Transcripts of a tense conversation between Cricket Australia and Seven West Media reveal the network's despair at a "radical" fixture change and the huge influence of the Indian cricket board.
Cricket's free-to-air partner and the sports governing body are locked in a disagreement over the schedule and quality of this summer's men's fixtures – the international series against India and the Big Bash League. Seven is seeking a significant cut to the $70 million annual fee in cash it pays as part of its claim, and has not ruled out terminating its contract with three seasons remaining.
In an affidavit written by Lewis Martin, Seven's head of sport and the boss of its Melbourne operation, and lodged in the Federal Court, Martin said his network was happy with CA's initial fixture released on May 28 under former CA chief executive Kevin Roberts.
Martin said Roberts had used the phrase "BBL 02" to describe the changes that were going to be made to revitalise a tournament that had suffered a ratings decline of 23.5 per cent last summer from 2017-18. There was going to be, according to Martin, innovation, more marketing, and more "household names", not to mention a "compelling fixture list" and a "predominance" of intra-city derbies and Melbourne versus Sydney derbies.
Seven had wanted a "fast start" to the summer by having the BBL begin straight after the opening day's play of the first Test against India, the latter originally scheduled for December 3 in Brisbane.
But in a meeting on August 7, CA unveiled six new schedule options that caught Seven by surprise.
Under the scenarios, this meant the Twenty20 series against India would be switched from October to December, the one-day internationals were flipped from January to November-December and the first Test switched from December 3 in Brisbane to December 17 either in Adelaide or Perth.
The BBL's starting date was switched from December 3 to either December 5, 9 or 12, in each case not coinciding with any significant international cricket. One option had the Australia A tour match against India being held from December 11-13, clashing with the BBL.
According to Martin, it was in this conversation with BBL chief Alistair Dobson and CA's cricket operations chief Peter Roach that he learnt how the Board of Control for Cricket in India – the most powerful cricketing organisation in the world – had wielded its power. The affidavit, read by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, reports the conversation as:
Martin: Guys, this is a radical shift from anything we have talked about or contemplated.
Dobson: Lewis, how so? What's the issue?
Martin: Any one of these options is a radical departure from the published schedule. We have been working out our planning for the season based on the published schedule since May. This is ridiculous. This is not the season we have been planning for. Why have you put the "white ball" (T20 and ODI) matches before the first India Test and BBL season start?
Roach: The Indians won't quarantine twice. They want their Test players and white-ball players to quarantine together at the same time, and then after the white-ball matches are played the white-ball players can go home and the Test players will stay in Australia.
Martin continued to push for answers as to why the Twenty20 series against India, now beginning on Friday in Canberra, could not have been postponed, allowing the Test series to start earlier than the now-scheduled December 17 in Adelaide.
On or about November 12, Martin had a conversation with Stephanie Beltrame, CA's broadcast and commercial executive general manager. According to the affidavit, Beltrame told Martin that CA was "unhappy" with him for expressing his "exasperation" over why CA had scheduled white-ball matches at the start of the summer – broadcast exclusively on Foxtel – and why the BBL was not beginning on the same day as a Test. The conversation between the pair again highlighted the power of the BCCI.
Martin: You easily cancelled the 3 x West Indies T20 matches, the World Cup was cancelled and the Afghan Test was cancelled, so why couldn't the 3 T20s against India be cancelled as well? Had you postponed or cancelled the 3 x T20s and left the 3 x ODIs where they were the summer we built would largely be intact.
Beltrame: The West Indies did not have a series and it has been postponed and not cancelled. The Afghan Test has been postponed and not cancelled. We have done so much for Seven. It is a worldwide pandemic for god's sake Lewis, nobody knows that more than you.
Martin: The West Indies T20s and the Afghan Test haven't ruined the summer the way the 6 white-ball matches and the Australia A match have. Why don't you postpone the 3 x T20s and allow that ripping summer we built through the year to happen and give BBL 2.0 the best chance?
Beltrame: You keep saying 2.0 (while referring to the 2020-21 season of BBL cricket).
Martin: Your CEO called it 2.0.
Beltrame: He referred to it once in a meeting.
Martin: He referred to it several times in conversation with me. Steph why did you jam those 6 matches against India? They have had a huge impact on our business and any chance of the BBL recovering.
Beltrame: We don't think it has, we have done so much for Seven. We think we will deliver the summer.
Martin: Those 6 white-ball matches have meant 50 per cent less BBL prime time matches pre Christmas, competing schedule with Aust A, no players, less Test matches pre Christmas. Surely you must see how this has impacted us?
Beltrame: Lewis, we have a 10-match bilateral agreement with BCCI. I have to go but I am happy to continue the conversation later.
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Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.