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