“It is one of the saddest things I have seen in cricket,” was the blunt response from Paul Marsh, executive chairman of the Federation of International Cricketers' Association (FICA), on the election of the controversial Narayanaswami Srinivasan as chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) at its recently held meeting in Melbourne, Australia.
But the high-profile gathering also witnessed the much-awaited revival of Pakistan-India ties. If the rest goes according to plan, tens of millions of cricket fanatics on both sides of the border, late next year, will relish Junaid Khan looking to topple Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli come up against Saeed Ajmal's wizardry in what is going to be a blockbuster bilateral series.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is reveling in the 'achievement'. No financially prolific full-fledged bilateral series against India has been played since 2007, and now as many as six rubbers have been agreed upon in a flash! Four of these are expected to be hosted by Pakistan. Therefore, cautiously looking at it, the PCB has some room to 'enjoy' its inclusion in the 'Big Four' club (formerly 'Big Three'), at least for now.
Pakistan, after being included in the 'Big Four', a term coined by the PCB itself, will have better status in terms of revenue share and broadcasting rights in the ICC events. The next ICC president, a position of titular status in the new set-up of the world governing body, is also going to be from Pakistan, it has been confirmed.
Apart from the development on the Pakistan-India front, Sethi, amid his administrative-cum-constitutional imbroglio with Zaka Ashraf at home, was also elected to the ICC executive committee. So, what lies behind all these swift developments, particularly after a Zaka-led PCB had staunchly opposed the India-led 'Big Three' only a few months ago?
Has the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) taken charge of Indian foreign affairs department? Have the PCB and the BCCI become bosom friends? Or have both of them awoken from 'slumber' to ultimately realise the desire of uncountable fans deprived of Pakistan-India clashes?
No painstaking guesses required here. Sethi's PCB calmly and quietly backed Srinivasan – currently suspended as BCCI chief by India's Supreme Court – in getting elected as the ICC chairman at the Melbourne conference. And the gesture somehow worked well, resulting in a six-series package for the 2015-2023 Future Tours Programme – it's as simple as that, on the face of it leastways.
The rapid development on the Pakistan-India front will no doubt prompt Pakistani fans to ask a few questions of the PCB. First, and foremost: Morally, did the PCB not have any reservation in backing (or at least avoiding opposing) a person whose position as the top cricket administrator of India is suspended by the country's highest court (owing to some grave allegations of mismanagement)? The even more serious accusations of illegal betting and match-fixing against Gurunath Meiyappan, Srinivasan's son-in-law, makes the picture bleaker for the new ICC chief and his backers.
Secondly, keeping the peculiarly capricious nature of Pakistan-India ties and its direct and indirect effects on other activities including cricket, particularly after the 2008 Mumbai incident, what guarantee is there that the BCCI will honour its series agreement with Pakistan (and that too for eight long years)?
In case of heightened political tensions between the two countries, was there any broad understanding between the PCB and the BCCI to deal with the situation?
Thirdly, the ICC chairmanship giving Srinivasan overarching powers to rule world cricket – naturally keeping in view his and his country's interests – is bound to make other stakeholders in one way or the other dependent on Srinivasan's approach towards managing the international game. That the PCB, at least the present regime, is among those dependents is perhaps an understatement. How much space will Pakistan have in coming times to resist – or negotiate – possible Indian demands which may be potentially damaging for world cricket and in particular Pakistan itself? Which sound logic will our cricket administrators have to confront the 'money-triggered' BCCI demands? And what happens if the Indian Supreme Court charges Srinivasan directly in the IPL-fixing case? Whether Sethi and his team signed the right deal with India, only time will tell.
Have we put our future at risk by acceding to BCCI's heavy coffers and its strong lobby and did our cricket administrators keep in mind Pakistan's core cricketing interests and those of world cricket by joining hands with India, Australia and England?
One thing is for sure: Srinivasan taking the reins of world cricket – through financial muscle – is unfortunately a clear case of fundamental violation of the principles the ICC has stood for.
In a sharp reaction to Srinivasan appointment as ICC chairman, Lawrence Booth, editor of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, said: “It enshrines his position as the most powerful man in the game and it seems amazing to me that the rest of world cricket has allowed that to happen.”
Booth further said: “It formalises his grip on world cricket. It does now give him carte blanche to do whatever he wants to do.”
If any direct or indirect harm in the future is done to the game due to the steps taken by Srinivasan's ICC, Pakistan, along with other backers of the suspended Indian cricket chief, will have very small room to defend itself on the ethical front.