LAWRENCE BOOTH: Forget the Big Three, try the Big One

LAWRENCE BOOTH: Forget the Big Three, try the Big One… India RUN cricket now and the rest of the world is too spineless to take them on

  • Mail Sport revealed Indian authorities forced a change of pitch for semi-final 
  • It is a reminder that there is a Big One in cricket with India standing alone
  • India’s top draw spinners risk being handed an advantage that they barely need

It may be the most misleading phrase in world cricket: the Big Three.

England and Australia wield clout, sure, and are more financially secure than almost everyone else. But Mail Sport’s revelation that the Indian authorities have forced through a change of pitch for Wednesday’s semi-final between India and New Zealand in Mumbai is just the latest reminder that the phrase needs updating. Try the Big One.

On the face of it, a pitch switch may not seem a big deal: it’s still 22 yards, two sets of stumps, bat versus ball.

But there is a reason the Board of Control for Cricket in India – and any other host board at a global event – is supposed to allow the ICC’s pitch consultant Andy Atkinson to do his work without fear or favour. And it is simple: whatever inequalities exist beyond the boundary, the playing field itself should be as level as possible.

With the semi-final now set to take place on a surface that has already been used twice, however, India’s top-drawer spinners risk being handed an advantage they barely need.

Rohit Sharma inspects the surface ahead of the semi-final, after Mail Sport revealed that the Indian authorities forced through a change of pitch ahead of the match with New Zealand

It shows that the Big Three phrase in cricket (consisting of India, England and Australia) should be changed to the Big One

New Zealand have a world-class white-ball spinner of their own: left-armer Mitchell Santner has taken 16 wickets in this World Cup at 24 apiece. But their other two slow bowlers – Glenn Phillips and Rachin Ravindra – are very much part-timers.

India, by contrast, can boast slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja, who has taken 16 at 18, and left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who has 14 at 22. Waiting in the wings is Ravichandran Ashwin, one of the greatest off-spinners in the history of the game.

Strategically, then, it makes sense to skirt round the potential problem of playing on a fresh pitch against New Zealand’s strong seam attack.

And the problem is there’s not a damn thing the ICC can do about it – mainly because the ICC is a mirage, an events-management company that is the sum of its constituent members, and beholden to its most powerful.

No one is doubting that India bankroll world cricket. Any visit by their national team means the home board can breathe a financial sigh of relief. Their huge population – 1.43 billion at the last estimate, inching ahead of China – means cricket can often make grand claims about its popularity.

But with power comes responsibility, which India tend to exercise at their own discretion.

The argument that because England and Australia used to run the game to suit themselves, India can now do the same, is as disingenuous as it is depressing. Others claim that criticism of the BCCI stems from jealousy, which is a lame and transparent way of shutting down debate.

And it usually works. No one says a word, not in public anyway, because everyone is afraid of biting the hand that feeds them.

The argument that because England and Australia used to run the game to suit themselves, India can now do the same, is as disingenuous as it is depressing

Some of the self-assertion is subtle. At the last three World Cups in the two white-ball formats, the final group games have all involved India, and have been against the Netherlands, Zimbabwe and Namibia – useful, you might think, for a late and specific boost in net run-rate.

Mainly, the self-assertion is in plain sight, typified by the non-stop growth of the Indian Premier League, whose tentacles have extended into foreign competitions regularly featuring teams controlled by IPL owners.

We’re perhaps only a couple of years away from the moment players sign 12-month contracts with Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings rather than their home boards. International cricket may as well give up after that, except for a handful of marquee Test series plus World Cups.

Don’t forget, either, that the BCCI forbid their players from taking part in any T20 domestic tournament other than the IPL. The traffic is very much in one direction.

India should be able to beat New Zealand (pictured) even if they played on a sheet of glass

Cricket without India would be a fraction of the sport it has become, and the passion of their fans in a tournament which has brought them nine wins out of nine has added to the sense of destiny.

But India also has the power to ensure cricket thrives beyond its boundary, and flourishes at international level, as well as among the T20 franchises. The whole sport will gain if it looks outwards, not inwards, and focuses on the bigger picture instead of fiddling with the details.

And let’s be honest: whether they play on a sheet of glass or the surface of the moon, India should be able to beat New Zealand.

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