2007 Review - ICC December 23, 2007

Bruised, battered but battling on

Martin Williamson looks at how the ICC fared in 2007

Malcolm Speed keeps soldiering on among familiar empty seats during the World Cup © Getty Images
Not much went right for the ICC in 2007 but it weathered the many storms that hit it and ended the year intact, albeit bruised and battered. By this time next year it will have a new president and chief executive. Its strings, however, will still be controlled silently by people with a variety of interests and priorities, not all, some would argue, in the game's best interests.

The biggest and most avoidable mess was the World Cup. There had been signs for more than a year that all was not well, but not even the biggest sceptics could have predicted quite how bad things were going to be. The shambolic ticketing and overzealous security ensured that what should have been the game's showcase instead became an almost never-ending embarrassment. One American I viewed an hour or so of one of Australia's games with was bewildered that the champions, playing in cricket's premier event, were watched by a few hundred spectators dotted around a vast, specially built and utterly soulless stadium. The final, which ended in a twilight farce, summed up the entire event.

The ICC was not to blame for India and Pakistan, two of the commercial cash cows, failing to make the second stage, although that happening again is so unthinkable that the format will be changed to ensure barring their complete meltdowns, they have to progress. It was to blame for a bloated tournament that went on and on purely to please TV and sponsors. And it was to blame for stripping almost every scrap of Caribbean flavour from the grounds. It might as well have been hosted in Dubai.

The one thing that it got right was to resist calls for the tournament to be scrapped following the death of Bob Woolmer. Its decision to soldier on, while probably based on commercial reasons more than any others, was vindicated when it was eventually ruled he died of natural causes many months later.

Other banana skins were beyond the ICC's control. Darrell Hair tried to sue it for racial discrimination, and while his case floundered, the testimony of some of the senior executives from Full Member boards left many asking if they were fit to run the game.

David Morgan of England, Ray Mali, the ICC president, Sharad Pawar of India, and Speed at the 2007 annual conference © ICC
Zimbabwe's finances became the thorn rather than the side itself, and the ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed's leaked attack on the Zimbabwe board during the annual meeting in June highlighted how impotent the ICC itself is. Speed's comments were unequivocal, and yet by two days later by the time the executive board had acted as a political filter, Zimbabwe emerged almost smelling of roses. What Speed thought privately we might never know, but it underlined that the ICC is controlled by an increasingly small elite from a handful of countries.

On the plus side, the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa was a great success, so much so that within a couple of years we might not be able to move for other Twenty20 format events. It continued to foster the Associates, although increasing investment has not lead to a narrowing of the gap between the Full Member countries and the rest, but full credit to the ICC for nurturing areas the greedier and bigger boards wouldn't give the time of day to.

New man on the block
David Morgan, the former England board chairman, takes charge as president in June 2008, and he faces a difficult time. Among things under discussion at Morgan's first meeting will be whether Zimbabwe is fit to resume Test cricket. Out of the frying pan ...

Fading star
Speed, who stands down as CEO at the same time. He has carried out a thankless, albeit well paid, job with tact and diplomacy, but behind the scenes he seems to have been increasingly powerless to do anything other than carry out the wishes of the more influential board members. Much of his contribution has been to rein in some of the wilder elements and ensure that, to the public, the ICC sails united in calm waters.

High point
The Twenty20 in South Africa must have been like finding an oasis in a desert for the ICC after the endless flack it endured at the World Cup. Large crowds, common-sense security, good cricket and public acclaim and relaxed media sessions where all-out defence was not required from the off.

Low point
So many. The World Cup for one, but perhaps the real low was the sudden death of Percy Sonn, the president, following routine surgery at the age of 57. He had plenty of critics but he also had support where it mattered and he was genuinely mourned within the organisation.

What does 2008 hold?
A tough year in prospect. Speed will need to be replaced, and that will produce a behind-the-scenes slugfest as factions look to find someone acceptable to them. The forensic audit into Zimbabwe's finances will be produced early in the year and if it turns out to be as bad as rumours suggest, then even the ICC might not be able to look after its own this time. If ZC chairman Peter Chingoka survives that then the ICC's annual meeting in London in June might have to be moved as the British government won't allow him into the country. And Hair's rehabilitation period ends in the spring, and the ICC might have to run the gauntlet of reappointing him to matches or risk being sued all over again. And that's without the hitherto unseen icebergs that are inevitably going to surface as 2008 rumbles on.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo