England’s away series against Pakistan next winter remains in the balance as the International Cricket Council awaits a satisfactory explanation from the host broadcaster, Ten Sports, over its involvement in cricket’s so-called rebel movement.
Talk of a split in world cricket has gathered pace since the Guardian revealed on 24 April that the ICC had begun an investigation into the registration of companies and website domains by Indian conglomerate Essel, of which Ten Sports – which owns the rights to show home international cricket in five Test-playing nations – is a subsidiary.
While companies such as Australian Cricket Control Pty Ltd and New Zealand Cricket Limited are known to have been set up by Essel, which is owned by the billionaire Indian media mogul Subhash Chandra, website addresses that include worldcricketcouncil.in and cricketassociationofengland.co.in were established by an employee of its Ten Sports channel.
Essel has since admitted its interest in a return to cricket – its rebel Indian Cricket League collapsed in 2009 after two seasons – but went on record this week to deny the involvement of Ten Sports, despite the name and email address of Deepak Srivastava, an IT manager at the television company, being listed on the documentation for website domains that include “associations” for all 10 full member nations of the ICC.
The news comes at a time when England are yet to announce the dates for the trip to the United Arab Emirates, where they are due to play three Tests, five one-day internationals and one Twenty20 against Pakistan in October and November. While a fixture schedule has been agreed between the England and Wales Cricket Board and their counterparts at the Pakistan Cricket Board, public confirmation of the tour will not be forthcoming unless Ten Sports explains its actions to the ICC investigation led by outgoing ECB chairman, Giles Clarke.
A full withdrawal from the series would be an extreme response, especially given that the tour to South Africa in December, the fixtures of which were announced late last year, is another Ten Sports production. While the issue is not directly between the ECB and the PCB, the situation demonstrates the fragile nature of international cricket at present.
Essel’s exact plan for the breakaway remains shrouded in mystery, although Lalit Modi, the architect of the lucrative and successful Indian Premier League, was involved in early stages of the project before walking away and has since confirmed its intention is greater than a one-off tournament.
Modi claims Chandra is looking to create a new global governing body for the sport, a theory supported by these company registrations and even the creation of five new city-based cricket leagues in India as recently as January.
“They are not concerned [about recent events being noticed by the ICC]. It is a not a fight you can do subtly,” Modi told the Observer.
“You cannot just go out and do it overnight, it will take time. It is not putting a tournament together, it is building it from the grass roots up. A company of their size could execute this, without doubt. And if they do it, it will be to the benefit of players and supporters.”
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