Ringside View: The Champions Trophy quagmire

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Published: April 29, 2018 3:25:09 AM

The ICC’s broadcaster wants to scrap the 2021 Champions Trophy, and replace it with a World T20. It means more matches and a lot more money

ICC chief executive David Richardson interacts with the media at the end of the ICC board meeting in Kolkata this week.ICC chief executive David Richardson interacts with the media at the end of the ICC board meeting in Kolkata this week.

As things stand, if voting happens on the 2021 Champions Trophy switch to a World T20, India would very likely lose it 16-1. It’s not that the rest of the cricket world is out to humiliate the BCCI. Like any corporate structure, the International Cricket Council (ICC), too, is money-minded and the reality is, T20 cricket has become the game’s biggest money-churner.

The ICC’s official broadcaster wants the scrapping of the 2021 Champions Trophy, to be replaced with a World T20. The logic is simple. A World T20 will have 16 teams compared to eight in the Champions Trophy. It means more matches, wider global coverage and a lot more money. Fatter broadcast revenue will, in turn, add to the ICC’s bank balance and will subsequently come to its members. India is the host of the CT 2021 and a section of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) thinks that the proposed switch would result in a $30-million loss. It’s difficult to understand how. The BCCI’s issue is probably more sentimental; it’s about forfeiting one of its own products and losing further bragging rights in the global body.

When the late Jagmohan Dalmiya took over as the ICC president in 1997, the governing body of world cricket had funds of a little over $22,000. Three years hence when he left, the ICC coffers had swelled to $15 million. The Champions Trophy was the great administrator’s brainchild. The idea was to bring in a more lucrative product between the World Cups. Dalmiya termed it as a ‘mini World Cup’, with only the ICC Full Members eligible to participate. That made the event even more competitive compared to the World Cup. The spectators and the broadcasters lapped it up, making the first edition in 1998 in Bangladesh an instant hit.   

It’s an irony that in Dalmiya’s city the ICC performed the Champions Trophy requiem. “The Champions Trophy in a way was too similar to the World Cup; always quite difficult to differentiate… Why are you having a World Cup and then a Champions Trophy? It was difficult. And don’t forget the 13-team ODI league is a huge step in making sure the ODI format has much more context going forward,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said at the culmination of an almost week-long conclave.

Short-form cricket has changed since the IPL’s advent in 2008. Test cricket’s die-hard support base has helped the format survive, keeping the ‘obituary mongers’ at arm’s length. As for white-ball cricket, the IPL’s rapid growth has made the 50-over format secondary with regard to crowd preference. In that context, the Champions Trophy might have become surplus to requirements. Then again, the 2017 Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan had attracted over a billion eyeballs, attesting the fact that fans still covet marquee 50-over events. The inconsequential bilateral series has fallen out of favour.

Now think about how Dalmiya had handled the present situation, if he were representing the BCCI at the ICC. Negotiation and persuasion had been his strength, and the master negotiator would have talked his way to a majority in the boardroom. N Srinivasan, another former BCCI and ICC president, on the other hand, might have browbeaten the weaker links in the ICC to earn votes in the BCCI’s favour. Unfortunately, the Indian cricket board is leaderless and rudderless at the moment and its clout in the global body is gone.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s not a bad development. A democratic set-up should thrive on equality. India might be contributing the biggest chunk of revenue to the ICC coffers and it is empowered by its legendary support base, but the BCCI can’t work in isolation. The stunning Rs 16,347.5-crore broadcast rights deal for the IPL from 2018-2022 is not only about the Indian stardust in the tournament. The extremely talented cricketers from Australia, South Africa, England, West Indies and other countries handsomely contribute to the global popularity of the League. Similarly, Star India has paid Rs 6,138.1 crore for the Indian cricket’s global TV and digital rights for the period 2018-2023 because Virat Kohli and company would play a lot of marquee series in the next five-six years. Without the overseas presence the IPL would become a glorified Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, while international cricket for India would cease to exist.

At the same time, India’s contribution to the game of cricket makes the BCCI the leader of the ICC by default and there has to be some acknowledgement. But the Indian board is seemingly not getting its due. While confirming the 2021 Champions Trophy switch, Richardson said: “As far as the conversion from the Champions Trophy to a World T20 is concerned, the BCCI officials attended the meeting when that happened and the vote was passed unanimously. So I don’t think that’s an issue.”

Amitabh Choudhary, the BCCI’s representative in the ICC, denied this saying: “India will never support that.”

It would be ludicrous to think that the ICC is trying to take India for a ride. Without India the organisation would run on flat tyres. Which is why, if the Champions Trophy has to be scrapped, the BCCI should be at the forefront of that decision, not at the receiving end.

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