London - World cricket was set for a shake-up after the International Cricket Council (ICC) gave “unanimous support” for “principles” to change its structure and governance.
However, no sooner had the ICC presented a united front following the first of a two-day board meeting at its Dubai headquarters Tuesday, than South Africa broke ranks.
Prior to the meeting, Cricket South Africa had opposed leaked draft proposals designed to give the sport's most financially powerful 'Big Three' nations of India, England and Australia a greater say in the running of the world game.
And after Tuesday's talks concluded, CSA president Chris Nenzani said their backing in Dubai would need endorsement from his own board.
“Our position will be subject to full consideration by our Board and other stakeholders.”
But the section of the leaked plan that arguably provoked the greatest criticism, namely the 'Big Three' being spared relegation in any new two-division Test set-up because of their commercial importance, was rejected by the ICC.
It even indicated the likes of Ireland might join the existing 10 Test nations but without any details.
“There will be an opportunity for all Members to play all formats of cricket on merit, with participation based on meritocracy; no immunity to any country, and no change to membership status,” the ICC said.
The statement was clear though in signalling the end of the proposed World Test Championship.
Its delayed launch was supposed to happen in England in 2017.
It has been replaced by the reprieved one-day Champions Trophy, a more commercial and broadcast-friendly proposition.
The 'mini World Cup' was spared after a successful 'final' edition in England last year.
Plans to bolster the position of the 'Big Three' within ICC include the formation of a new five-man executive committee, with three seats reserved for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA).
Meanwhile the ICC board agreed to discontinue the centralised Future Tours Programme, designed to ensure the 10 leading countries hosted and toured one another during an eight-year span.
Instead there will be a return to bilateral agreements between nations. These will run from 2015-2023 in common with the ICC's next commercial rights cycle.
And in a change to the leaked plan, South Africa were included as recipients in a 'Test Cricket fund' which will now be distributed by the 'Big Three' to all the other seven leading nations, where the five-day game often struggles for support.
Meanwhile the often cash-strapped West Indies Cricket Board welcomed the revamp.
A WICB statement forecast it would receive a 100 percent revenue increase on the previous eight-year cycle (2006-2014).
It added that as tours of the Caribbean by India, England and Australia were the most commercially viable to stage, reverting to bilateral agreements would give the WICB “greater opportunity to enhance its financial position to the benefit of West Indies cricket”.
Tuesday's ICC statement said a further meeting had been scheduled for February to work out the details of the new structure.
Nevertheless, ICC president Alan Isaac said what had already been “unanimously supported” emphasised the “primacy of Test cricket”.
According to the New Zealander, it also meant that “for the first time in cricket's history participation will be based entirely on meritocracy.”
That ICC used the words “unanimous support” indicates no formal vote took place in a meeting lasting several hours.
There were reports the BCCI, the financial powerhouse which generates 80 percent of ICC revenue on the back of the immense fanaticism for cricket in India, had threatened the 'nuclear option' of quitting ICC events if yet more money and authority did not come its way.
The ICC appeared to bow to the inevitable Tuesday in speaking of the “BCCI taking a central leadership responsibility”.
Meanwhile Isaac insisted he'd “encouraged” the 'Big Three' to devise their 'position paper', but had been disappointed by a leak that led to “unwarranted” criticism of their motives.
“These leading cricket nations have worked tirelessly to produce a document which provided the basis for the past few weeks of extremely constructive discussions,” he said.
“Over the coming weeks we can be increasingly confident in achieving consensus.” - Sapa-AFP