October 11, 2009

Michael Jeh

Why 'they' can't do without 'us'

Michael Jeh


Sri Lanka, and not Australia, were the one-day world champions in 1996 © Getty Images
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What the Champions Trophy has just showed us is that cricket needs these occasional global tournaments to provide a wider perspective on a game that is still only genuinely competitive amongst a handful of nations. Unlike football or tennis or athletics, which are truly multi-country sports and unlike baseball, basketball or gridiron which seem to be able to survive on American domestic consumption, cricket needs all of it’s senior members to be competitive if it is to compete with these other sports.

It was almost not thus; I was not aware that in the late 1990s, world cricket was apparently on the brink of a major split that would probably have destroyed the game. I always knew there was some talk of it but it never really seemed to be much more than a bit of posturing and chest-puffing. I recently stumbled upon a book called Run Out, written by the former CEO of the Australian Cricket Board, Graham Halbish. It’s hardly a new offering and it’s certainly not worth recommending but nonetheless, it still provided a fascinating insight into the politics of cricket in the 1990s.

He described an ambitious idea called Project Snow which was apparently Australian cricket’s defiant response to the power bloc of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Africa. Without going into the detailed politics of it, Australia, New Zealand, England and West Indies would form a league which played each other on a regular basis (presumably the other countries would do something similar with their members) and world cricket would be split in two. Amazingly, he went so far as to make the statement that the intent of Project Snow was to show South Africa that it had made the wrong choice in siding with the Asian bloc, to call India’s bluff and to show the subcontinent that “we could do without them, but that they could not do without us”.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course and it is unfair to judge someone on that basis. Perhaps in 1996, Halbish and the ACB truly believed that, surprising as it may seem in today’s context. My memory of that period still contrasts with Halbish’s view though – in 1996, it was patently obvious that the nexus of power and influence had shifted inexorably to the subcontinent and it seemed foolish to think of a truly viable global game without their involvement. The recent decline of West Indies and the sad fact (unfairly perhaps) that New Zealand does not have huge marketability, makes Project Snow seem even more ridiculous. Even the lure of the Ashes would soon lose its box office appeal if the two countries were forced to play each other every second year in Tests and ODIs. Today’s professional cricketer, some of them earning more rupees than dollars, must be glad indeed that Project Snow was nothing more than a concept on a piece of paper. It just doesn’t make sense on any level to contemplate world cricket without the major countries, East and West alike.

It was difficult to take the book seriously after that point. Once credibility is lost, she is a difficult mistress to find again. I should have seen the writing on the wall in the very first paragraph of the book when Halbish claimed that Australia were world champions in Test and ODI cricket in 1997 (when he was CEO). He may have forgotten the fact that Sri Lanka were the reigning World Cup champions at that point. I then started keeping a beady eye out for any other discrepancies and I was not disappointed – some of them were minor mistakes but it nonetheless became very difficult to then work out which bits were true and which bits were not.

In one chapter, curiously called “The Best of Times”, he tells of a story when a former ACB Chairman ejected two ECB officials off his houseboat (during the Youth World Cup in 1988) with some choice expletives and refuses to give them a drink or food. The best of times? Really? How charming!

Halbish recounts every detail of a very famous falling-out with the board which led to his sacking and the subsequent bad blood that inevitably followed. It was actually quite fascinating to read the behind-the-scenes politics that seem to dog most cricket boards around the world. I am neither interested in the politics nor knowledgeable enough about what really went on to offer any meaningful commentary on Halbish’s version of events. The only thing that really stood out was the total unpleasantness of most of the characters involved in that whole saga, something that is probably replicated in other cricket boards around the world I’m sure. For supposedly distinguished and senior administrators, the only common denominator seemed to be a total absence of decency or honour amongst the lot. Halbish obviously tells the story from his perspective, but even allowing for that bias, it just made me wonder how the game of cricket survives such people.

It is indeed a testament to the quality of the 'product' that it can transcend those who administer it. Cricket will never escape the grubby politics that seems to follow it in just about every country (although NZ seems to be relatively benign) but the game itself is such a powerful force that it will probably still survive and thrive, despite such folk. Halbish’s book merely highlights the ugly underbelly that governs this great game that we all love. It was an interesting read, a revealing read, an inconsistent read but sadly, it did nothing to paint cricket’s governors of the 1980s and 1990s in a positive light. I don’t think much has changed since!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Trumper on (October 22, 2009, 1:29 GMT)

Interesting article. The only thing to question is this- if the members of the original Imperial Cricket Conference (Australia, South Africa & England with West Indies & New Zealand joining in 1926) had broken away from the current ICC and left the asian nations playing on their own would the following have occurred..

1. The proliferation of ODI & 20/20 cricket to the detriment of test cricket. 2. The allowance in the law of the bending of the arm prior to delivery set by the Murali controversy. 3. The emergence of "super bats" and dead pitches all over the world. 4. The use of technology in umpiring decisions.

I think that had the MCC still been in charge of the game that it codefied in 1787 then the game would not have been irrevovably damaged by influence from the sub-continent. There are many fans in this region that love test cricket and the traditions of the game, but on the balance of things the influence (in my opinion) has been a negative one over-all.

Posted by Abhishek on (October 20, 2009, 8:19 GMT)

I wonder how the governing body for a global sport like soccer, FIFA, maintains its neutrality, when clearly, they've also got some major nations playing there as well.

Posted by Vikram Maingi on (October 19, 2009, 7:35 GMT)

Decision making power resides with those who are generating more revenue for the game. For globalization of the game ICC come up with different FTPs so that weaker opponents get an opportunity to play against the stronger ones. The gap between the two opponents will definitely bridge after a period of time. Having two tiers of cricket playing nations is a rubbish idea. I will emphasize on full members ranking from 7 to 10 play atleast once every year against the other official ODI playing nations, which rank from 11 to 16. This will give a good exposure to the other Associate/ Affiliate nations.

Posted by ted on (October 13, 2009, 11:50 GMT)

i was hoping for a insight and needed article on current tournment in india.which i think is one of the best concepts to come out of cricket in along time and possible should be expanded.not some claptrap about cricket politics.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (October 13, 2009, 11:28 GMT)

Hi Nish,

You're 100% correct my friend. What I meant was every second year at home which also means every year home and away. Thanks for clearing that up.

Posted by redneck on (October 13, 2009, 1:50 GMT)

MJ_374 if i got it wrong then why did india shut down australias proposed test championship? or australia siding against the bcci's rejection of the wada doping tests? the all powerful majority vote! when india raise their hand to cast a vote so to do bangladesh, zimbabwe, south africa, sri lanka & pakistan (even with all the mud slinging between the 2 nations???)blindly following india's lead! hence when i say not much has changed, the icc is still stuggling to be the governing body with out prejudice, just as it was back in the 90's and just how it was in the imperial cricket council days! although i still havent heard of how any cricket nation was disadvantaged when england ran the show?

Posted by Harold on (October 13, 2009, 0:21 GMT)

The man is a mad man, and his book is a fair reflection of his character!

Posted by Nish on (October 12, 2009, 21:07 GMT)

>> Even the lure of the Ashes would soon lose its box office appeal if the two countries were forced to play each other every second year in Tests and ODIs. <<

Hey Michael,

They already do that - there's been an Ashes series every 2 years for several years now. Perhaps you meant every year?

Posted by Michael Jeh on (October 12, 2009, 12:35 GMT)

PRG, I never claimed to be reviewing this book. All I said that was that I stumbled upon it and then got slowly into it. Actually, it was the night of the washed out India vs Australia Champions Trophy game recently and I was trying to find something to read whilst staying awake to see if the game would resume. Hence, I found this old book that I had never really bothered reading. I'm not pretending it's topical, nor am I recommending it as a riveting read. As for your 1996 comment about the World Cup: you lost me I'm afraid. All I commented on was the inaccuracy of Halbish's comment (in 1997) that Australia were world champions.

Posted by MJ_374 on (October 12, 2009, 8:43 GMT)

REDNECK's got it wrong when he says that "not much has changed since then" in terms of the power blocks. If you've been following what has been happening, it's now usually India, South Africa and Australia that are collectively setting the agenda. Other South Asian countires bar Sri Lanka no longer follow India, but then again, India no longer need them.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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