'World Cups should be played between evenly matched teams'
This is your first World Cup as ICC chief executive. What kind of tournament do you foresee?
An exciting one. For two reasons. There are at least six teams that have a realistic chance of even winning the tournament if everything goes their way. That is the first time six teams have a reasonable chance. Secondly, the playing conditions that we have for ODI cricket at the moment have led to a far more attacking game, certainly from a batting point of view. But also from a bowling and captaincy point of view, the days where bowlers and captains could rely on containment and trying to keep the batsmen quiet have gone. The only way that is possible now is to take wickets. And that has lead to far more attacking captaincy and an attacking style of bowling, taking wickets rather than preserving runs.
But once again the structure of the World Cup has generated a debate. Was there any other alternative?
I don't think in this rights cycle. After the 2011 World Cup people were of the view that the structure worked well and there was no reason to change it in the short term and to give it another go: 14 teams, with two groups of seven, then the quarter-finals. The focus has been to make sure all matches are as competitive as possible. And, hence, the Associate Members that have qualified for this event we have spent a lot of time and a lot of money in putting together worthwhile preparation programmes for those teams to give them every chance of giving a good account of themselves at the World Cup.
Do you think there will ever be an "ideal" World Cup, or are there too many conflicting views/demands?
The fact that the ICC Board has recently created the opportunity for any Associate Member country to progress through the World Cricket League ranks, get to the World Cricket Championships and then progress effectively into the ODI FTP and therefore qualify for the 2019 World Cup has allowed us to move to a ten-team event. The aim is to make the major events as competitive as possible. Every match should be very competitive and having ten teams at the 2019 World Cup will make sure that will be the case.
On the other hand, shrinking a premier event to ten teams - is that not going against the ICC's own policy on development of the game?
It would if we were precluding the Associate Members from qualifying or finding a route directly in to compete with the Full Members in bilateral cricket. But by creating that pathway it has enabled us to kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, it has expanded the opportunities for Associate Members to play at the highest level through bilateral series. Secondly, the World Cup itself, the premium event, without exception should be played between teams that are evenly matched and competitive.
Why then does a relegation rule only apply to Associate teams and not if a Full Member ended up in the last place in the ODI rankings?
It is a step-by-step process. The governance structure of the ICC is such that we have got Full Members and ODI members. The reason that they are Full Members is because they have a cricket economy as cricket-playing countries. There has been significant investment in those countries. So it makes sense to allow them to continue play each other bilaterally. Proper promotion and relegation [of Full Members] might be a step for the future, but at this stage it is too early to contemplate that.
How can the ICC ensure that the two Associate Member teams get sufficient fixtures in order to guarantee the credibility of the new rankings structure?
We will do our best to facilitate those fixtures. Part of the strategy that we want to follow going forward is, 'Let us give the Associate Members the opportunity to help themselves.' It is not all about the ICC handing them everything on a plate. Yes, we will be in a position with the new funding model to allocate them a lot more money than they were previously getting from the ICC. But having got those funds it is for them to help themselves.
Will the next World Cup really be any different from the Champions Trophy - eight teams compared to ten?
The Champions Trophy, the second major event in the ODI format, is much shorter, played over a two-to-three-week period. Effectively it is the top eight teams playing. What it does allow us to do is create more context for the rankings. It is easier to qualify for a ten-team tournament than an eight-team tournament, especially given the levels of performance of [some of] our current Full Members.
What are the new things we might see at this World Cup. We are told Real-Time Snickometer is part of the DRS for this World Cup?
Yes, the Real-Time Snicko will be part of the technology used. We found it has proved [effective] in determining a faint edge off the bat.
One of the areas outside of cricket we have concentrated on is security. The spend on security has been more than any previous event. That is not to say there is a specific threat to the event but in the global environment that we live it is important to make sure that we have got an appropriate security plan in place.
The other aspect is the threat of match-fixing or spot-fixing. For this event we have gone further than any other event in making sure our preparations are spot on. We have done a lot of work with the law enforcement agencies in both Australia and New Zealand. Our information and our intelligence has increased dramatically so we have a much better handle of who these fellows are around the world who might attempt to try and fix matches and approach players.
On the topic of DRS, has the ball moved forward as far as the BCCI is concerned? During the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Indian team sources indicated that it was time to re-think their stance.
There has been no formal change in policy from the BCCI in that regard. Anil Kumble, as chairman of the ICC Cricket Committee, is overseeing some research being undertaken into the accuracy of ball-tracking and other technologies used. Hopefully when those results are known, towards the middle of the year, they can be presented firstly to the Cricket Committee and later the Board. We will see where it takes us from there.
The annual conference is a reasonable timeline to aim for. Obviously the pressure on completing the research in time for the cricket committee will be our first goal. Effectively the research focuses on the ball-tracking technologies and in particular the accuracy of the predictive path. It is very much mathematical based. Bearing in mind the alternative is the human eye, all we really want to show is 99 times out 100 this technology will produce a more accurate prediction than the human eye could ever hope to achieve.
In the last year the ICC has dealt severely and promptly with regards suspect bowling actions. But another pressing issue has been increasing on-field misdemeanours leading to verbal tussles in the middle. Do you agree that the line drawn under the ICC's code of conduct is being breached?
The lines are being drawn very firmly in the sand by the match officials. Actually the majority of players behave and acquit themselves very respectfully on the field. In particular, teams like New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka - the player behaviour is generally pretty good. Yes, there is the odd show of dissent, but who wouldn't be upset sometimes when given a bad decision?
There are a few serial offenders. You know the names better than I do. And for that kind of behaviour, the message is going out loud and clear that it's not acceptable. We have asked the umpires and the match referees to be stricter in imposing penalties on those players who do cross the line of acceptability.
But clearly the monetary penalties have not proved to be good enough deterrents?
Match referees have tried to consistently impose a monetary fine for verbal abuse or sledging. That for some players doesn't seem to work. They then repeat the offence very soon thereafter. But as soon as you commit a second or third offence the penalty soon increases. That is when it not only hurts the player, but it also hurts the team. That is generally when the team will come down on the player and tell him to pull himself together and start behaving otherwise it will affect the performances of the team. Yes, for the first offence, normally a fine is an option, but then don't forget hanging over his head is the possibility of a suspension. And in a World Cup, suspension for one or two games of a star player can have a critical impact.
The use of cards or a penalty points system has been suggested. Has the ICC debated this and, if so, what were the findings?
It has been the considered in the past and no doubt will be considered again by our cricket committee. What it does do is provide the umpires with a quick and decisive way of taking action on the spur of the moment. But it is not football. The problem comes if the match officials neglect their responsibility to report behaviour that has overstepped the mark. And the umpires have shown in recent times, with the reporting of a number of players, that they are not going to do that and they are going to take action wherever appropriate. The referees need to support them in making sure that a meaningful sanction is applied. Again the match referees have been primed to do that and they will.
It was announced after the recent ICC Board meeting that captains will begin the World Cup with no over rate 'strikes' against their names, and they will only be suspended if over rate offences are committed during the event. What was behind this move?
It came from the cricket department, simply in the interests of trying to be fair to this particular tournament. Player behaviour, illegal bowling actions and over rates are probably the three key playing issues that cricket has to deal with. There are three captains who would enter the World Cup with one strike to their name. [But] we felt that for the sake of the tournament, to be fair to everybody starting on an even keel, we will regard everyone as having no strike. However that one strike would still remain against the captain's name for resumption in the next bilateral series he plays.
You say three but there is one more issue for cricket to resolve. As exciting as it was to watch AB de Villiers smash various ODI records recently it again showed that the limited-overs game is now massively in favour of batsmen. What is there in for the bowler?
As I said, the playing conditions have required that bowlers and captains have a much more attacking mindset. In other words, 'We have to get wickets. We have to get AB de Villiers out otherwise he is going to destroy us.' It is no good trying to contain him. And that is good for the game. Having said that, there is a growing view amongst cricket people that bats are making it too easy for batsmen to clear the boundary ropes.
No one begrudges an AB de Villiers, who plays some superb shots. Him, Brendon McCullum, Kumar Sangakkara, they are exceptionally talented and no one minds if they hit some great shots which go for six. But where some batsmen are mis-hitting balls and it is just carrying over the rope and going for a six instead being caught at the boundary, that is what some cricket people believe has become unfair. The bats are so good these days that the sweet spot is much larger than it would have been 10-15 years ago. The MCC, as law makers, and the ICC will be looking at giving perhaps some consideration to placing limitations on the depth of a bat in particular.
Is the ICC Cricket Committee any closer to putting in place firm guidelines about the size of bats?
It was a point of discussion [in the last meeting]. One of the most telling comments made was that despite all these runs being scored and the run rates going up in all forms of the game, including Test cricket, we still think a significant number of matches end in outright results. Which means there are still a number of wickets falling, it is just that runs per over has increased. I am not so sure that is bad for the game. If we are seeing more boundaries it is more exciting. If we are seeing more genuine sixes hit with good shots, that is more exciting and good for the game. If we are seeing more wickets being taken over the course of a 50-over match or a Test match that is also good for the game.
The balance may have shifted a little bit too much because sometimes poor shots or mis-hits are going for a six. Let us try and rectify that. What we have done up until now is try and maximize the size of the boundary. You will see for the World Cup, most of the grounds in Australia in particular, which allow for big playing surfaces, boundary ropes will be pushed back to at least 90 yards where possible.
Let us look at the bats going forward, but I'm not so sure bowlers need to be too upset. You can't have a rate of three runs per over any more. That is unrealistic in 50-overs cricket. But if you are saying 'I am giving five runs per over and getting two wickets per innings', then let us judge those bowlers and regard them as amongst the best in the world.
Is the ICC going to revisit using one new ball at each end, as well as allowing a maximum of four fielders outside the ring?
That will be one of the major points of discussions at the next Cricket Committee meeting in May, when we will review the playing conditions. It is quite difficult to have playing conditions that are ideally suited to wherever cricket is played in the world. And we have to have standard playing conditions otherwise it will lead to confusion.
Two balls is debatable. Personally I'd like to see that we stick to the current fielding restrictions because I genuinely believe that has lead to a much more attacking approach, from the captaincy, fielding and batting perspectives.
Why is the two new balls rule debatable?
Two balls were introduced for a combination of reasons. A white ball gets dirty and it always had to be replaced, and there were always arguments about when it was replaced. Having two new balls gets rid of that problem completely. On a good batting pitch, especially in the subcontinent, if you don't get wickets upfront the fast bowlers would not have much of a chance once the ball got old. Having two balls would at least address the balance for the fast bowlers to get some early wickets and therefore help contain things through the rest of the innings.
There are other ways besides using two balls, like making an effort to direct the groundsman to leave more grass on the pitch or to allow a bit more spin. But having two balls works well. I don't think it necessarily penalises spin bowlers, as they still get more bounce and they are able to spin the ball as much as before.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo