"The changes recommended by the ICC Working Group to the constitution and financial model have been passed in principle …"
Seventeen words, hope rising with each of them that an especially fractious time in cricket may finally be over, undone by the last two in that sentence: "in principle". This, in case you had forgotten, was the ICC's conclusion after its last board meeting in February, when the rollback of the era formerly known as that of the Big Three formally began.
No deal is ever sealed without the signature though, so just how big a caveat the "in principle" is in cricket's will to reform will become clear - or clearer - by the end of this week. One especially pessimistic way of looking at the February meeting after all, as put forth by one official, is that it simply maintained the status quo. "There was no agreement on the financial model and the governance changes were not finalised, so what progress happened?"
The ICC's second board meeting of 2017 is set to get underway in earnest from Monday, when its chief executives' committee gathers, and it will culminate with the meeting of the ICC Board, on Wednesday and, if needed, Thursday.
What will come at the end of it? The ICC's stated aim in February was that it wanted to sign off on the proposed new constitution at these meetings so that it could be submitted for formal approval - and take effect - at the AGM in June.
The changes proposed to the way the game governs itself and, most importantly, splits its riches are fairly vast, however. Since February, members have been putting together their observations and/or objections to the constitution, some of which have have become public.
There have also been meetings between member boards, in the hope of passing a constitution that brings unanimous agreement rather than the qualified support it received in February (seven voted in favour, two against - including BCCI, and one abstained). If there isn't agreement, then the resolutions could be up for vote again, or in the worst-case scenario, deferred until the June meeting.
Taken collectively, the main concerns of various boards centre on the following areas, and the result of discussions on these matters will decide how the meetings go:
The financial model
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that the proposed financial model is the key issue. The fate of it, one official believes, will decide the fate of all governance issues on the agenda: "The governance model is driven by the financial model in this instance."
The BCCI has publicly stated its unhappiness at the reduced share it will get from ICC revenues under the proposed model, a reduction of $180-190 million. Since then, however, there is reason to believe that a compromise is close to being agreed, after meetings between the BCCI's supervising Committee of Administrators (CoA) and other boards as well as the ICC chairman Shashank Manohar.
There are other concerns too. The BCCI has consistently expressed its unhappiness about the arbitrariness of the figures; another board, which voted in favour of the changes in February, has also expressed similar reservations. "We have said this model has no formula, no basis, and if there isn't one then it is back to the Big Three," said the official.
But should the model with a revised BCCI share go through -it also depends on the attitude BCCI representatives bring to the table - and if other members don't take much of a hit - any extra money for the BCCI will have to come from somewhere after all - it will become easier to find a path through the other objections.
With the financial model taking so much attention some of the more radical governance proposals initially slipped under the radar - for instance, who has or doesn't have the right to be a Full Member of the ICC.
In short, no board will have a permanent right to Full Membership; there will only be two types of membership (Full and Associate); Associates such as Ireland and Afghanistan could gain membership to play Tests; and every board's membership status will be open to review and contingent upon fulfilling strict criteria put in place by a powerful Membership Committee. Full Members, for example, could be re-classified as Associates if they fail to adhere to certain criteria.
Predictably, this has raised the hackles of a number of boards. The BCCI's objections to it are public; newer Full Members have expressed reservation against the very idea that Full Membership is an impermanent status. One of the clauses in the proposed membership criteria links the performance of the women's teams in ICC events to membership status - this has raised objections from boards whose women's cricket is still relatively nascent.
Composition of the Board of Directors
This sounds boring and insignificant but in truth it is a battleground where various tensions among members is clear. The Board is where all major decisions are taken and so its composition is especially important.
In the new constitution, an expansion of the Board to include 15 directors has been proposed. This includes an independent female director with voting rights, and Associate members with voting rights.
Objectors to these include but may not be limited to the BCCI, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) - between them, they don't want the Associates, the independent ICC chairman, or the independent female director to have a vote at the table.
The geography of this objecting bloc is no coincidence because it is on this issue that old ICC fault-lines have reappeared. One worry is that if, for example, Giles Clarke becomes the next ICC chairman, then with Ireland's vote and that of the female director, who is unlikely to be from the subcontinent, the balance of power will tilt firmly away from the subcontinent. Some within the ICC expect these old alignments to become a bigger theme over the next few months.
Afghanistan and Ireland
The proposed inclusion of Afghanistan and Ireland in cricket's top tier was one of the more heartening developments from the last meeting. Not only were they included in the financial models, they were also part of the new cricket structures.
Though that status isn't under threat yet, a few Full Members have begun to express concerns. Associate voting rights in the Board are one issue, but grumbles have begun about how much money the two countries get in the financial models. Currently, they could earn between $50-55 million each in this rights cycle but that figure is likely to take a hit - and they have been told to expect it - to adjust for increases elsewhere.
Though it doesn't come under the governance proposals, the chief executives committee (CEC) is also scheduled to present a detailed proposal on the new international cricket structures passed in February. Members held a scheduling summit in March on trying to forge a new Future Tours Programme (FTP) for the current rights cycle.