Stephen Gelb August 25, 2008

Way forward for ICC

Instead of trying to defend the status quo, the ICC should undertake an orderly retreat aiming to leave itself with enhanced authority over diminished territory.

So the ICC has postponed the Champion’s Trophy for a year. After South Africa withdrew on Friday, postponement was inevitable. Cricket SA’s announcement came immediately after a meeting with the ICC’s top two officials, both South Africans, and it seems inconceivable that the latter didn’t tacitly approve.

The Champions Trophy controversy reflects the ICC in crisis. Not a crisis of leadership – because of the removal of the Australian MD, as argued by Malcolm Conn in a typically Aussie one-eyed take –– but a structural crisis. Its governance processes have become outdated as the power relations in world cricket have shifted. An unfashionable German guy with a beard long ago referred to this sort of problem as the inevitable consequence of the contradiction between the forces and the relations of production.

The ICC was already in crisis in June over Zimbabwe, but in terms of its own future this is much worse. Not being able to play in Pakistan is a far worse blow to world cricket, but the Champions’ Trophy debacle has so much further polarised the ICC as to render it incapable of making decisions. Its two-thirds majority voting model is no longer feasible, since the Asian group of four has veto power over any proposals if it sticks together, but cannot carry its own proposals against ‘old’ powers Engand and Australia, without support from both SA and West Indies, which it didn’t have in this instance and won’t automatically have in future. The Asian group could not make the tournament happen but it could prevent cancellation as favoured by the old powers. Postponement was simply the least unsatisfactory compromise for both sides. But it was not a proper resolution of the problem, nor was the Zimbabwe decision in June. Sooner rather than later, the ‘least unsatisfactory’ compromise will not be adequate and the organisation will implode.

Not coincidentally, there is a similar problem in the arguably more important world of international trade, where negotiations for a new WTO agreement have collapsed (again). India is at the heart of that crisis too, together with China and Brazil. As in cricket, it is the nouveau riche challenging the presumptive dominance of the ancien regime, and using the existing rules to do so. As in cricket, the outcome is stalemate – at least for now. The emergent countries have acquired enough defensive power to block their opponents’ efforts, but not enough to impose their own solutions or to create a new set of rules..

The future of the WTO is unclear. There are powerful centrifugal pressures in the world trading system, as powerful countries – old and new –focus on building exclusive trading blocs, pushing smaller nations into bilateral trade agreements to try to exclude competing powers.

Where to for the ICC? Can the ‘cricket world’ hold together? The pressures for disintegration have surely been greatly reinforced by the undermining of ICC authority reflected in today’s decision. Private interests – whether IPL, Stanford, ICL or whomever – will be emboldened to test the limits of ICC regulatory power over the cricket calendar and ‘official’ stamp. Franchise-based ‘club’ cricket competitions like the IPL will be expanded, leaving less time for international representative cricket. The incentives for national boards to adhere to the ‘Future Tours Programme’ will be weaker, and countries more likely to pick and choose Test opponents based on marketability and politics (The itinerary provided to England by India for the forthcoming tour was an interesting straw in the wind.)

The ICC can try to resist this, and it probably will try. That would be a mistake.

The proper meaning of ‘crisis’ is not closure or collapse, but ‘turning point’, and a crisis is therefore also an opportunity for renewal. Instead of trying to defend the status quo, inevitably in vain, the ICC should undertake an orderly retreat aiming to leave itself with enhanced authority over diminished territory. In this, cricket would be following the examples of football and rugby. It would require drastically reducing and refocusing the Test and LOI schedules, but at least the ICC would thereby maintain control over international cricket, and could arrange a considered and well-designed Test calendar rather than an unco-ordinated and unplanned one. The alternative is to leave more powerful private interests to structure their own tournaments with international games reduced to the leftovers. Of course there would be numerous contracts to re-negotiate, not least with the TV overlords, but they (and national boards) would be compensated by the continued growth of globally-marketed ‘club’ cricket.

The subtext here is of course more Twenty20 and less Test cricket, not good news for those, myself included, who choose Tests above the rest. But if anything is inevitable in cricket’s future, it is more Twenty20, a lot more, and less time for everything else.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 23, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Hey, you're the goto expert. Thanks for hagnnig out here.

  • testli5504537 on September 1, 2008, 13:29 GMT


    As a cricket lover, I tend to agree with you -

    ICC could start with -

    1. Taking ownership of its code of conduct. Ensure universal application of undersdanding & penalties, including documentation of circumstances under which the code of conduct will apply / not apply. 2. Publish the scores including rating from individual countries of all its umpires on its websites. Umpires who are unable / unwilling to do an honest day's work in a day should not be allowed to take their position for granted, ignoring resources provided to them & messing up matches. 3. Look at reducing International cricket to maybe 1 test world cup, 1 50/50 world cup & 1 20/20 world cup. Matches in between coudl be left to the respective boards, clubs et al.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2008, 11:51 GMT

    I agree that the main priority for the ICC must be to reduce & refocus the schedule of ODI's and Test cricket. The underlying, unstated reason why the major cricketing nations dropped out of the ICC Champions Trophy in Pakistan was because of the overscheduling of this tournament wedged inbetween all their other many international commitments. All these countries will be sighing with relief that by not having to go to the ICC tournament in Pakistan they will gain some breathing space in the packed playing calendar.

  • testli5504537 on August 28, 2008, 23:52 GMT

    Excellent article Stephen and I think that you've nailed it all.

    The ICC needs to remember that they are serving cricket and in particular, the patrons who turn up to the games and part with their hard earned cash. We pay $55.00 for a seat for one day at a Test, plus exhorbitant amounts for a few beers and a pie.

    I know that sponsorship keeps the game going, but without the fans there is no need for sponsors. The ICC needs to stop fiddling with technology and spend money on training, supporting and encouraging umpires. The idea of four rotating umpires per Test is especially appealing and will make for better decision making. Pitches need to be competitive and the game must be made less structured towards benefitting batsmen. Boundaries keep shrinking, bats get better and soon a bowler will need to tell the batsman what delivery he will be sending down in advance.

    These, plus Zimbabwe are the real issues and the ICC should be bound to fix them and put fans and Tests first

  • testli5504537 on August 26, 2008, 19:45 GMT

    Dear Anjo, Thank you. I don't know who you are, where you're from or what the other piece is that you refer to, but I appreciate that you took the time to comment. It makes it worthwhile.

  • testli5504537 on August 26, 2008, 6:06 GMT

    Its a sign of the times that a sensible blog on the fall out of the champions trophy followed by an excellent assessment of current scenario and the way forward has just one comment, whereas a hateful blog with the most illogical garbage designed for the sole purpose of spawning more hate based on racist propaganda has over 100 comments. So Stephen while you may outline the best course or the options open to the ICC, there are people out there for whom chaos provides the best opportunities. To perpetuate this proxy war allows them to buy time, crucial to establish operations that will yield the highest profits at the right time. That the ICC or Test Cricket might eventually collapse is of no concern to them, as long as they can provide the best certified contest they will continue to have this iron grip on the market. Don't be surprised if within the next couple of years a board or two outright question the authority of the ICC over their own authority.

  • testli5504537 on August 25, 2008, 17:00 GMT

    the ICC is an outdated & undemocratic organisation & it desparately needs restructuring. the international schedule is a total shambles, & its development plans at best half hearted. somebody has to make some radical descisions before the money men cherrypick what they want, leaving the Test nations at the level of the associates. thats called irony i think.

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