At first glance it’s a bit hard to know what to make of Cricket Australia chairman Mike Baird’s latest intervention, extremely welcome though it might appear to be.
Rising to the challenge of Steve Waugh’s claim that cricket administrators do not care about the desperate state into which Test cricket appears to be plunging, Baird raised the possibility on Thursday that the wealthier ICC members might have to do more to support their comparatively impoverished fellows.
Was this, one wondered, the voice of the same Cricket Australia which, barely six months ago, had agreed to an ICC resource distribution model which pours 38.5 per cent of the available funding into the already overflowing coffers of the BCCI, while England and Australia take less than 7 per cent apiece, the other Full members less, and the 94 Associates get just over 11 per cent?
Although nothing has really changed since that disastrous decision was made, the rupee now appears to have dropped for Baird, who told the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daniel Brettig that ‘We need to support and grow Test cricket, and we’re going to have to think through our priorities and part of that is how we distribute funding.’
Well, yes. But the problem with defining the issue purely in terms of the future of Test cricket is that it offers a sticking plaster when what is really needed is a major operation.
Australia, India and England must be prepared to share more of their wealth with other nations to keep the best cricketers playing Test matches, Cricket Australia chair Mike Baird says #AUSvPAK https://t.co/CrqoNXSXIW— Daniel Brettig 🏏 (@danbrettig) January 4, 2024
Acute as they are, the symptoms which Steve Waugh was talking about and to which Mike Baird has responded are only the most immediate signs of a much more widespread disease, and unless that is addressed the patient will remain in a life-threatening condition.
It is undoubtedly concerning that South Africa is sending a second-string side to play in New Zealand because the tour clashes with its franchise T20 league, and that we have seen the Pakistan pace attack struggling in Australia while Haris Rauf was turning out for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League.
But the metastasizing of the IPL through the proliferating franchise leagues around the world, in which IPL consortia often have a direct financial interest, is itself only a symptom of the threat cricket has increasingly faced since the BCCI established its sacred cash cow in 2007.
It’s not as if we weren’t warned: the IPL’s architects were quite clear from the beginning that their dream was a domestic T20 competition which would soon transcend the traditional international game.
And because the BCCI has such decisive political clout within the ICC Executive Board and is able to contort the other Full members into submission, successive CEOs of the ICC have bent over backwards to accommodate its demands. Cricket’s governing body has been pathetically slow to recognise that it is hosting a disease whose ultimate aim is to kill it off.
Nearly fifteen years ago, a prescient Gideon Haigh was able to write that ‘the ICC’s future looms, at least potentially, as running those parts of global cricket with which its members can’t otherwise be bothered.’
At about the same time, he raised the possibility of ‘some form of equalisation fund to maintain the solvency of its member countries’ – almost exactly what Mike Baird now seems to be envisaging, albeit fifteen years too late.
But let’s think about what has happened in those intervening fifteen years: Lord Woolf, the clinical oncologist of world cricket, correctly identified the disease as the unwillingness of the ICC Board to govern in the interests of the game, his diagnosis both proved and destroyed by the rejection of his potentially life-saving report.
Then the Gang of Three, India, England and Australia, responded by seizing even greater control, handing themselves an even bigger slice of the cake and wrecking much of the progress in global development which had been made over the previous decade.
There was a partial recovery with the reforms initiated by Shashank Manohar in 2017, but that ground was lost again with last year’s adoption of the new resource distribution model, and in the meantime the IPL and its colonial offshoots have continued their unremitting march towards global domination.
So Baird is right to hit the panic button: it may already be too late to save the patient, but if we don’t try, and try now, then a fatal outcome is simply inevitable.
Cricket can no longer be run as some kind of timeshare racket or cryptocurrency scheme, specifically designed to fill the coffers of a handful of Indian oligarchs.
A resource distribution model which gives nearly 40% of the money to a member whose ability to generate income domestically is already greater than most of the other members combined is simply insane, a ludicrous parody of sensible global governance.
It is actually a mirror-image of what should apply: were the ICC’s resources to be distributed on the basis of need, the lion’s share would go to the Full members who need it most, with a much more significant allocation as well to the Associates to help them develop as cricket-playing nations, not just as ‘markets’ to satisfy the oligarch’s insatiable greed.
Telling the BCCI that the game is up would be a risky strategy and would call for a much greater level of nerve than cricket’s administrators have so far been able to muster, but any physician will tell you that the longer you leave a medical or surgical intervention the less likely it is to be successful.
So let us hope that Mike Baird’s insights are not mere window-dressing, and that Cricket Australia, so often on the wrong side over the ICC’s 115-year history, might now take the lead in turning it, at last, into a global governing body worthy of the name.
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