Zimbabwe issue is just the start of a power struggle

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There was no doubt where world cricket stood after the remarkable events here last week. England and India are engaged in a struggle for power and influence which will determine the direction of the sport. They are fighting over its soul. At the core, they are resolving whether Test cricket or Twenty20 will prevail as the most significant part of the international game.

To observe this titanic clash unfold at the International Cricket Council's annual meeting was both enthralling and disturbing. Two bulls locked horns, suddenly aware of their own strength and unprepared to cede ground. The primary tussle, a narrow win in a bowl-out for England, concerned Zimbabwe. England wanted them out, India wanted them in: they are out of next year's World Twenty20 in England but still in (for now) the ICC.

But there were other issues on which the two countries fundamentally disagreed. The Champions' League, a competition for the winners and runners-up of domestic Twenty20 competitions in four countries, is turning into a dust-up between them. India want certain conditions: England refuse, adamant that they are not for turning.

The Indian Premier League, which sparked the mass explosion of T20 and which has probably changed the game forever, is another contentious subject between them. England are deeply unhappy about the IPL and the way its agents are, as they see it, poaching their players. India are rather pleased with themselves, not least because they know how much it gets up England's noses.

All this was played out in a five-star hotel of ornately brash decor. It can never have seen anything like it in the six weeks since it opened its doors. The business was conducted in a conference hall and frequently involved England, through the ECB chairman Giles Clarke, and India, through Sharad Pawar, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, stating and restating their differing positions. England will be grateful that they had the unlikely but unflinching support of South Africa. Clarke spent much of the time speaking Urdu or Arabic, in which he is fluent. Pawar and Clarke disagreed almost entirely, yet in a determined show of unity, they went out with their wives for dinner together. Maybe through discord a lifelong friendship has been forged. Maybe not.

It was outside the meeting rooms that many of the affairs of state and associated locking of horns were conducted. In smaller annexes, in corridors, in guest bedrooms, in the conference rooms of other Dubai hotels, meetings took place, deals were done or, usually, not done.

England's main purpose was to ensure that Zimbabwe were officially booted out of the World Twenty20 to be held in England next summer. Not so secretly, they also wished for Zimbabwe's suspension from the ICC. Indeed, expulsion might have invaded their wilder dreams.

The notion of suspension was swiftly knocked back because the Zimbabweans came armed with the ICC constitution and nobody had the stomach (or the rulebook) to tell them where to take it. But England spent two days rejecting India's disingenuous argument that sport and politics do not mix. Zimbabwe weren't coming. That was that.

It was a big thing that India blinked first. It took more than two days but eventually they saw that it was no good. Pawar asked Zimbabwe to withdraw from the Twenty20 and keep their membership. It took a while for them to buckle but they have not come this far by being daft. They realised that defeat by a show of hands may one day lead to more severe punishment. They retained full membership, although they have not played a Test for three years, and nobody wants to play them in a one-day international. They will still receive their ICC fees. They took the money and ran.

They were highly plausible. Peter Chingoka, the president of Zimbabwe Cricket, had lawyers in tow. Two of them, who only gave their names as Wilson and Emmanuel, said there were a few problems with inflation in Zimbabwe, nothing more. South Africa's opposition, they claimed, was motivated by racism.

India will not have liked this result, seeing it as loss of face. They may dig their heels in further on the Champions' League. The main bone of contention is the participation of the county cricketers who played in the unauthorised Indian Cricket League. Lalit Modi, the BCCI vice-president and IPL commissioner, is adamant that neither the players nor the teams they represent will be welcome in the Champions' League.

Modi, charming but sharp as always, is used to getting his way. He and Clarke will make watchable adversaries.

India have a TV deal, the ECB have so far responded by acquiring their own broadcast partners for the competition and have invited India to join them on their terms.

There is something else. India insist on the primacy of Test cricket but everything they do promotes T20. Even if they wanted to, England could not get away with that. Who blinks first will decide the ultimate winner.