer?
    The real answer lies in money from TV rights as Ugras article suggests.
    FYI Empty stand in test cricket in subcontinet and full house in t20 does not mean test cricket is dead here.. It’s just that people have less time for test cricket being directly interfering with their 8am to 5pm livelihood.

By James Morgan

Newsletter