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What was Cricket Australia thinking?

How did anyone ever think Howard's nomination would fly? If this was a way for CA to rein in the BCCI, it was ill-conceived

Mukul Kesavan

July 6, 2010

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Andrew Flintoff meets Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Canberra, November 9, 2006
George Bush's go-to-guy down under for the war in Iraq was never going to go down well with cricket's South Asian members © Getty Images
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It's best to begin by explaining what the rejection of John Howard's nomination to the ICC isn't about. It isn't about John Howard's competence: every ICC administrator for a decade has ranged from bad to terrible. The ICC's role in creating match referees, in botching the chucking rule, in inventing the Super Test, and looking on as Twenty20 destroyed cricket's calendar, is so appalling that to argue that Howard is disqualified because of his lack of experience in cricket administration is laughable. Apart from having run a country, Howard actually likes cricket, which is more than you can say for Pawar. That must count for something.

Anyone who loves Test cricket and realises that cricket needs a calendar with reliable highlights that fans can look forward to, will acknowledge that Cricket Australia is the best-administered board in world cricket. The Boxing Day Test, the splendid stadiums, the happy spectators, the first-rate Channel 9 coverage, the sports science that Australian universities have pioneered, make Australia a cricketing nation to be admired and emulated, not reviled. So despite the wretched record of the two Malcolms (Speed and Gray), an Australian in charge of world cricket seems, in the abstract, slightly more reassuring than the prospect of an Indian or a Pakistani.

That said, I couldn't believe my eyes when I first read that Australia and New Zealand had nominated Australia's former prime minister for the vice-presidency of the ICC. There had been talk of him being interested in the job, but I hadn't taken the gossip seriously. Then it became bonafide news and I thought: what were they thinking?

Did the cricket boards of Australia and New Zealand imagine that John Howard's candidature would fly? A politician whose policies towards immigrants and aboriginal Australians felt like White Australia warmed over, a charter member of the Anglophone empire that led the coalition of the willing into Iraq and Afghanistan, George Bush's go-to-guy down under, the embodiment of everything thin-skinned post-colonial elites love to hate, and Cricket Australia's strategists thought they could shoe-horn him into the vice-presidency and subsequently the presidency of the ICC?

The more you think about it, the odder it seems. Think of the timing of this, both in terms of cricket's history and the recent past. At a time when cricket's centre of gravity, for better or worse, has shifted to South Asia, some antipodean genius decides that a retired reactionary best known in South Asia for using his prime ministerial pulpit to trash Muralitharan on the eve of a Sri Lankan tour of Australia was the best man available for Australia's turn at the helm. Incidentally, Howard was one of those cartoon neanderthals who actually opposed the one great political cause in the game's history, the cricketing boycott of South Africa. This man, who through a long career has embodied reaction, was meant to show the corrupt elites of world cricket the way forward.

There were times during George W Bush's presidency when America made appointments designed to rub the world's face in the dirt. One such appointment was Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank, the other was John Bolton as America's representative to the United Nations. Apart from that comfortable club of nations that constitutes the Anglophone empire (who believed that these were just the men to cleanse corrupt international institutions), most other countries were appalled that men as intemperately ideological as these were being foisted on a riven world system that needed intelligence and collegiality.

If Cricket Australia was concerned about reforming the ICC, it ought to have supported New Zealand's John Anderson. It would have been impossible for the BCCI's bosses to oppose his candidature and it would have put an honest man on top of world cricket. By nominating Howard they gave the BCCI a gift: an opportunity to put Cricket Australia in its place. To reject a bogeyman like John Howard is cost-free: no opinion-maker, no constituency that's valuable or important to India's gang of "honorary" administrators, will oppose that decision. Nor should they: George Bush and his hangers-on have had their day - having half-wrecked the world, they shouldn't be allowed to rampage around cricket in their retirement.

If the Australians want to rein in the BCCI, they might want to confer with the Kiwis and come up with an alternative candidate, someone with a resumé more collegial than Genghis Khan's. To first nominate Howard and then claim that his rejection threatens to divide cricket's world along racial lines, is to deal in a low form of passive aggression

Howard's most plausible supporter has been the Australian writer, Gideon Haigh, who has written a three-part defence in Cricinfo in which he first examined the case against Howard and found it wanting, then reconstructed the timeline of Howard's nomination and found the response to it inconsistent and self-serving and finally showed his readers how undemocratic and void of process the ICC and its constituent boards are. For Indians committed to cricket, specially Test cricket, the rottenness of cricket administration in general, and India's cricket administration in particular, isn't news. What is news is the spectacle of someone like Haigh, a liberal critic, quick-stepping around Howard's record on race and then coming up with absolution.

Howard, according to Haigh, is just a modern populist pol who tries to be all things to all men, and people who call him racist are telling us more about themselves than they are about Howard. Also, Howard couldn't have been so bad because Australia became more diverse on his watch than it was before. (This is a little like arguing that Aurangzeb was more tolerant of religious difference than Akbar was because there were more non-Muslim mansabdars in his administration than there were in Akbar's. Nice try, won't fly.)

Haigh knows Australia's politics more intimately than any Indian, and perhaps within the political spectrum of that country, Howard's positions are seen as venerably conservative instead of racist. Democratic nations construct their own political common sense as they're entitled to do. But when they try to export their politicians on to an international stage, they must expect to be judged by political opinion shaped by histories other than their own.

For Haigh, Howard is a senior conservative politician, a former prime minister, ambushed by thuggish Asian and African elites; for most Indian cricket fans, BCCI officials, time-servers though they are, did us all a favour by nixing a neo-conservative thug who helped aid and abet more death and destruction in the world than any office-bearer of the ICC. They did it for their own, time-serving reasons, but they did the right thing.

In the Australian imagination, neo-imperialist wars might seem distant games played by armed touring sides, but for most countries that make up the ICC, they are reminders of a past that they want to see conclusively buried. In trying to set cricket's world to rights using Bush's playbook for reordering the world system, Cricket Australia over-reached. It forgot that for John "Bolton" Howard's nomination to succeed, Australia needed to be cricket's solitary hyperpower, which it isn't, and this is an odd oversight given how much time Australians spend complaining about the Indian ascendancy.

If the Australians want to rein in the BCCI, they might want to confer with the Kiwis and come up with an alternative candidate, someone with a resumé more collegial than Genghis Khan's. To first nominate Howard and then claim that his rejection threatens to divide cricket's world along racial lines, is to deal in a low form of passive aggression. If Australia and New Zealand stand by this nomination and England backs them, cricket's historians will write that Howard's candidature was the gambit in the "Old" Commonwealth's secession from international cricket.

Mukul Kesavan is a novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi. This article was first published in the Kolkata Telegraph

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Posted by eminem on (July 7, 2010, 2:58 GMT)

gr8 BeeVee. and to Poterhouse (1 billion vs 20 million? Bradman, 4 world cups) -1 billion of passionate people. -bradman played cricket when only 2 counties played cricket. check other stats as lara tendulkar etc -4 world cups - yes both malcoms were in the house. mark waugh and shane warne were friends. akmal dropped some catches.

Posted by Porterhouse on (July 7, 2010, 1:49 GMT)

Remember that horrible video of Howard trying to bowl. That was taken in the mountains of Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. Howard sent medical troops to give aid to those that were injured. What a racist! Thanks Pakistan for the support.

Posted by jillpreston on (July 7, 2010, 0:04 GMT)

Saga of PM and Bowler.....PM of a great country calls Bowler a chucker. Bowler is devastated. ... Few years pass.... PM is booted out of premiership by his people, while Bowler surpasses and now holds the world record for most wickets. Few more years pass....Now Ex- PM fails to sneak into ICC vicepresidency. Ex PM is now trying to prove that 3 is greater than 7.

Posted by Harry0009 on (July 6, 2010, 21:58 GMT)

In general the South Asians are pre-dominantly the ones who are reactive and submissive. And that's wht got reflected in the earlier views of the few writers of cricinfo who were patronising Howard's candidature. They were just going through the motion left over by Gideon without switching on their own thinking caps! I think Sambit and Mukul have taken more of an objective view in putting Howard's case in right perspective. I would never route for one of a questionable background (read it Howard) to the ICC's top post whatever his credentials may be at his home, and it really does not matter whether he has knowledge of cricket or not. As always been the case, Australian Cricket has shown yet again it's a cry baby!. They were the ones who flexed their muscle on NZ to accept Howard's nomination in lieu of dropping NZ's own. Whatever the case may be, Indians and in general South Asians are far tolerant / cooperative / adjustable when it comes to such matters. CA should simply move on!!

Posted by corpusninja on (July 6, 2010, 20:38 GMT)

John Howard was a morally repugnant choice and his nomination is a reflection of CA and of Australia more generally. But unlike some other commentators here, I'm not surprised.

Posted by leave_it_to_the_umps on (July 6, 2010, 18:40 GMT)

Wow Genghis khan, racist, thug, neanderthal & bogeyman takes me back to my days in the school yard! Howard was asked if Murali was a chucker and he said yes it has been proved by the testing. The laws have since been changed to accommodate him and he is no longer a chucker but t was an undeniable FACT according to the laws at the time Murali was a chucker! Murali has since been able to forgive Howard and wish him the best in the role so why can't everyone else? I struggled to make sense of the rest. There were lots of rants about Bush. Is the writer confused that Bush is running for the job or controlling the puppet strings?All these articles are just speculation. Only the Sri Lanka board (Murali chucker reason) have given a reason for voting no. Until the others explain reasons Aus/NZ cant work out what kind of candidate would be acceptable so we might be on a merry go round of nomination and rejection that could go on for years until we find out the real reason... he was Australian!!

Posted by   on (July 6, 2010, 15:22 GMT)

Absolutely Agree. Howard nomination was rejected by 7 countries.. not just India... Why did WI rejected it?? Srilanka had good enough reason to reject after Howard calling their national tresure,Murli a "chucker".. so forget about India's power or supporting the nomonation... Howard would have never got the desired 7 votes.. IT WAS A POOR NOMINATION.. DON'T PUT THE BLAME ON INDIA'S POWER.. ACCPET IT CA/NZ

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (July 6, 2010, 14:34 GMT)

You know what gets me is all these nations pretending to be completely open and democratic because they have a thin veneer of facade over proceedings which tin pot banana republics tend not to afford, especially when you need a world class propganda service (MSM) to keep the sham going. Australia isn't as open or as tolerant as it purports to believe. India has massive problems with a caste system which discriminates against anyone non-Brahmin in many parts of the country. England has never been as multi-cultural as it imagines itself, plenty of subversive racism in England. Even the much more homogenous nations of Sri Lanka and Pakistan have struggled with unifying a nation. So let's get things right. Democracy in and of itself if not going to solve problems or make any nation instantly better, as much as we try to use it as a yardstick. There's a certain nation in West Asia which is seen as a democracy but is more apartheid than any other in these modern times.

Posted by natmastak_so-called on (July 6, 2010, 14:12 GMT)

i hope that you must hav sent a copy of this article to mr. gideon on his personal mail.otherwise,i dont think he is getting anything from the comments section (hoping he'll consider you eligible enough to write or say something on this issue). and to my fellow aussies,pl stop making mockery of your concept of democarcy,your former pm getting rejected is not an insult for you.

Posted by Jarr30 on (July 6, 2010, 14:12 GMT)

I call on all Asians/Africans to stand united and STOP READING Gideon Haigh's articles or cliicking on his links.A racist will always support a racist. On the other hand MUKUL has done a GOOD JOB writing this article but somewhere he missed a big point. It was actually ZIM & SA boards who first intiated the vote against Howard along with Sri Lankan board, BCCI had no choice but to support its allies.

Posted by Porterhouse on (July 6, 2010, 13:49 GMT)

Prove Howard is a racist.

You can't because there is no proof.

It is so funny that the mere sight of a strong white statesman politician sends chills down Indian spines. Wake up India he's not from the East India Company he comes in peace. Well unless you are a corrupt useless ICC administrator.

Methinks finding a hint of racism in the world today is a public sport in India, stoked endlessly by your newspapers. Eg: like when that poor baby was murdered recently in Aus. C'mon I mean who else gets so worked up that they burn effigies in the modern world.

Look obviously Aussies are far superior in all aspects of cricket be it playing or adminstering it (1 billion vs 20 million? Bradman, 4 world cups) Wake up to yourselves and let us run it like we do the IPL. Mumbai would have won if they'd had some Aussies.

And before you get your knickers in a bunch there's a game of cricket on so go and watch it!

Posted by arpitgarg on (July 6, 2010, 13:02 GMT)

"Democratic nations construct their own political common sense as they're entitled to do. But when they try to export their politicians on to an international stage, they must expect to be judged by political opinion shaped by histories other than their own. "

This line from the article is what must be understood by nations. Gr8 Line Mukul. Had the same feeling but couldn't put is so precisely in words. Same goes fr India. US rejected visa to Narendra Modi and India couldn't do anything about it. Its not about us or them. Its about national and international.

I consider Howards rejection as failure of Aussie diplomacy rather than Asian might. They should have known that he would be rejected. That would have saved them the embarrasment.

Posted by Dubby49 on (July 6, 2010, 13:00 GMT)

I do not love thee Dr Fell, The reason why I cannot tell, But this I know and know full well, I do not love thee Dr Fell.

Surely CA & CNZ should have read the writing on the wall a long time ago and diplomatically withdrawn Howard's nomination to aoid this humiliation. With four boards (Zim, SA, SL & Pak) opposed from the start, the only way Howard could have been elected would have been if the BCCI had twisted arms on his behalf. Now somebody please explain why the demon BCCi should have so obliged CA.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (July 6, 2010, 12:45 GMT)

It is nice to see that Mukul Kesavan too has joined the rising chorus against Howard and that cricinfo has finally moved on from the patronising views of Gideon Haigh. I suppose it was Sambit Bal wh set the ball in motion with his call to stop cannonising ICC Preident aspirant John Howard whose credentials lay well revealed in his words and deeds as Prime Minister of Australia. Both Bal and Kesavan have put their points well and I only wish Haigh would read the articles mentioned. Not for revising his own prejudiced views which it hardly will but to see how people from India address the fact situation in a particular case and put across their arguements with the humour this kind of subject deperately needs.Once the Australians realise that we are in 2010 when India is not just an ancient civilisation but an emerging economic power they will realise that it is the game than stands to benefit from it. The erstwhile white hegemony does not exist any more.

Posted by   on (July 6, 2010, 11:33 GMT)

I suspect Howard was a deliberate ploy - someone who is perfectly suited to the job and could do it extremely well, but whom would be unpalateble to the political sensibilities in the subcontinent. This was probably done as the ICC brings no benefits to Aus and NZ - we're not interested in selling our souls for endless T20 games for the Indian TV audience. Expect Aus and NZ (and Eng) to leave the ICC. Say hello to bitarsian agreements where we can at least have a say in what we do. Best outcome for everyone, methinks.

Posted by jillpreston on (July 6, 2010, 11:27 GMT)

Great article. Perhaps Gideon Haigh will read it.

Posted by EdwardTLogan on (July 6, 2010, 10:41 GMT)

Bee Vee - I think you've got your sports miced up. The rugby codes are losing supporters faster than a Shaun Tait delivery. Australian Rules football (AFL) is the number 1 spectator sport in Australia and has been for some time. Cricket is by far the number 1 sport in summer and the rugby codes are no threat to either the AFL or cricket. However, it is time Cricket Australia stood up to the BCCI (and the other boards who blindly played follow the leader) and asked for an explanation on why they vetoed Howard. I bet that answer will never come.

Posted by Rahul_78 on (July 6, 2010, 10:37 GMT)

Wow...No holds bar..Gloves are off..Take that Gideon Haigh...This is better than sambits reply anytime. It is not often that someone from subcontinent dared call thug a thug cause that is considered a very aussie thing to do. Which gideon was rightly doing in the case of Lalit modi. But this time gideon has backed a wrong person. Take a bow mr.kesavan.

Posted by   on (July 6, 2010, 10:37 GMT)

@BeeVee.. Agreed ....If Howard is good enough for the post of ICC ..I dont understand why he is not on CA's board? CA has taken up this issue to show the world that BCCI bullies decisions in ICC ...but it was really poor attempt to do so ...CA and ECB have dominated ICC for years with merit BCCI has taken up their position in ICC ...It's hurt them hard ...Crybabies...really ...Howard is a racist guy ...everyone knows that ..I think CA knew he was going to get rejected ...but they wanted a reason to tell the world who's bullying things ...

Posted by   on (July 6, 2010, 10:25 GMT)

Actually the NZ board wanted John Anderson for NZ Cricket boss to get the nomination but was overruled/beaten down by the Australians to nominate Mr Howard.

Posted by   on (July 6, 2010, 10:21 GMT)

Very thorough! Very comprehensive! Very In-Yo-Face! Thankyou Mukul!

Posted by loggerfloodles on (July 6, 2010, 10:19 GMT)

BeeVee: 1)try pakistan last summer? When was the last time any team anywhere didn't face an unwelcome crowd? Indian fans have shown sides just as ugly as Australians in the last few years, because there is probably the same number of racist nutjobs per capita in every country in the world.2) because he's only just started to reappear on the scene after the humiliation of getting voted out of his own seat and having his party trashed a few years ago. I never voted for the fellow because I thought he was uncaring and hardline, but his approach to Aborigine's was just as ineffective as every other Australian PM of the last 50 years, including his successor.This article though fails to give any reason to reject Howard beyond "Asian and African people don't think he's very nice". You cant say on the one hand that the ICC president is a figurehead and on the other that you need the most diplomatic and popular candidate possible. If he's the head of the ICC, he can't do any harm elsewhere!

Posted by   on (July 6, 2010, 10:15 GMT)

Now THIS is the article I've been waiting for, posing precisely the same question that first came to my mind, that query being, "What are they, CRAZY?" John Howard was a foolish nomination, and it's neither a surprise nor a scandal that it's been quashed. Even Darryl Hair would've been a better candidate. "Low form of passive aggression" is right on the money. As much as I dislike India's governing board, Howard's failure as an appropriate candidate for the ICC's figurehead position is not the fault of the BCCI, and to pretend that it is smacks, at best, of ignorance, or, at worst, of duplicity.

Posted by   on (July 6, 2010, 10:01 GMT)

This racist Howard was outright rejected by the Australian nation at the last federal election and also he went down in history as the the first PM who was lost his own seat in Bennelong. his own electorate did not want him even as their MP!!!! now CA is trying to portray as if he is good enough to lead world cricket.He should be seeking nomination to be in a "museum for Rejects". His so called cricketing sportmanship was seen how when he was PM of Australia he butted in to ridicule a visiting cricketing team ( Sri lanka) by calling Murali a chucker in public,,which was shown nation wide on TV. What kind of a racial monster will he be if he was gievn the reigns of world cricket.

Posted by jabulisile on (July 6, 2010, 9:51 GMT)

Its nice to here the other side of the story.

Posted by SRT_Jammy_Dada_VVS_and_Anil_legends on (July 6, 2010, 9:45 GMT)

"for most Indian cricket fans, BCCI officials, time-servers though they are, did us all a favour by nixing a neo-conservative thug who helped aid and abet more death and destruction in the world than any office-bearer of the ICC." I couldn't agree more- I don't like the BCCI or its office-bearers but they have reached the right decision. It has been the right decision reached by arguably the wrong people through the wrong process. I can live with that, it's clear Gideon Haigh and his fellow Aussies can't.

Posted by gagguv on (July 6, 2010, 9:38 GMT)

They all are creating mole hill out of nothing. Howard was nominated. His nomination was rejected by majority. Period. Why the fuss? Why CA is being so much egoistic about it? Heavens havent fallen down just because their candidate has been rejected but most of the people are acting as if huge injustice has been done. Processes are criticised whereas he became eligible to be nominated based on these processes. Now all other Boards are awaking up. Where were all these liberal writers like Gideon Haigh when England and Australia Boards were ruling like there was no tomorrow? At that times other countries suffered at their hands. You can consider it as payback time. So stop whining and get on with it. Do Australians really think that people like Waugh, Border, Mark Taylor, Chappel Brothers are worthless as compared to Howard? Why cant they nominate one of these??

Posted by BeeVee on (July 6, 2010, 9:05 GMT)

A very good discussion. Appropriate responses to some garbage argument out there. 1. Some sections of Australian media and public do not like developing countries standing up to it. I cant recall in the last 15 years when a visiting team from india, sri lanka, pakistan or windies has not had issues with australian cricketers/media.

2. If John Howard is competent enough to lead ICC, why is he not on the board of CA to steer their cricket through challenges from T20, test cricket decline, Aussies' increasing interest towards rugby etc.?

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Mukul KesavanClose
Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.

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