March 27, 2008

International Committee of Compromise

The ICC has always been about expediency and the latest meeting of its executive in Dubai did nothing to prove otherwise

Malcolm Speed with Ray Mali at the Dubai meeting. Was it a media leak that forced the ICC's hand when it came to announcing Imtiaz Patel as Speed's successor? © Getty Images

Once again, a meeting of cricket's decision-makers has yielded a series of half measures. Frankly, it would have been unreasonable to expect otherwise. The spirit of cricket has been much discussed recently; the ICC's board can rarely be accused of lacking the spirit of accommodation. There is a good case in fact for adding a C to the ICC - for compromise.

Several of these were struck in Dubai in the previous week. IS Bindra, one of the principal satraps of the Indian board, wasn't appointed the chief executive of the ICC, so a new post, principal advisor, was created specially for him. It was decided that the World Cup will feature fewer Associates, but will yet have more matches involving them than the previous edition did. "Serious irregularities" were found in the accounts of Zimbabwe Cricket - yet not apparently serious enough to warrant punitive action. Darrell Hair, the controversial umpire who is a stickler for the rules, was reinstated, yet it was clear he will not be standing in matches involving Pakistan - and possibly also Sri Lanka.

There were suggestions that a section of the ICC didn't want Bindra as the CEO, and indeed a letter was sent to the members pointing out that he was over the specified age. Yet cricket would perhaps be better served with an Indian in the chief executive's post because it is time power and responsibility sat together. For years the Indian board, the Indian fans and the Indian media have railed against the ICC as if the BCCI wasn't a part of it. Everyone knows who sets the agenda for world cricket these days; some accountability must now form part of the package.

As it has transpired, the process of appointing a new CEO could turn embarrassing if Imtiaz Patel, the consensus candidate, turns the job down. It was odd, if not outright irregular, for the ICC to announce Patel's name without securing his consent. ICC officials bristle at suggestions that they jumped the gun, but it can legitimately be asked why the process wasn't completed before a name was announced. Was it a media leak that forced their hand?

It is understandable why Patel, by all accounts a seasoned professional, should have second thoughts about the job. In many ways, it is a job that carries accountability without power; it carries a high profile and a handsome salary, but not the authority to take decisions that matters. Which is why much criticism that is directed at the ICC is often ill-conceived and misdirected: the ICC administration is just not equipped to take clear and strong decisions on the big issues.

However much it tries to project a corporate image, the ICC is not, and can never be, a corporate entity. Most corporate bodies are driven by a common goal. The ICC, on the other hand, bears resemblance to the United Nations. It is a confluence of contrasting self-interests; it is deeply political; it is divided along geographical and cultural lines; and its members regard each other with suspicion. Is such a body equipped to serve the best interests of the game? The answer can only be another question: what's the alternative?

But given that compromise is often the best-case scenario in the ICC boardroom, it is inevitable for cricket to often be caught in a muddle. And nothing illustrates this better than the proposed format for the 2011 World Cup.

Even Malcolm Speed, the out-going chief executive, agreed that the tournament went on for too long in 2007. In principle, the format would have been a success if all had gone to plan. It accommodated two more teams than the 2003 edition, yet had three fewer matches. There were only 24 games in the league stage as opposed to 42 in 2003, and 24 in the Super Eights, the business end of the tournament.

Of course, things didn't go to plan. Bangladesh and Ireland knocked India and Pakistan, the big draws, out in the first round, but their subsequent meekness doomed the second half of the tournament, which seemed to drag on forever.

For years the Indian board, the Indian fans and the Indian media have railed against the ICC as if the BCCI wasn¹t a part of it. Everyone knows who sets the agenda for world cricket these days; some accountability must now form part of the package

It was obvious that to maintain spectator interest, and more crucially, to protect the commercial interests of the World Cup, the major teams - India in particular - had to stay in the contest longer. The solution, arrived at after much wrangling, ensures the presence of all the teams through the bulk of tournament. But it also means that of the 42 league matches 22 will feature the Associates, and a further eight will feature either Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. The length of the tournament will be curtailed by having more than one match per day, but potentially, there will be far fewer quality matches.

A more sensible approach, put forward by a member board but not accepted, would have been to restrict the main event to 12 teams, divided into two groups of six, playing 30 matches in a round-robin format, followed by quarter-finals, semi finals and a final. Eight top teams would qualify for the tournament directly, while the other four would have been required to play in a qualifying tournament involving two bottom-ranked Full Member teams and the top six Associates. This was, however, strongly resisted by the Associates and some members. Inevitably a compromise was reached. And expectedly, it was neither here nor there.

A stronger governing body would also have taken a decisive stand on the financial irregularities in Zimbabwe cricket, which on the evidence of the team's recent performance ought to lose its Full Member status, thereby automatically meaning it will get a much smaller share of the ICC's revenues than it does presently. But such a such decision is not politically expedient and Zimbabwe will continue to enjoy the privileges of a Test-playing nation even though they have not played a Test since September 2005. Would it have been different if the chief executive had his way? Perhaps.

There will be a change of guard at the ICC in June. But little is likely to change. The ICC is a body weighed down by its own structure. It has a mandate to govern world cricket without the authority needed to do so successfully. And its irrelevance grows by the day as its most powerful constituent pursues its own agenda.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on March 29, 2008, 17:35 GMT

    I am a west indian cricket fan and quite frankly i wonder why i still bother to follow the game. When the west indies complained about umpiring decisions we were told that the umpires get 90 percent of their decisions right. When India complain, the said umpire was removed at once. Nobody has suffered more bad decisions than brian lara especially against australia but we kept on playing. It seems as though India has now become a law onto itself only wanting to play australia and pakistan. So while other world sports continue to grow, cricket slips into less and less relevance in the west indies and other countries. The seeds india are sowing will bear fruit one day, i just hope they can live with the consequences of their actions

  • Peter on March 28, 2008, 2:25 GMT

    It's an absolute disgrace that the ICC still allows Zimbabwe to even be a member. All other issues are so minor compared to the way it kowtows to a disgracefully corrupt regime.

  • Krishnan on March 27, 2008, 22:37 GMT

    What do you think is UN? What do you think is FIFA? What do you think is NBA? These are bully headquarters of the world where the biggest bullies get a chance to sit across and negotiate and announce a compramise all the time. Cricket is growing to be no different. BTW.. why are they in the "Oil Capital of the world" where there is absolutely no cricket being played (DUBAI) .. worth pondering.

  • James on March 27, 2008, 22:15 GMT

    I think the only thing that the ICC has got right this time is protecting the sanctity of International cricket by not allowing designated blocks in the program for Domestic tournaments. Cricket needs to move forward for Cricket's sake, not because it enlarges the bank balance of the governing body. A Full Member nation should be playing Tests, and if they are not, their status downgraded. The Umpire's decision is final and all players should respect that. It wast the first thing that I was taught and should be the first thing that we are constantly reminded of. As for India being the only team spreading the game commercially, I reject that, Allen Stamford is putting a lot of money to spreading the game further in the West Indies and many Full Member nations have been involved in assisting Associates through either programs or participation in the domestic competitions (Australia - Bangladesh, Zimbabwe - Kenya, England - Scotland/Ireland (and previously also to Netherlands/Denmark)).

  • Peter on March 27, 2008, 21:13 GMT

    I've just read this sentence - "It was obvious that to maintain spectator interest, and more crucially, to protect the commercial interests of the World Cup, the major teams - India in particular - had to stay in the contest longer" about 5 times in mounting horror. Guys, this is sport, not a West End show. It is supposed to be unpredictable, that is why I and millions of others watch it!! The day we start designing competitions around the need for certain teams to stay in is the day I jack it all in and start watching daytime TV instead. You could do the whole thing in 3 weeks as 4 groups of 4, then q-final, semis and final. Great sudden death climax if all the Test sides are good enough to stay in, and if they are not then any mis-matches are brief and provide colour to the tournament. Viva unpredicatability!

  • Tony on March 27, 2008, 13:00 GMT

    How can the BCCI support Zimbabwe cricket? It is a racist, immoral, corrupt branch of an even more odious regime. Would the BCCI have favoured including SA in international cricket during apartheid? Maybe the BCCI should invite Myanmar or North Korea to join the ICC, I'm sure they'd be thrilled to be given such legitimacy in return for voting as the BCCI directs. It's no wonder the BCCI is so sensitive about allegations of racism if this is their standard. If this is the BCCI's concept of responsible administration then it has no business submitting officials for ICC posts.

  • Ruschil on March 27, 2008, 12:31 GMT

    The 2007 WC was jeopardised of its entertainment value only because, as someone mentioned earlier, India & Pak made first round exits.

    Notwithstanding that it was a bitter pill to swallow, Ireland's inspired performances against Pak & Zim were indeed heartening to watch. However, expecting the minnows to keep humbling the giants of the game for a protracted period of 45 days, is in mild terms, unreasonable.

    The '07 format was way better than SA '03, with only 3 matches per team at the league stage & besides, there is no doubt that a couple of upsets do add flavour to cricket's summit clash.

    But 30 league games featuring the minnows will only spoil the party. Public enthusiasm may take such a beating, that the sub-continent may only go through the motions of hosting the tournament. It is sad that such a situation may potentially arise in the Mecca of Cricket.

    Just a few more steps towards the downfall of the 50 over game as 20:20 spreads its wings!

  • Vikram on March 27, 2008, 12:04 GMT

    ICC - Indian Cricket Council :)

    BCCI - Bullying Cricket Control from India.

    BCCI uses power without responsibility.

  • venkat on March 27, 2008, 11:15 GMT

    In each and every ICC meeting the only agenda for its members seems to be curtail BCCI's powers and how to stop it from becoming more powerful. In the last ICC meeting the main goal of its board members were to thwart Bindra from occuping the top post. So they made a fool of themselves and gave the post to someone who isn't even sure whether he wants it or not. ICC board members have to understand that they cannot just milk Indian cricket and its public for money but they got to give indian cricket its due respect. ICC is getting 85% of it money from india and still it treats BCCI like a prodigal child.English and australians who have controled the game for last 100 years weren't able spread the game globally or comerically. Only BCCI has managed to spread the game comercially in the last few years and give bcci the respect it deserves the game will spread globally too. Don't underestimate the Indian diaspora in america, cricket could gain a foothold in america

  • Calvin on March 27, 2008, 10:59 GMT

    We all do know "who sets the agenda for world cricket these days" and nobody outside India wants to also see India in complete control of it's administration. Because it is apparent to everybody, it already pushes, cagoules, manoeuvres, and downright threatens anyone who dares stand in their way to get what they want.

    India as a nation has been downtrodden in many ways for centuries. But as is the way when this has happened and the downtrodden rise to a position of power, they misuse it. And the BCCI does badly misuse their power.

    Obviously it is not the way of all Indian administrators, but it is the way of many.

    And here in lies the problem. So until the Indian administrators realise it is world crickets "agenda" is more important than India's, I for one hope they do not also control the ICC... As hopeless and spineless as they can be at times.

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