Cricket fans don't pay to watch administrators
It is a commonly acknowledged fact of existence that the strong, wealthy and powerful generally want only two things in life: more, and more.
This immutable truth lies behind, for example, the testosterone-fuelled cataclysms in the global economy; the energetic wanderings of Silvio Berlusconi's unrestrainable donglerod; Lance Armstrong riding the Tour de France on a Kawasaki 350, or whatever the latest allegation against him is; and the lunatic skyline of Dubai. To this illustrious list of human strivings may, in time, be added the overhaul of the ICC that has put a truckload of irascible cats amongst a caravan full of cricketing pigeons, and which is being discussed amidst that lunatic skyline this week.
I cannot claim to be fully abreast of all the drafts, proposals, machinations, squawks, countersquawks, smoke, mirrors, giant flashing $ signs, earnest sonnets of love written to the future of Test cricket, and whatever else has, has not or might have possibly been involved. Far better-informed cricketologists than I have given their carefully considered opinions on the matter, on these pages and elsewhere. I have little to add, other than that I feel a creeping sense of unease about the sport I love, and an intangible suspicion that I would not like Messrs Clarke, Edwards and Srinivasan all to come round for dinner at my house on the same night.
To be honest, whenever I read about cricket politics, after about two paragraphs I drift off and start thinking about David Gower finessing Ray Lindwall through extra cover, or Harold Larwood bouncing out Inzamam-ul-Haq. One minute I will be concentrating feverishly on percentage breakdowns of revenue from putative future TV deals, or on which sub-committees can recommend what to whom. Then my focus will dissolve and I will imperceptibly segue into pondering how the ECB earning more money will indirectly help Darren Sammy bowl 10mph faster, or whether it is technically possible to scrap something - for example, a Future Tours programme - that has basically already been junked, or at least battered into an unrecognisable pulp. I might then find myself contemplating the difference between an unmissable once-in-a-lifetime special offer and blackmail.
Before long, my mind will have strayed so far from cricket that it will mull instead on whether I have left the Bolognese bubbling for too long on the cooker, or whether Frankel the superhorse (a) is happy in his post-racing stud-farm career as an equine gigolo who has impregnated more than 100 lady horses for money, or (b) feels exploited for his body, emotionally hollow, and increasingly unable to relate to mares on a genuine horse-to-horse level. Then I will snap back to reality and look up a stat about eighth-wicket partnerships in 1930s Test matches, and all will be well again.
In short, I do not follow cricket politics closely. There is enough politics in the world. Sport is an escape from it. My only interest in cricket politics is in its success or failure at facilitating the playing of good-quality cricket, which, with regard to the international game, is its primary, perhaps sole, raison d'être. Cricket politics is like a worm. It fulfils a valuable function, but should preferably remain unseen and unheard, and when it is too visible and too audible, it is probably not doing its job very well. And rapidly becomes extremely disconcerting.
What I do know, however, is the following:
* Money talks. And it is particularly eloquent when it is changed into coins, melted down, cast into the shape of a giant medieval cannon and pointed directly at someone's head whilst a man in a pinstripe suit standing next to the cannon says: "Wouldn't it be a shame if this went off in your face? Now, what was it we were talking about?"
* It is often the case that, in negotiations, a party that wants a ridiculous outcome will put forward a rampantly idiotic proposal, in order to facilitate the achievement of that merely ridiculous outcome under the illusory cloak of "compromise". Such negotiations are generally tricky for the weaker parties. As the old saying goes: "Give them an inch, they will take a mile." The problem is, if you do not give them the inch, they will take the mile anyway. So you might as well give them the inch and hope that at least they smile at you whilst shoving you into a ditch on their way to taking the mile.
* No cricket fan has ever paid to watch an administrator. There have never been queues around the block to watch Giles Clarke send a fax, or Wally Edwards check his email, or N Srinivasan sit in a large swivel chair stroking a cat. These people should be servants of the game with whose livelihood they have found themselves temporarily entrusted. Albeit that they are not on servants' wages. History will judge the quality of service they have provided to cricket. This week will probably define their legacy.
* There are times as a cricket fan when one is assailed by a nagging sense that the sport is in the control of a strange cabal of brigands, charlatans, egotists, half-wits and lunatics. Including some who can claim to be all of the above, in a five-for-the-price-of-one smorgasbord of nuttiness. Hopefully the sense will dissipate over the next few days. Hopefully.
* Since the T20 bonanza kaboomed into being, cricket and cricketers have enjoyed the benefits of Big Money. When Big Money knocks at your door, it is difficult to turn it away. Often it may fund some long-overdue home improvements. However, it is a house guest that seldom leaves empty-handed.
* Beware what comes out of the rear end of a golden goose. It may not be quite what you expect or want. Particularly if you are aggressively badgering the goose to lay you another one of its nice shiny eggs.
* Cricket can learn from America. American sport is rampantly commercial. Its player contracts, media-rights deals and merchandising operations are vast. Its Man-of-the-Match awards are for the Most Valuable Player; trophies are awarded to franchise owners, not team captains; clubs can be moved from city to city on an economic whim. It expresses American capitalism and consumerism with unashamed brashness. However, it is also aware that its financial and popular success is dependent in large part on the protection and promotion of its history and heritage, and, above all, on the deliberate nurturing of genuine, unpredictable competition. To a significant extent, it nurtures the weaker teams and restricts the stronger.
Thus it has avoided the plutocratic tedium of the major European football leagues. When the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks contest Sunday's Super Bowl, they will be the ninth and tenth different teams to have appeared in the last five editions of sport's most lavish, money-licked showpiece.
There have been 12 different winners of the last 20 Super Bowls, and ten more franchises have also made it to the NFL's season-ending final. In baseball, nine different franchises have won the World Series in the 13 seasons since the moneybags New York Yankees' run of four titles in five years was broken in 2001.
A half-minute TV commercial during the Super Bowl costs around $4 million (which explains why the Confectionery Stall will not be featuring in this year's advertisement roster). Top baseballers happily rake in $20 million a season or more. So big money and striving for the collective good are not mutually exclusive in top-level sport. If anything, they can be mutually dependent. I am fairly sure that TV companies will pay more for a sport with eight, ten or even 12 competitive teams, than merely three or four. This should be international cricket's goal for the Test game.
* The status quo is rubbish. ODIs are regularly played between teams denuded of first-choice players; back-to-back Test series have become commonplace, bringing a lack of anticipation and variety, and sometimes a feeling of contractual obligation; from January 2010 to October 2015, England and South Africa will have played the grand total of three Test matches against each other; Tests are condensed into a needlessly short time frame, whilst ODI series are dragged out over several interminable weeks, and World Cups over months, sometimes seemingly years. It would be simple to rectify all these issues. Simple, but perhaps a little less profitable.
* In 21st-century cricket administration, no one trusts anyone. Generally with good reason.
* There is, comfortably, enough money in cricket for the international game to be well-organised, competitive, and sensibly structured, in all three formats. There is enough interest, passion and will, amongst players, fans and (I think and assume) administrators, for Test cricket to survive and, relatively, thrive.
If these basic goals are not achieved, some powerful and well-remunerated people will have failed. I do not care who they are, where they come from, whom they support, who supports them, what their specific responsibilities are or are assumed to be, or what motivates them or their employers. I do not care who likes whom, or who once said what to whom, about whom, or behind whose back. I do not suppose many cricket fans or cricket players do either.
I do care that, whatever happens with the horse-trading and power games this week, cricket's movers and shakers move in the right direction and shake the appropriate trees. They have the resources, opportunity and duty to succeed. If they do not, then they deserve to be haunted by the ghosts of cricketers and cricket lovers past, all dressed in cricket kit, screaming in their most spooky available voices, "What have you done? What have you done to something that was not yours?"
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer