The ICC's search for a CEO April 5, 2008

How the Patel plan unravelled

While the ICC's decision on Haroon Lorgat was swift, the process with Imtiaz Patel began, informally, several months ago before unravelling over the last few weeks after both sides had almost shaken hands on the deal

An overlap in responsibilities with principal advisor IS Bindra could have prompted Imtiaz Patel to turn down the ICC CEO post © International Cricket Council

The ICC's appointment of Haroon Lorgat as its next CEO came five days after Imtiaz Patel, its preferred choice, decided to withdraw interest from the offer. While the decision on Lorgat was swift, the process with Patel began, informally, several months ago before unravelling over the last few weeks after both sides had almost shaken hands on the deal.

This was not so much a saga of angry confrontation as it is perceived to be: A reconstruction of the episode, based on extensive conversations Cricinfo held with sources associated with the negotiations - though the ICC and Patel indicated they were not available for comment - reveals a sorry tale of how best-laid plans can go awry at the last minute due to factors beyond the control of either side.

The ICC's pursuit of Patel, the chief executive of SuperSport in South Africa, for the CEO's job began at the Twenty20 World Cup last September, where he met Malcolm Speed, the incumbent. The process ended "very disappointingly" for both sides with a phone call from Patel to ICC officials last Sunday before the South African finally passed the phone to his lawyer to vet the press release announcing his withdrawal.

It's learnt there were two key points that led to Patel's withdrawal of interest in the prestigious position, for which he had been officially shortlisted by Egon Zehnder International, the ICC's headhunting firm.

To begin with, closer to the date for his appointment to be formalised, and also to the crucial ICC executive board meeting on March 17, the "scenario" regarding his role and responsibilities as CEO began to change. "Every other day, Patel would get a call from the ICC saying, this is the new scenario, or this is how we are going ahead," said sources.

Incidentally, this was during the period the ICC was working out the appointment of IS Bindra as its principal advisor, a newly-created position. The BCCI had initially projected Bindra, a former president of the Indian board currently involved with the Indian Premier League, as a possible CEO but then backed his appointment as advisor when he let it be known he would prefer to avoid a full-time commitment in Dubai.

Secondly, and perhaps crucially, the final contract for Patel involved an overlap in responsibilities with the principal advisor, even though the CEO would report to the board and the advisor directly to the president. It is believed Bindra's role in the ICC - managing relations between member nations, overseeing major ICC tournaments like World Cup, etc - was tied up in the 72 hours leading up to March 17, when his appointment was announced in Dubai on the first evening of the Board meeting.

"Patel has tremendous respect for Mr Bindra as an administrator and a person. They have known each other personally and that is why Patel was keen not to be placed in a situation that would have affected their relationship," said sources.

"Every other day, Patel would get a call from the ICC saying, this is the new scenario, or this is how we are going ahead," said sources

In fact, even as Patel informed the ICC last weekend he was turning down the offer, he also had a long conversation over the phone with Bindra. "Patel's decision not to take up the ICC job, and the reasons behind it, were discussed. It was a very cordial conversation during which Bindra also invited Patel to attend the IPL's inauguration ceremony in Bangalore on April 18," the sources said.

The ICC, it appears, would like to believe that Patel was always kept in the loop of various developments at various stages of the recruitment process for a job that involved an annual salary package of over US$500,000 (tax-free). "At no stage did he indicate that he would have to relook his position, even till that last phone call. It was extremely disappointing," said sources. The manner and tone of Patel's final phone call last Sunday also did not go down well in Dubai, with at least one member of the establishment terming it as "a very unhappy situation".

Patel, it is learnt, would have hoped to get more than the barely 48 hours he finally got to take a decision when he came to know that he was not just one of the leading candidates, but was actually the preferred choice. Possibly, he would have expected the ICC to wait till he had got at least a couple of weeks to study the actual contract, evaluate his family situation and position at SuperSport, South Africa's leading broadcaster, before his name was announced.

But it seemed the negotiations were proceeding on the basis of trust. Apparently, Morgan had actually decided to fly across to South Africa to meet Patel and assuage apprehensions, if any, about his roles and responsibilities. Just as the ICC was tying up Morgan's travel plans, though, Patel decided that he was not available for the job

In the end, Morgan did meet Patel, ICC sources confirmed. But that was on Wednesday, three days after the South African had pulled out and his compatriot Haroon Lorgat had been sounded out for the job. "But the meeting did serve an important purpose as it helped to clear the air and bring the situation to an amicable conclusion," said sources. On Friday, the ICC officially announced the name of Lorgat as the new CEO to open a fresh chapter in its 99-year-old journey as guardian of the game.

Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore