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Why India could send a second-string side for the Champions Trophy

India, as the last throw of the dice, may choose to send a second-string side to the Champions Trophy to get their message across to the ICC

India last played 50-over cricket against England in the ODI series held in January

There has been much hue and cry on the ongoing tussle between the BCCI and the ICC pertaining to the deadlock over revenue-sharing. And the middle-ground – of the Indian board accepting the ICC's offer of an additional corpus of $100 million – hasn't been paid much attention to.

After being voted out 2-8 in favour of the new financial reforms – which reduce the BCCI's share in the central revenue pool of the global body from $570 million to $293 million – and 1-9 in the favour of the new constitution, the BCCI has been up in arms against the perceived disparity and has been using “all means possible” to get its desired share of the finances.

Amitabh Choudhary, the BCCI representative to the ICC meetings held last week and the acting secretary, was offered an additional corpus of $100 million by the global body's independent president Shashank Manohar. This was after he had rejected, on his board's behalf, the proposed share of $293 million out of the central pool of $2.7 billion.

That additional amount would have taken the BCCI's share close to $400 million, but Choudhary was not one to budge. “Because it is far less than what India deserves fairly,” he told Indian Express when asked why had he declined the offer.

The BCCI is of the opinion that since it contributes, in its own words, 70% of the earnings of the board, it deserves the original share of $570 million, which it had been receiving under the “Big  Three” model proposed in 2014.

The new finance model vs the Big Three model (All figures mentioned above are in million US$

The deadlock

“Why do you forget that a disproportionate share of revenues to cricket comes from India? It's very easy and misleading to say that India is getting a disproportionate share,” Choudhary reiterated.

“The facts are that over 70 percent of cricket's revenue world over comes from the Indian market. That [the $293 million offered by the ICC] is not even close to the contribution that India makes.”

This was in response to the finance model that Manohar had presented in February, which was based on an equitable distribution of finances across all the member countries.

However, with the deadlock as it stands, where Manohar seems in no mood to pay heed to India's concerns and the BCCI in no mood to relent (the signs of which were shown when BCCI missed the deadline of announcing the squads for the Champions Trophy on May 1), a middle ground needs to be established.

While the media reports of India pulling out of the eight-team tournament set to commence on June 1 in England do invite a certain scope of speculation, the BCCI may play the cunning fox and devise a path that not only sends alarm bells across the global body but also preserves the interests of the Indian fans who have already booked their tickets for the tournament.

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India had sent a second-string side to Zimbabwe for the bilateral series

Why India could send a second-string side

A team is as strong and as popular as the players who play for it. And more than the collective conscience of an Indian team that participates in any global tournament, it is the possibility of watching big stars perform off-shore that attracts the crowd to the stadiums and the audience to their TV sets. 

An example to prove the above-mentioned premise is a tour to Zimbabwe, which often has fringe and second-string players playing for the side; players trying to make a case for themselves to be brought into contention for the full-strength side.

Sure, that is generally done to give the star performers some rest and to test the team's bench strength. But, at the risk of sounding preposterous, the possibility of a similar move being repeated for the Champions Trophy should not be completely ruled out.

If India chose a second-string side for the Champions Trophy, with big names like Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma et al missing from the setup, it would serve two purposes.

One, it would prevent India from breaching the Members Participation Agreement (MPA) that mandates member nations to participate in ICC global tournaments. And two, it would send a strong message to all other boards as well as the ICC that the BCCI may do the same for their bilateral tours.

The move may sound brash, selfish and unprofessional, but the BCCI hasn't been one to give two cents about professionalism – especially when its own interests are threatened.

For all the talk of professionalism, the BCCI sent three different representatives to the last three ICC meetings and missed the deadline for announcing the squads. To top all of that, it was the BCCI who, in partnership with its long-term allies, the ECB and the CA, had isolated the rest of the world from the revenue pool and had devised the “Big Three” model.

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The fans’ interests are also to be preserved

Preserving the fans’ interest

A flip side to this could be the sense of betrayal that the fans and followers of Indian cricket, who would miss out on the chance of watching their favourite players play in an ICC tournament, might feel.

However, the possibility of even conducting an ICC tournament without India – while facing broadcasting issues as well as low gate receipts – owing to the fan following that India has and the share of broadcast revenue that India contributes, looks highly irrational.

The 2007 World Cup, wherein India had crashed out of the group stages, can be cited as an example to support this point. Moreover, if India play, and if this method of baiting the ICC into following its demands does require materialization, the fans would watch the matches. The numbers would be low, probably, but the fans would watch nevertheless.

While the consequences may be unprecedented, the step in itself isn't. Such methods have been devised by other cricket boards as well in the past whenever there has been a deadlock of this magnitude.

In 2009, the West Indies had sent a second-string side to tour Bangladesh after the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) had boycotted the series over a payment dispute with the board. Two members of that side – Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Sammy – went on to play for the West Indies for a considerable period of time; Braithwaite still plays Test cricket.

While that was a case of intra-country dispute, it is not as different from the current dispute as it seems. Finances rule the roost in cricket governance. After all, it is because the pie wasn't equally shared that there was a need for drafting a new finance model and a constitution in the first place.

Today, the WICB is still at loggerheads with the WIPA, and the brunt of that dispute has been borne by the fans as well as the cricket community. While bilateral series in the West Indies aren't as lucrative as those in India, the freelance culture that their top players like Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo have adopted isn't helping anyone.

The same cannot be said for India; Kohli and Dhoni freelancing can only be imagined in a parallel world. However, the reverse of that scenario – other nations suffering because India don't send their best men to their shores, especially for ICC events – is a possibility.

An experiment as drastic as this one may inflict a deep wound all across the cricketing fraternity. It may either force the global body to cede to the BCCI's demands, or open up an imbroglio that would be unprecedented in all of cricket administration's history.

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