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By Suresh Menon
So Bangladesh are set to tour India in 2016, according to the new dispensation in the ICC. And South Africa are set to get a piece of the Indian pie too, with series between the two countries being planned. Pakistan, not the least corrupt of the cricket boards, is claiming foul and telling the world how they abstained from the ICC vote on “moral grounds”. Jokes aside, who won and who lost at the ICC meeting in Singapore?
The Big Three won, because they held all the cards anyway and it was always a case of ‘their way or the highway’. South Africa won – after ditching Sri Lanka and Pakistan – since their relations with India will improve, they might get to host the Champions Trophy in 2017 and, if they grovel some more, they might even be granted the IPL this year. The tournament (or parts of it at least) might be shifted out of India since it will clash with the national elections.
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe won because the promotion-relegation plan was dropped in favour of a play-off between the team winning the Inter-Continental Cup and the bottom-placed Test team. If the former win, then they will be granted Test status. This means that after nearly 140 years of Tests, there will be a clear-cut path to the highest echelon of the game. It takes Test recognition out of the purview of “vote bank” politics.
On the eve of the vote, there were three ‘dissidents’, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Since it needed eight countries out of ten to vote in favour, South Africa were wooed and won over. Pakistan and Sri Lanka left without any bargaining power, but the power brokers generously allowed a face-saving formula: abstain, spouting some nonsense about studying the recommendations again. That meant the moral high ground for the consumption back home. When the ICC Council finally ratifies the changes in June, rest assured Pakistan and Sri Lanka will have salved their consciences enough to vote in favour.
That leaves just two teams outside that charmed circle – New Zealand, who anyway were the first to publicly support the plan, and the West Indies, a once-great team now in some disarray and not likely to ignore handouts from the BCCI or the ICC (it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell them apart, rather like in that famous last scene between animal and man in George Orwell’s Animal Farm).
The result of all this wheeling and dealing is that there is apparent harmony in the ICC. India’s N Srinivasan takes over as the Chairman in July, formalizing a relationship with the governing body that existed for all practical purposes but had not been granted legal status. It also adds to the old problem of conflict of interest if Srinivasan continues as the BCCI chief (and the owner of Chennai Super Kings), but there is enough time for him to get around those objections even if they are raised (which is unlikely).
Gideon Haigh summarized the situation best: “Everyone in Singapore was pursuing their own interests. Not, of course, that they didn’t before, but the new regime has freed them to do so nakedly, with all manner of entailments. Cricket has temporarily repaired one problem, India’s vagrant spirit, and potentially voted itself a host of others, because it’s hard to see how the ICC can now be anything other than a trough at which members come periodically to gorge themselves.”
A trough to gorge themselves – what a wonderful image!
Meanwhile, there must be excitement in Bangladesh at the prospect of finally touring India. But that’s two years from now. And two years is a long time in cricket – anything could happen.
How many promises made in pursuit of votes will actually be kept is moot. Now that self-interest has been officially declared as the motto of the ICC, it might not be in India’s interests in 2016 to carry out promises made in 2014. Or Australia’s or England’s, for that matter.
Sure, the ICC needed change. The choice was between making it more exclusive and biased towards 30 percent of the Test teams or throwing it open and making it more inclusive. The Chairman-elect believes that the changes will make the ICC more inclusive. With apologies for invoking Orwell twice in the same column, this is doublethink in newspeak.