BCCI threat results in scrapping of proposal for Two-Tier Test System
The BCCI’s objections to the two-tier Test system are another example of its heavy-handed, myopic and self-serving approach to international cricket
Dhruba Basu Delhi
In a brazen subversion of democratic principles that should come as no surprise to those familiar with the machinations of world cricket, the ICC has scrapped the proposal for a two-tier Test system. The decision was taken (without a vote) at a meeting of its Chief Executives’ Committee in Dubai on Wednesday, September 7, in the wake of the BCCI’s threat that it was considering the option of pulling out of the 2017 Champions Trophy.
While ICC CEO David Richardson spoke unhelpfully after the meeting, convened to consider alternatives to the current ailing models of Test and ODI cricket, of ‘an appetite from the ten Full Members for more context around all three formats of the game’ and ‘consensus on a range of areas’, it is important to note that 6 Full Members (Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies) were in favour of going ahead with the two-tier proposal, as against 4 Members opposing it (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe).
Moreover, the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, which represents the interests of professional cricketers, announced Monday that 72 percent of the players quizzed for the body’s annual survey had expressed support for the proposal.
The proposed structure was intended to revitalise Test cricket, suffering at the present juncture from a viewership problem that shows no signs of being able to weather the onslaught of round-the-clock, fast-paced, riotous, market-friendly T20 leagues. It would create one tier consisting of the top seven Test-playing nations and another tier consisting of teams ranked 8 to 10, plus best-ranked Associate Members Afghanistan and Ireland.
The argument against a tiered structure is an argument against the very idea of tiered structures, which can only be taken seriously by ignoring the fact that they form the basis of all sporting systems: when the gap in performance between two sets of teams is ludicrously large, they are segregated
The idea was to provide greater context to five-day contests, which under the current system are played only for bilateral trophies, and to introduce promotion and relegation between the tiers in order to increase competitiveness: bottom-tier teams can only play top-tier teams if they do well enough to be promoted (looking at you, West Indies). It is also a chance for the minnows (as of now, only Afghanistan and Ireland), who play only limited-overs cricket, to find their footing in the longer form.
Opposition to this tiered structure, spearheaded by the BCCI and Sri Lanka Cricket, is based on the argument that it would be detrimental for the smaller teams, like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, who would find it difficult to improve if not given the chance to compete against better squads. Such a situation would also financially disincentivise Test cricket for tier-two teams, putting as it does the richest cricket boards (India, Australia and England) out of their reach.
Nothing about the proposal, it has been contended, constitutes a solution to dwindling spectatorship. There is some merit to the above points, but not a whole lot. The argument against a tiered structure is an argument against the very idea of tiered structures, which can only be taken seriously by ignoring the fact that they form the basis of all sporting systems: when the gap in performance between two sets of teams is ludicrously large, they are segregated. That is why Leeds United plays in the Championship, not the EPL.
When it comes to finances, the irony of having to hear the BCCI blowing the equitable distribution horn should either elicit tears or guffaws. We are talking here about a Board that has consistently held the position that a better redistribution of ICC revenues would entail the richer countries getting the most money because they produce the most. As ICC Chairman Shashank Manohar has made clear in a recent interview, that logic, if extended to the domestic level, would justify the exercise of a stranglehold on the Indian cricket scene by individual administrative bodies (looking at you, Mumbai and Maharashtra).
We are talking about a Board that is against the centralised marketing of broadcasting rights for bilateral tours, which would require each Board to pool together its broadcasting rights. In effect, purchasing the broadcast rights for one series would involve buying the rights to other series as well, and multiple boards would end up earning revenue from each purchase by a sports broadcaster. If this is not meant to help weaker Boards, what is?
Make no mistake: the BCCI is wielding its clout as the only superpower in world cricket. It is saying, loud and clear, that it is the only Board that matters. And what suffers is the sport itself.