Mark Butcher, speaking on the latest Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, called ECB’s reported refusal to shift the dates of the England-India series for the rescheduled IPL a “massive missed opportunity”, opining that this was ECB’s golden chance to gain leverage over BCCI.
Last week, reports in both Indian and UK media stated that the BCCI had informally asked the ECB to consider changing the dates for the fifth and final Test of the England-India series to accommodate the second half of the suspended IPL 2021. It is said that the ECB had held firm, having already sold out the first three days of the Old Trafford Test, the final match of the series.
While English cricket Twitter united in fury at the prospect, Butcher felt that ECB, having already invited the wrath of English fans in the recent past, had a chance to “dangle the Damocles” over BCCI and gain leverage, something that they haven’t had a chance to do in recent times.
“Well, listen. I take a deep breath here…as does the nation,” Butcher said. “I think it’s a massive missed opportunity.
“Bear with me. The ECB very, very rarely… in fact, I would go as far in the last 10-15 years as to say never, have something that the BCCI wants or needs. And with The Hundred sort of floundering because of Covid and overseas players cancelling contracts, not being able to come, this year is a bit of a write-off. The ECB are absolutely desperate to make this work. They have to be, they have bet the house on The Hundred, but at every turn, it seems a greater power doesn’t want it to happen.
“And so for me, this was the opportunity where you’ll say ‘Okay, we’ll bite the bullet. We get the wrath of English cricket fans anyway: they hate us because of The Hundred. They hate us because we’re seemingly ignoring them at every single turn’. So you say ‘We’ll take it on the chin, they don’t like us anyway. We would do this for the BCCI on the proviso that we get Kohli, we get Dhoni, we get whoever we like, signed up for three years to play in The Hundred, starting 2022’.
“And you have leverage for the first time ever: you have something that they need, that they want. Obviously, the BCCI will lose a lot of money if they don’t get the IPL in the window. You also have the extraordinary spectacle of the IPL being finished at the behest or because of English cricket. And you use that lever in order to get something you desperately need. So I think there’s an opportunity missed.”
Butcher said that this was the opportunity for ECB to “make your boldest gambit”, having left England fans incensed with The Hundred and that their currency with their fans was “at an all-time low”.
“I completely understand why they [the ECB] didn’t do it, because they have just spent the last two years upsetting English cricket fans in ways that they haven’t been upset ever. Their currency with the home fans is at an all-time low. But, when you have nothing to lose, perhaps that’s when you make your boldest gambit yet. That’s why I think there’s an opportunity missed.”
Butcher conceded that the ECB’s decision to turn down the BCCI’s request would “play well” with English fans, but suggested that the benefits of having leverage over the Indian board outweighed the potential PR hit.
“Listen, I have made my thoughts known about all of these things over a long period of time. You have got yourself to a point whereby you have very little manoeuvrability with your home support. But, for once, you had the big, big beast on the table with a knife hovering over his neck and you could have leveraged it to something that would have done you a favour somewhere down the line.
“It does play well [the ECB’s call] but I think it is, again, they have boxed themselves in to a point where they can only be short-sighted because of the fact that they’ve spent the last two and a half years upsetting the fans to such a point where they feel ‘Well, we can’t do it again, we simply cannot’.
“I don’t know how realistic it [getting Indian players to feature in The Hundred] would have been, but unless you dangle that Damocles over their throat, you are never gonna know. If you say ‘Okay, we understand there’s a bit of a buy-in to it, and we understand and we want to help you and get the IPL done, however, this is the cost, this is what we want in return’. And if the BCCI says ‘No, we’ll rearrange it somewhere else’, it’s fine. You have nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“Unless who knows, they might have had this conversation behind closed doors and come up against neither side being willing to move on their negotiations. Again, that’s fine as well. You ask my opinion, that’s my opinion. I would have tried to move heaven and earth to make that happen. As much of a dog’s breakfast as it would have made the rest of our summer.”
Butcher felt that since the English summer was already taking an unusual shape this year, another change wouldn’t cause any further harm.
“But again, let’s face it: this is a dog’s breakfast anyway,” he said. “There’s nothing about the way this summer is panning out… there’s nothing about the way The Hundred looks like it’s going to go ahead because of the lack of overseas players. It skipped my attention that The Oval wasn’t the last Test this year, it was Old Trafford. Nothing is in the place where it’ll normally be. So if you shift it again, who’s going to notice? But you do get the chance to watch the IPL in England for the very first time ever, which would have been extraordinary.
“We don’t know what’s happened, do we? We’re speculating wildly about what may or may not have gone on in the halls of power. They might have had this conversation.”
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