Daniel Brettig in Cricinfo
Melbourne is something of a Mecca for private members clubs. From the Melbourne Club and the Australian Club to the Kelvin Club and the Melbourne Cricket Club itself, the private meetings of well-heeled businessmen in wood-panelled dining rooms by open fires, all members by invitation only, are part of the fabric of the city. On Albert Street in East Melbourne the United Grand Lodge of Victoria stares forbiddingly down towards the MCG - who can forget that Sir Donald Bradman was himself a Freemason?
So it is entirely fitting that international cricket's redefinition as a private club, with the BCCI's banned board president N Srinivasan crowned as its omnipotent chairman, will take place in the MCC Members Dining Room this week. Since 1877 the MCG has hosted all manner of cricketing feats, but not since that first Test match between Australia and England has it been the scene of a more significant moment than this.
A re-shaping of the international game that began more or less in secret, during meetings between Srinivasan, the ECB chairman Giles Clarke and the Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards over the past two years, will reach fruition at the ICC's annual conference. While the broad resolutions for the new landscape have been known since January, their inking into law will be the point of completion, and some contemplation. There can be no going back from here.
After Thursday's centrepiece conference meeting the ICC's constitution will be changed drastically, setting up the boards of the "big three" nations as commercially-motivated navigators for cricket, and abandoning much of the expansionist vision favoured by ICC management in recent years. Instead the game's current balance of power will be definitively entrenched, as India, England and Australia take a larger slice of revenue from ICC events in addition to their existing windfalls from bilateral tours.
The game's most influential decision-making will no longer take place at the executive board table but at the more exclusive meetings of ExCo, the five-member working group that will have UN security council-styled permanent membership for the BCCI, ECB and CA. Edwards will chair ExCo for one year and his CA successor David Peever, the next. Clarke is already head of the ICC's finance committee, and Srinivasan's coronation will complete the triumvirate.
Srinivasan's ascension will take place despite the reservations of many. The Supreme Court of India has barred Srinivasan from his duties as BCCI president while the investigation into corrupt activities around the IPL and Chennai Super Kings is ongoing: members of the ICC's executive board have personally expressed to him their preference for Srinivasan to refrain from taking the international post until it has concluded. The conflict of interest inherent in Srinivasan's ownership of Super Kings alongside his cricket administration has also been mentioned, but always excused by the fact the BCCI allowed it.
Chief among those expressing caution has been Edwards, an architect of vast governance change at CA but compelled to work more pragmatically at the ICC. Earlier this month he reportedly called Srinivasan to discuss the implications of his appointment as chairman while still under investigation, and to seek reassurance that there would be no surprises later on if he did take up the post this week. The image of President Nixon's second inauguration playing on a newsroom television at the Washington Post while Woodward and Bernstein tap out the stories that will lead to his resignation spring to mind.
"We respect the right of each nation to nominate their representative on the ICC," Edwards said ahead of the conference. "With that comes great responsibility to ensure representatives comply with the standards required to govern the game. I have been assured by Mr Srinivasan, legally and by ICC management that there is nothing preventing the BCCI putting him forward as a candidate for chairman. I accept that and am confident that Mr Srinivasan can play an important role in strengthening world cricket."
Edwards is well aware of said standards as the primary author of a new ethics code for the ICC board and administration, a document broader in some senses but more restrictive in others. Accusations against members can now only be made by fellow signatories of the code, a change that underlines the shift to private membership values as much as anything else. The responsibilities of members to act in the best interests of the ICC itself have been stripped away, instead they will be freed up to do whatever their own countries would best prefer, formalising a mindset of self-interest that has long existed. Should Srinivasan be removed in the future, it will be under the terms of this code.
But Srinivasan is nothing if not determined, and in repeatedly asserting his innocence of any wrongdoing has persuaded the executive board, the BCCI and the Supreme Court that allegations of major impropriety should not stop him from taking the role. India's administrators seem largely content to allow Srinivasan to represent them overseas, while there appears to be little will to prevent his coronation in Melbourne - a repeat of the John Howard coup de'tat at the 2010 conference in Singapore looks unlikely.
As significant as the unveiling of the new chairman will be the long-delayed and much debated signing of the Members Participation Agreement for ICC events. This document, and the BCCI's refusal to sign it until the shape of the game was changed to reflect its view of the world and financial contribution to it, was the catalyst for cricket's current direction. There will be little fanfare around the boards putting pen to paper, but the gravity of the moment will not be lost on those in the room.
Elsewhere the game's Associate and Affiliate members will be forced to swallow numerous changes, including a raising of the bar in terms of membership criteria, and the loss of the revenue they will gain from ICC events relative to the old structure. The carrot of Test match participation will be dangled, but only over the course of an eight-year cycle. World Cup participation is also set to be restricted, as the tournament reverts to a 10-team model after next year's edition in Australia and New Zealand.
Other vestiges of earlier attempts by ICC management to broaden the game will be removed. A report into the possibility of cricket at the Olympics will be tabled, confirming why it will never happen so long as India and England have anything to do with the decision. The ACSU, cricket's independent watchdog for corruption, will soon be asked to report not to the ICC chief executive but to ExCo and the executive board. Whatever the current chairman Sir Ronnie Flanagan has said about preserving the unit's independence, the new model cannot be said to have done so.
Finally, after the conference concludes, members will sit down to the serious business of their first committee and board meetings under the new structure. Friday and Saturday will be taken up by the first acts of the new order, as Srinivasan, Edwards and Clarke chair the meetings of the private members club they have created. There will be no funny hats or ancient robes, but the tone, form and function of cricket's governance will reflect nothing so much as the clubs of Melbourne and beyond. The words of the Stonecutters' anthem immortalised by The Simpsons will seem a fitting accompaniment:
Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do, we do!
Who keeps Atlantis off the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps? We do, we do!