New tale, Old saga- The “Big Three” hegemony

With the changing power dynamics, is the “Big Three” model set to return?

Big 3
Big 3. (Photo Source: Getty Images)
Pratyay Tiwari


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The International Cricket Council (ICC) is the global governing body for cricket which has had a perpetual penchant for, as they are called, the Big Three. Big Three is the top tier trio of the mightiest of all cricket boards- The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA).

ICC has often been directed by the board with the strongest fiscal muscle. Remember, this is a sport involving no more than 10-12 nations, and given the variety of inequalities (based on resources, wealth, income, revenue and, prospects), the concentration of power is on the expected lines. 

The pandemic -jolted world is perhaps going to witness a change in the power dynamics of cricket once again. A future where only the mighty shall survive. The global economy is dented in unimaginable ways. There is a plethora of reports from various Universities, Financial Organizations, Research Institutions, and Fiscal bodies suggesting the coming recession to be unprecedentedly catastrophic. Not even close to the ones humankind has witnessed in the yesteryears. 

The Cricketing industry was not in such dire straits even during the 2008 recession as revenues from television rights, broadcasting and sponsorship were being generated. Cut to 2020, there is no revenue generation and the industry is in a dreadful deadlock. This might make way for the rise of cricket’s Big Three cabal.

The chronology

India accounts for just a shade under 70 percent of ICC’s total revenue. Former BCCI President N. Srinivasan along with ECB and CA’s top brass chalked the Big Three model in 2014, which was approved and put into operation for an eight-year period beginning 2015. The BCCI-ECB-CA trio allocated the ICC revenue share based on the contribution made by the member-nations. Therefore, higher the contribution, higher the returns.

Once Shashank Manohar took charge as the ICC chairman in 2016, the Big Three model was thrown in the trash can. Manohar, set to vacate his post in July 2020, has been the bastion of equitable revenue distribution and his stance led to a change of plans for the BCCI. 

With the world economy plunging headlong in an abyss and Shashank Manohar not seeking a third term, the speculations of the revival of the Big Three are coming to the fore once again.

Dominant trinity

The dominance of the cricket boards of India, Australia, and England goes hand in hand with their cricketing prowess. The reason these three countries stand at a position superior to that of others is due to the brand of cricket they play. But it is not as simple as it appears prima facie. 

At the end of the day, 9 out of 10 things bog down to money. Ever pondered why every nation wants to play India? Why does a reeling cricketing nation or its indigent Board look towards India? Or why the ghastliest dream for a nation is the calling off of a series against India? The answer to all of these is MONEY.

No one needs to be told what cricket means to India. The astronomical population of the nation coupled with the unparalleled adulation for this sport makes the perfect recipe for earning money. Cricketing nations to broadcasters to sponsors to advertisers, everyone knows this. And no wonder, BCCI is one amongst the richest sporting bodies in the world.

Therefore, a simple bilateral series against India can do to an impecunious Board exactly that which an electric defibrillator does to a nearly-dead heart; bring it back to life! Any series that the Big Three is a part of becomes a lucrative earning opportunity for the concerned stakeholders. These three nations occupy the larger volume of the cricketing action, more often than not. 

Sneak at the numbers

India has played a total of 12 and 15 Tests against Australia and England respectively, from 2014 to 2019 while England and Australia have faced each other 16 times. Let’s look at the number of matches the Big Three has played against other nations in the same period.

Other Nations India Australia England
Sri Lanka 9 5 8
Pakistan 0 9 9
Bangladesh 4 2 2
West Indies 8 5 9
South Africa 10 10 9
New Zealand 5 7 6
Total 36 38 43
(No. of Test Matches played in 2014-19 (both years included))

India played 63 Tests (15+12+36), Australia played 66 Tests (12+16+38) whereas England played 74 Tests (15+16+43). Therefore, 37 out of the 63 tests India played in the period specified were against England, Australia, and South Africa. Similarly, of England’s 74 Tests, 40 were against these three while 38 of Australia’s 66 involved one of these three.

The numbers above portray a lucid picture of the frequency and volume that the “Big Three” occupy in the sporting arena. South Africa is the only non-Big three nation that has got a fair amount of matches against them.

There is more to it…

One might say that the divide is not worrisome, keeping a few nations aside, but there is an aspect which the table above does not highlight. India, England, and Australia have played long Test Series (read five-Test match series) only against each other, whereas the series against other nations have always been stipulated to two or three Test matches and at times even one-off games. Albeit this mitigates lopsided encounters, it also ravages the smaller nations relying on series against the big guns to generate revenue.

Furthermore, two-match series could hardly display the strengths and abilities of a team. The possibility of a comeback for a team losing the first match becomes nil, the margin of error almost entirely vanishes and the test of a player’s grit, mettle and resolve simply goes off the table in such a transient clash. A two-Test series, therefore, is problematic and underwhelming in too many senses. 

Turbulent times ahead

The financial standing of many Boards (Sri Lanka, West Indies, Pakistan, Ireland, and Zimbabwe) was anyway not too merry before the fallout of this pandemic and they were already grappling with a host of issues ranging from disputes related to payment of match-fees to the scarcity of sponsorship etc…

The COVID 19 initiated global slump is going to be the most backbreaking for the poorer nations. Once CEO of Cricket South Africa and former ICC chief Haroon Lorgat feels that some nations might even require financial support to sustain. “Without enough cash flow, some nations might even struggle to meet basic expenditure and unless they are provided with support,” Lorgat said recently.

The opponents of Big Three have always found its ideology capitalistic. Lorgat for instance stands for assisting the ones in need instead of using resources to make the richer more rich. “I hope post-Covid cricket doesn’t go back to the Big 3 model. Because you only make the wealthy wealthier at the expense of making the poor even poorer. So, you need to distribute better,” he added.

However, in the post-COVID era, the BCCI looks inclined to revive the Big Three model. The most befitting analogy to highlight the financial supremacy India enjoys in cricket is that which the USA had on global politics in the post Second World War world. The USA unequivocally chose sides, palpably sheltered its allies, pummeled the rebels, crushed the dissenters, and secured its position. It did everything it wanted to and managed to get away with it every single time. Such was its might!

Looking towards what awaits us, the situation is going to get worse if the T20 World Cup scheduled in Australia this year gets postponed. If you are a cricket fan keen to watch the World Cup, the problems are much lesser. But, for the Cricket Boards? The cancellation of the tournament is millions of dollars of revenue lost. While the likes of Big Three can absorb such shocks, the rest shall crumble to pieces.

From the author’s lens

The BCCI, which has captured the lion’s share in ICC’s revenue for long, is eager to stamp its indisputable superiority at the ICC by resurrecting the Big Three formula. Is this a solipsistic approach? Is this against the standards of morality and ethics? It is argued that the Big Three model widens the existing gaps, concentrates power, and maybe even leads to the emergence of tyranny. 

The distribution of resources must undoubtedly be equitable and judicious. It is also agreeable that the use of power to suppress is undesirable and is certainly not a worthy trait to possess, but… India is neither the first nor the last to do so. The hegemons keep coming and going, the hegemony goes on forever. When England controlled the ICC, they were potent and hence, the masters. If fortunes change and Australia gets a chance, I am certain they will do it as well. 

One can have their opinions, but the fact remains that the Big Three possess unbridled power and might. Power is a great asset to possess and its concentration is as inevitable a thing as any. As was once said by Lord Atcon, “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. But as Uncle Ben would say, “With great power comes great responsibility”. It is for the betterment of the sport that those who be in power understand this and act responsibly.

Written by Pratyay Tiwari