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Home / Industry / Media /  How BCCI became the 800-pound gorilla of cricket

Delivering a lecture in 2010, the man many consider to be the most astute Indian captain ever, the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, said: “If the International Cricket Council (ICC) is the voice of cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the invoice of cricket."

Pataudi was right.

India is today the commercial centre of gravity of the game and accounts for close to 80% of the game’s revenue. Picture this—in 1986, just ahead of the 1987 World Cup, Reliance Industries Ltd paid $1 million for the title sponsorship of the tournament. Today, ICC gets between six and eight partners, each worth $8 million, accounting for over $60 million in revenue—for one tournament.

India (and by extension, the subcontinent) is also the biggest television market for cricket. Almost 75% of the game’s viewership comes from the region.

Approximately 9 out of every 10 of cricket advertising globally is from marketers looking to tap India in some way, according to Hiren Pandit, chief operating officer, TransStadia—a sports marketing and infrastructure company.

If ICC has become a commercial juggernaut over the past two decades, it has BCCI to thank for it. BCCI brings in the money that runs cricket globally.

In return, it gets what it wants—power.

In 1926, India decided to join the Imperial Cricket Conference, an organization of cricket playing nations.

Six years later, the country played its first match at Lord’s in the English summer of 1932. India’s early struggles on the field are well chronicled (it won its first Test after 30 years).

In 1971, Ajit Wadekar led his team to away tour successes in the West Indies and later that year in England.

It was 12 years later, on 25 June 1983, at Lord’s that Indian cricket changed forever. India won the then Prudential World Cup in dramatic fashion, upstaging the virtually invincible West Indies team that had won the previous two editions of the World Cup.

In 1987, India and Pakistan jointly hosted the World Cup, held for the first time outside England. While global cricket was still controlled by traditional powers, England and Australia, India had arrived.

Buoyed by its on-field successes and an explosion of interest in the sport, Indian cricket opened itself to television money in 1993, ditching the state broadcaster, whom it had to pay to televise matches involving India. Three years later, in 1996, the World Cup came back to the subcontinent for the second time in nine years, and India’s gradual rise as a cricketing powerhouse was confirmed.

That World Cup would prove to be a pivotal moment in the history of global cricket power-play.

In 1996, the then chairman of the then Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (now Sri Lanka Cricket), Ana Punchihewa, was upset at World Cup matches in Sri Lanka being cancelled (Australia and West Indies didn’t play their scheduled games fearing terrorist attacks) and floated the idea of an Asian president of ICC.

A year later, Jagmohan Dalmiya, the man who masterminded the 1996 World Cup and its commercial success, was elected as the first president of ICC, a post created after the restructuring of the cricket body. Before Dalmiya, Lord Colin Cowdrey (1989-93) and former West Indian cricketer Sir Clyde Walcott (1993-97) served as chairmen of ICC. Walcott was also the first non-British chairman of the organization.

Dalmiya was elected for a term of three years.

The 2000s saw Indian cricket and its commercial might grow exponentially.

It was also the decade BCCI sought to assert itself at the global stage.

There were four events that characterized this.

The first, in 2001, was when India wanted former English cricketer Mike Denness removed from his role as match referee in a India-South Africa bilateral series. His crime? He had accused India’s cricketing demigod Sachin Tendulkar of ball tampering and acted against the player and five others, including captain Sourav Ganguly, for excessive appealing.

The second was in 2002, when ICC introduced an ambush marketing clause in contracts with boards that said no player could in a two-week run-up to a multi-lateral tournament organized by it, endorse or appear in an ad for any brand that competed with any of the sponsors of the tournament.

The third was in 2005, when BCCI and ICC didn’t see eye-to-eye with the members participation agreement (MPA) that cricket boards were expected to sign. MPA was a document the boards had to sign to participate in ICC tournaments between 2008 and 2015. The document set rules related to ambush-marketing clauses in player contracts for these tournaments.

And in 2008, all it took for BCCI to get angry was a wrong decision by West Indian umpire Steve Bucknor against Tendulkar in a Test match against Australia. The match also had wrong decisions against Andrew Symonds and other omissions.

In each case, BCCI eventually had its way.

The umpiring errors in that Test match would lead to calls for more technology assisting on-field umpires, with India among its strongest voices. Interestingly, an opposition to that very system would confirm India’s status as a global cricketing superpower.

After India won the World Cup in 2011, commercial might met on-field success. Seven months after that Sydney Test, in July 2008, the Umpire Decision Review System (now simply DRS) was tried out during India’s tour to Sri Lanka. In the three Test-match series, India managed to get one out of 20 referrals correct.

India’s apprehensions about DRS can be attributed to a combination of factors, including its own track record, a belief that technology is not “foolproof" and, cost. BCCI’s initial protest revolved around ball-tracking technology, which its former president Shashank Manohar said was “just a case of someone else’s imagination versus the umpire’s imagination". Its case was further enhanced during India’s tour to England in 2011, where another technology, HotSpot, was found to be inaccurate, and importantly, inconclusive.

While some countries use DRS, India has doggedly resisted any move to make it “mandatory" in bilateral series. To no one’s surprise, ICC gave in to BCCI and made the review system an optional, bilateral arrangement between the teams playing the series.

This wasn’t as much about technology as it is about power-play, said Gideon Haigh, noted Australian writer.

“The symbolic value of the DRS is much greater than arguments about technology. It was the means by which the BCCI made it clear that the game will be played under the terms that satisfied them and they reserved the right to say no to whatever they didn’t like," he added. “It (DRS) has become the thing that the BCCI can’t say yes to because they’ve said no to it for this long."

BCCI has often taken to interventionist policies to get its way, at least at the global level. A senior BCCI official unabashedly said, “It wouldn’t be wrong to call us the big brothers of international cricket. We enjoy a similar clout in the ICC as the United States of America does in the United Nations."

This person asked not to be identified.

A BCCI spokesman didn’t respond to calls on his mobile phone.

In his book The Great Tamasha, author James Astill recounts an interview with Niranjan Shah, a former BCCI secretary. Shah is cited as saying with a degree of candour: “For cricket, the only market in the world is India. The market is here. So we will control cricket, naturally."

India is cricket’s biggest provider. Some cricketing nations are virtually dependent on India for their revenues. A tour by the Indian cricket team is the most sought after among every cricketing nation, thanks to the television money it generates for the host board. The TV rights money generated by an India tour, virtually sustains that board, its affiliate bodies (states, counties or clubs). Besides, they also earn good profit through gate receipts, thanks to increased attendances from the Indian diaspora.

Earlier this year, when India toured New Zealand, the country’s governing body, New Zealand Cricket, pocketed more than $35 million from broadcasting rights.

Similarly, for Cricket Australia (CA), an Indian homecoming is the best bet they could ask for, besides the Ashes. “We have a bumper year when India tours because the value of Indian broadcasts rights are higher than for any other tour," James Sutherland, chief executive officer of CA was cited as saying by The Australian newspaper.

If you mess around, as the West Indies recently found out when their players cut short a tour (because of problems with their own board), it doesn’t take long for BCCI to hit hard where it hurts the most—money.

Earlier this year, ICC went through another restructuring process where cricket’s Big Three—India, Australia and England—would wield more influence on the game, and in return, get the lion’s share of ICC’s revenue over an eight-year cycle starting 2015.

The restructuring also enabled N. Srinivasan, the in-limbo president of BCCI, to become the most powerful man in cricket for the next two years, confirming his appointment as ICC chairman. ICC declined to comment.

Under the current revenue-sharing model, BCCI gets close to 3-4% of the surplus earned by ICC. Under the new proposal, it is likely to get 21-22% of the gross revenue over the next six-eight years. If ICC earns anything between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion, as reports say, BCCI is expected to get $550-770 million over the eight-year period.

According to a report in South Africa’s Business Day newspaper, England and Australia are expected to get 4.5% and 2.9% of the revenue share, respectively. South Africa will get only 1.3% of the share.

Haigh, the noted Australian writer, said the existing system wasn’t working and the new one seems to have been created hoping that “if you paid obeisance to BCCI, then perhaps they’d become a more responsible member of the organization".

“The logic of the ‘Big Three’ push is that you kind of bring in India, inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. Over the last three or four years at ICC level, BCCI has been such a dog in the manger that its made the existing structure of the ICC unworkable," he added.

BCCI’s defence is simply that it puts India, Indian cricket and Indian cricketers first.

“We have put the interests of India and Indian cricket first. We have ensured that Indian cricket gets the highest priority it deserves, and our fans are not deprived of the cricket they deserve," a BCCI official said, requesting anonymity.

However, not everyone is amused about the Big Three.

“I did not believe the move would be beneficial to the game and I am still waiting for evidence to suggest that the game is better off," said former West Indies cricketer Michael Holding in an email interview.

“As for the governance of the game, I can’t see that improving either without independent voices whose only agenda would be the welfare of cricket and not just how much money can be generated for those in charge." he added.

Vidhi Choudhary contributed to this story.

This is the final part of a three-part series on the state of cricket.

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