April 15, 2007

The 2007 World Cup is a PR disaster

The game is like a tree; if you keep the trunk and the roots healthy the branches will take care of themselves



Malcolm Speed in response to strident criticism of the tournament said he was concentrating on the "positives rather than the negatives" © Getty Images

If administrators were judged on performance the way players and coaches are, there would be a much higher turnover of officials.

The 2007 World Cup is a case in point. Malcolm Speed, the chief executive officer of the ICC, in response to strident criticism of the tournament said he was concentrating on the "positives rather than the negatives". A serious cross-examination of Speed's assertions suggest he's doing more than just looking at a glass that is half full and it must contain something far stronger than water.

First, there was the failure of heavyweight Pakistan to qualify for the Super Eights. That was quickly followed by the mysterious murder of their coach Bob Woolmer and the abrupt retirement of the captain Inzamam ul-Haq. India, with its serious financial clout, was the next major team to be a no-show in the prestige section of the tournament. Shortly afterwards their coach Greg Chappell announced he wasn't seeking an extension in the role but skipper Rahul Dravid survived.

Then the hosts imitated a well-fancied horse ridden by a careless jockey; West Indies started full of promise but faded quickly in the straight. This prompted Brian Lara to confirm his retirement from one-day cricket. That was followed by Ken Gordon, the president of the West Indies Cricket Board, alluding to a number of personnel changes for the upcoming tour of England.

Despite numerous serious controversies to divert attention, these calamities haven't camouflaged the PR disaster that is the 2007 World Cup. Bickering over ticket prices and draconian measures to exclude musical instruments from the grounds has seen many matches played in a sterile environment and in sparsely populated stadiums. The blame game for these ill-judged decisions has been like watching a long rally in the French Open tennis tournament, which is all rather strange when every press release stresses: "This is the ICC Cricket World Cup."

In the recent past there was the appalling handling of Zimbabwe's predicament, the first ever forfeit of a Test match and the two prestigious one-day tournaments have been played within six months of each other

Obviously in this case, the buck, like the tournament itself, appears to have no end of the line. Speed is always at great pains to spread the gospel that cricket is in good shape. However, you start to wonder if working in Dubai, where a ski resort is plonked in the middle of the desert and a hotel built in the ocean, hasn't affected his grip on reality.

As if the litany of disasters at the World Cup isn't evidence enough of a game in need of a re-think, there have been numerous other warning signals in the lead-up to the tournament. In the recent past there was the appalling handling of Zimbabwe's predicament, the first ever forfeit of a Test match and the two prestigious one-day tournaments have been played within six months of each other.

Then there is the preposterous dilution of standards that has occurred under this regime. To have a match anointed as "official" appears to require nothing more than an assurance there are more than eleven registered cricketers in both countries participating in the match. This has led to a plethora of one-sided matches in both forms of the game. And we haven't even mentioned corruption, which the England captain thinks is still prevalent in the game, or the mind-numbing mess that now constitutes the laws of cricket.



Ticket pricing and banning musical instruments from grounds have meant that many matches have been played in a sterile environment © AFP

Nor does it take into account that two teams have dominated the Test arena for the last two-and-a-half decades. And one of those sides has just gone 25 games at the World Cup without defeat and is currently on track to clinch the first hat-trick in that tournament, while also being the current holder of the other major ODI trophy.

"Never mind," I can hear the response, "the game is more affluent than ever before." The game is like a tree: if you keep the trunk and the roots healthy the branches will take care of themselves. Perhaps the officials believe money grows on trees but the reality is, it only grows on Indian trees. And now there is conflict in cricket's biggest market where a prominent Indian businessman has proposed a Kerry Packer-style raid on local cricket.

Packer's influence changed cricket for the better in the late seventies and the game now needs a strong leader to set it on a firm footing to ensure a strong playing and financial future. The problem is the only drastic changes are among the playing and coaching personnel.