New Zealand Cricket need to be bold dealing with suggestions India want to abridge their scheduled tour next year.
The situation is delicately poised given India's cricketing heavyweight status. India are due to tour in February-March for three tests, five one-day internationals and one twenty20 international. Anything less than three tests for the main part of the home summer in February and March would frustrate purist fans and represent lip service to smaller cricketing nations. It would insult the efforts by the New Zealand team to apply themselves successfully in the drawn three-test series with England last month.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India has suggested abbreviating the tour to tie in with the Asia Cup ODI tournament which also features Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The tournament is expected to run from February 24 to March 8, the heart of the New Zealand summer. Something has to give.
While politically and financially risky, NZC (in particular through the leadership of chief executive David White) has the chance to showcase its negotiating ability. New Zealand's test-playing programme has already been compromised with a two-test series in England next month (the first time less than three tests have been played in 82 years of official touring).
Any reduction to the India series test schedule would be evidence of a slippery slope.
NZC have a couple of options.
They could select the appeasement method, a la British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proclaiming "peace in our time" with the signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 before the onset of World War II. Accepting a shorter tour would keep New Zealand in India's good books... until they demand further concessions in the future and the process repeats.
Test match fans will hope NZC choose a plan more like former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange's anti-nuclear stand against the United States. The subsequent nuclear-free zone was unequivocal. NZC's equivalent is to hold out for three tests as a matter of principle. Such a move might double as a welcome public relations opportunity for NZC's current administration. A demonstration of spine could be rewarded with public kudos, a valuable commodity with discussions over the make-up of a new board and constitution set to play out in the coming months.
When International Cricket Council chief executive Dave Richardson visited ahead of the final New Zealand/England test he stressed both governing bodies have to mutually agree to the changing of a series itinerary. He said there was no precedent for a stalemate between countries in the 12 years the FTP has been running but financial compensation would be the likely result from breaching an agreement. The consequences are that NZC would have to prove their net loss or receive US$2 million from the BCCI (whatever is the greater figure). That gives NZC a powerful negotiating tool.
In contrast, if NZC relents and India again finds the ICC's Future Tours Programme malleable, it makes the document toothless. The FTP is supposed to govern the planning of itineraries through to 2020. The reality is you only get better when you play better teams more often. Hold your line NZC.