The ‘Big Three’ in cricket evokes division, referring to when the sport’s powerhouses India, Australia and England almost a decade ago tried to gobble the game’s finances.
The hijacking didn’t quite work and nine years later it’s more like a ‘Big One’ after India had the lion share of the ICC’s new media rights deal. While once Australia and England ruled with an iron fist, they’ve been supplanted by money-spinner India who cast an ominous spectre over cricket’s major decisions amid a fanatical fan base stretching over a billion.
It’s often said with scorn that India run cricket; there is more nuance involved than that with many influential figures behind the scenes pulling the strings, but it’s not blatant hyperbole.
Still Australia and England can hardly cry poor as the traditional powers enjoy billion dollar domestic broadcast deals and an abundance of fixtures with cash cow India.
The irresistible lure of the dollar explains the brainless fixturing of a five-match T20I series between Australia and India just four days after the teams contested the World Cup final.
Similarly, 12 months ago, England had to play Australia in a three-match ODI series that no one remembers just days after they won the T20 World Cup.
To say there is an overkill of cricket is an understatement. But it helps fill the coffers of the three big countries with their series against each other by far the most lucrative in cricket.
The trio’s off-field dominance has been matched on-field with India, England and Australia having won the past seven World Cups since Sri Lanka’s memorable triumph in 1996.
While the heavyweights get stronger, other countries are stalling or struggling to develop. Cricket lacks a global footprint compared to other major sports football, basketball and even rugby.
The rugby World Cup, which overlapped with the early stages of its cricket counterpart, seemed to have more of a global footprint with its event boasting more teams and, anecdotally, appeared to generate more attention worldwide. Even some cricket chiefs noticed with a board director wanting to raise the matter during this week’s ICC quarterly meetings.
It’s hard to see how the gap can be narrowed, especially in the longer formats with playing opportunities dwindling for countries outside of the three heavyweights. It has led to many observers believing that five-day Test cricket – the traditional but expensive format to stage – will be probably limited to these three nations.
Test cricket remains highly popular in the traditional heartlands of Australia and England, but if India – where fans are increasingly besotted by T20 domestic competition the IPL – were to stop being so invested then the format might just be restricted to a legacy Ashes series.
There is welcome growth through T20 cricket, which should be evident during the 20-team T20 World Cup next year co-hosted by the U.S, and upsets are more likely in the condensed three-hour version.
It is true that winners of the T20 World Cup have been shared around, but Australia and England have claimed the last two as they treat the format far more seriously.
With so many resources behind them, flush with cash, it’s almost inevitable that these powerhouses will win the majority of events. It’s basically a losing battle to begin with for the rest.
In a heavyweight contest at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Australia emerged supreme over rival India and there was some gloating over the sport’s superpower reduced to silence and haplessness for a change.
Still the World Cup only confirmed that cricket, laying claim to being the second biggest sport in the world, remains under a vice-like grip from its richest countries.