Peter Roebuck
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Former captain of Somerset; author of It Never Rains, Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh and other books

Cricket's impending crisis

The ICC board talks a lot about cleaning up the game. They might consider starting with themselves

Peter Roebuck

April 13, 2011

Comments: 63 | Text size: A | A

Malcolm Speed announces the ICC's decision on Steve Bucknor, Melbourne, January 8, 2008
The revelations in Malcolm Speed's book go to show that behind the scenes cricket is at its lowest ebb © Getty Images
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Only those immersed in the thrills and spills of the IPL will be feeling confident that cricket is on the right track. Of course that includes the bulk of the leading players and a sizeable proportion of the commentariat. Exciting events tend to distract attention from broader truths. In some cases that is their intention; elsewhere it is a by-product.

Some observers, too, point out that cricket has just staged the best World Cup in a quarter of a century and that the 50-over game has proved it has plenty of life left in it. Not that thoughtful people ever doubted it. Recently, too, the Ashes series attracted big crowds. From the outside it might appear that all is well. But then, if cricket cannot rise in an Ashes and World Cup year, and with India staging the World Cup and also sitting on top of the rankings, it never will.

And, it is true, other consolations can be found. Bangladesh's enthusiasm for the game is a priceless asset. Anyone seeking sincere love for cricket ought to walk the streets of Dhaka on a match day. The rebuilding of the stadiums in India and elsewhere for the World Cup means that, at last, spectators are properly treated in that neck of the woods. In that regard India has had a wretched history. Not that the public was always given its due this time around. The lathi charges and ticketing scandals indicate otherwise.

The world is a battleground between the corrupt and the common man. Everyone has to choose his side. At present that struggle is unfolding in North Africa but eventually it will spread. The new media is not so easily contained because it expresses not the political aspiration of the few but the social requirements of the many.

Cricket also assisted supporters by providing cheaper tickets. Elsewhere, too, the rise of Anil Kumble, Venkatesh Prasad and Javagal Srinath into positions of influence in Karnataka is to be warmly welcomed. Cricket has few men of their calibre and cannot afford to waste them. Mostly, too, the international teams are well coached and led. That has not always been the case. How many captains have had their snouts in the trough in the last 30 years? Sir Paul Condon says match-fixing started in the early 1980s, and he counts among the most cautious of men.

If anything, the game on the field is more honest than it has been in recent times. Off the field, of course, cricket is at its lowest ebb. Allen Stanford and Lalit Modi knew they moved among fellow travellers, people prepared to do anything for a buck. In his compelling, compulsory and depressing book Sticky Wicket, Malcolm Speed recalls Desmond Haynes ranting and raving and Viv Richards banging his fist on the table after the ICC declined to accept Stanford's proposals. Speed is not the most diplomatic of men but even so the picture is remarkable.

In the fullness of time the disastrous nature of the last few months will be grasped. It will be seen as a period in which cricket spurned numerous opportunities, limiting itself to the old empire, disdaining due diligence and settling for compromised leadership. In that time cricket has concluded that corruption does not matter, conflicts of interest are irrelevant, and that power and money alone count. In that period cricket has rejected its best and embraced its worst.

Inevitably the ICC is blamed for all developments. It is a glib position to take. The ICC is not a powerful beast stalking the earth. Mostly it is an administrative body called upon to ensure that umpires and players turn up at the same place at the same time and play by more or less the same rules. Since the game is played at the highest level by a small group of nations burdened with alarming histories, conflicting religions and internal struggles, and mostly in the top half of the corruption table, it is hardly surprising that the ICC is constantly under pressure. Cricket is not played by a bunch of sweet-talking Nordic countries.

Moreover it is a mistake to regard the ICC as a unit. In effect it has two arms, administration and executive. The administration works admirably and contains many dedicated and honest servants with the game's best interests embedded in their souls. Considering all their efforts, in far-flung places and even at the recent World Cup, it must be galling to be blamed for decisions taken at the head table, where self-interest rules, resentment resides and cynicism is common practice.

Cricket's impending collapse - once the head rots the rest will follow - stems from the lack of principle displayed by the board. Consider the men - they are all men - sitting at the head table. Ordinarily Ijaz Butt represents Pakistan. If he were an isolated case the game might survive. In fact, he remains in charge in cricket's second-largest nation. Speed called him a buffoon and subsequently withdrew the remark on the grounds that it was unfair to buffoons. Sharad Pawar is president. To his chagrin he has recently been obliged to resign from a body set up to counter corruption in his country. At the least this shows the folly of involving a current politician in a game.

Dr Julian Hunte of the West Indies has so many plenipotentiaries that it's hard to believe he has any time for cricket. In any case he has hardly presided over triumph in his region. Giles Clarke of England considers himself a go-getter, and it is true he is decisive, though seldom wise. Jack Clarke of Australia is a likeable fellow, but his country did not consider him worthy of further elevation and on his watch Australia has spent most of its time snuggling up to India.

Alan Isaac of New Zealand is a capable man and so is Shashank Manohar of India, though as a busy lawyer he has little time for the game. N Srinivasan, India's supposedly strong man, seems to consider it appropriate to own an IPL franchise and to run the IPL, a novel view of governance.

 
 
Inevitably the ICC is blamed for all developments. It is a glib position to take. The ICC is not a powerful beast stalking the earth. Mostly it is an administrative body called upon to ensure that umpires and players turn up at the same place at the same time and play by more or less the same rules
 

South Africa's representative at the table changed after the incumbent chairman went on radio and accused his chief executive, Gerald Majola, of dishonest words and deeds. It is an internal matter concerning behind-the-scenes payments for extra work done when the IPL was hastily moved to Africa. Dr Nyoka contends that CSA paid itself bonuses and was entitled to know that the IPL had been extremely generous. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, the isolating of Nyoka, the whistle-blower, did not improve confidence. Happily the matter is to go before the courts, so perhaps they can sort it out.

Sri Lanka's inner sanctum is in such turmoil that it's hard to know where to start. There are disconcerting accusations about ticket scams, while the Daily Mirror, a local newspaper, has suggested that bankruptcy is looming. The resignations of an excellent captain and vice-captain, clearly under stress, after the World Cup, also raised eyebrows. It is ridiculous to say that these men are too old. Like India, Sri Lanka has of late been extremely lucky with its senior players. Likewise the sustained attacks on Arjuna Ranatunga were unwarranted. But then, he is a member of the opposition.

Although transparency has improved considerably in the last year or so, Zimbabwe is also represented by some curious coves. As the last generation was rightly judged by the stance it took on apartheid, so the reputation of moderns depends on the position they take on the Zimbabwean tyranny. God knows we are all flawed but some things are beyond the pale. Even a game cannot put its head in the sand.

Speed's chapters on the Zimbabwe issue brook no argument. They remove the fa├žade so diligently erected by the lickspittles. At first sight it does not seem unreasonable to expect that an audit confirming that Zimbabwe Cricket's financial accounts have been falsified might be referred to the ethics committee. But Peter Chingoka, ZC chairman, and the most powerful man in cricket, was able to persuade bitter and inadequate colleagues that no such action was needed. By all accounts Chingoka is a brilliant operator able to nurse along powerful allies at home and at the ICC. That is his job. The fault lies with supposedly responsible parties letting him get away with it.

Cricket's brave new world is deeply compromised. Once quality has been lost around the table - and cricket has produced lots of fine men, many of them West Indian, but also Ehsan Mani and David Morgan - then the decisions will deteriorate. Inexorably the forces of darkness are taking hold in cricket.

Two recent issues promote pessimism. It was arrogant, and too cute, of Cricket Australia to present John Howard as its candidate for the ICC presidency when New Zealand had a splendid alternative in Sir John Anderson, a man long involved in the game and a man of high integrity. It was equally ham-fisted of the overestimated businessman appointed to break the deadlock to prefer him to the Kiwi. But Howard was a legitimate nomination under the existing protocol and should have been accepted. Instead, those prepared to turn a blind eye to the failings of Ray Mali and Pawar rejected both Howard and the very system they had so recently introduced. And the reason was as simple as it was deplorable: he had a high profile and might use it to instill diligence.

Now the same disreputable board has ditched the idea of letting the top 10 teams play in the next World Cup. It was inevitable. A lot of money was at stake. And those pointing out that Ireland and company might get the chance in eight years' time merely pander to the powerful. Cricket is a closed shop pretending to be an open house. The ICC board talks a lot about cleaning up the game. They might consider starting with themselves. But that's not going to happen. Everyone is making too much easy money. Much easier to pick on a few shady players. The game is run by men making one-star decisions in five-star hotels. The only remaining hope lies with the creation of an independent commission.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

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Posted by crusty52 on (April 16, 2011, 9:05 GMT)

Thank you for your article Peter. It is not only at the international level that the games is sick.. Many Cricket Australia, COE, State and Territory cricket officials and coaches are often people of limited capacity - they appear to find themselves in roles they are not suited to or qualified for. Nevertheless, they have in their hands the cricket futures of many talented young Australians! The intelligent ones will inevitably choose an alternative path away from cricket.

Posted by   on (April 15, 2011, 9:53 GMT)

Hi Peter, you've hit the bull's eye!!! I am not sure how long can we fight, but I am sure that there is a huge number of cricket enthusisats who want to see the game clean of corruption, clean of Sharad Pawars and the rut! Hail Cricket!!!!!

Posted by InnocentGuy on (April 14, 2011, 19:44 GMT)

As I was reaching the end of the article, the idea of creating an independent body was taking shape in my mind. It was a pleasant surprise to read the last line. It is true that there is a deadlock. BCCI is the money muscle. And ICC wants money. BCCI doesn't care much beyond that. And frankly, no other cricket board can ever be like BCCI in terms of generating revenue because no other country will ever be cricket-thirsty like India. The only way this can be broken is through a 3rd and independent regulating body which will most likely stay an idea that never took shape. The current scene is an indication of how cricket, both as a game and as an industry, is evolving, nothing can be done to stop that. It is what it is. Sadly.

Posted by   on (April 14, 2011, 16:19 GMT)

Colour me naive but I would have loved for the BCCI to flex some of that financial muscle to force ICC to reconsider their decision to remove the Associates from the next World Cup - at least it would have done the world of cricket some good beyond its own self serving needs but alas, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride....

Posted by greeny69 on (April 14, 2011, 11:42 GMT)

good article peter yes cricket needs an independent commisson. there are 105 members of the icc but thay are only looking after 10 of them how can that be fair play. How can thay exclued ireland from the world cup when thay are ranked 10th in odi and zimbabwe at 11 gets in come on icc start looking after the game instead of destroying it

Posted by   on (April 14, 2011, 7:33 GMT)

I cant understand why in every article its the BCCI responsilble though Peter did balance this article well.I mean one should however see that its not just the BCCI responsible for Irelands exclusion.Even the ECB infact more is responsible for irelands non participation in this world cup.They have poached so many irish players and none of them are directed towards the english cricket board.good heavens tommorow if someone earthquake happens people will say BCCI is responsible as its money power led to eco destruction

Posted by manish053 on (April 14, 2011, 6:19 GMT)

Cricket in crisis , where, I think cricket is emerging as one of the powerful sports in the world . The several things may be called crisis but not blamed BCCI and their officials for it. Think ,IPL gave a open sky to cricket adrift into get place with most popular sports in the world and it got success some extent. so far as corruption is concern , you can not relent it due to administrable gaffs and can not be blamed cricket playing nations as you described in your article. this is galling domiciles of their country including me and these lines create resentment among Innocent cricket lovers from these counties. These countries pulled off cricket from its conventional shape where it was losing its aura and withering while Australia and England were apathy about it. There were Indian ocean countries which surged cricket to its new destiny and dazzled it. It is goof thing to blam econiomc condintion of countries for corruptions in cricket .

Posted by Cricket_Man on (April 14, 2011, 5:46 GMT)

Only few people from the richest cricket board, India, are not in favour of this article. I mean, don't you guys actually see that cricket is going down. Even some people from your own country feel that BCCI has too much influence on ICC. Tests are going down, people are saying One-Day is still alive. I mean why should there be a thought of seeing One-Dayer's as dead. Is cricket just for the IPL ? If so, then in few years time we'll only see India playing. Similarly cricket in Pakistan, is almost dead. No home matches and wrong decisions made at the helm and no one even bothers. I am sure there are issues in other boards too. Only, if we had a strong decision making body at the international level, things would've been better and ICC ISN'T that.

Posted by   on (April 14, 2011, 5:21 GMT)

A bit unrelated, but here's the Indian cricket fan broken down. 1) The Tea tasters (5%)- Have been watching since the 80's, listen to Cricket commentary on radio while driving. Fair knowledge of the game. Can fully explain the LBW rule. Love tests, ODIs & T20s. Comment on Cricinfo, try to flag off peace, bring reason. A fast dwindling population 2) The Nationalists(90%)- About 30% are women, mostly started watching after 96 world cup. Throng the stadiums(ODIs, T20). Mistake cricket for patriotism. Want their share of the giant screen time. Have lungs of steel. Unsure of the LBW rule. Includes celebrities. Have all the uniform and the paint and the flags. Dont talk cricket once match is over. 3) The caught-in-transits(5%) - Very vocal on cricinfo. Know all the rules, love all formats. Believe cricket is patriotism. Very strong with facts, threaten with statsguru. Still angry over the 'Raj'. Responsible for Non Indians hating Sachin Peace :)

Posted by simon_w on (April 14, 2011, 5:04 GMT)

It's distressing how little I can find to disagree with in this article. I really, really want to disagree with it, but in all honesty I can't. My beloved cricket is one of the most corrupt and diseased sports on the planet. sob.

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Peter RoebuckClose
Peter Roebuck He may not have played Test cricket for England, but Peter Roebuck represented Somerset with distinction, making over 1000 runs nine times in 12 seasons, and captaining the county during a tempestuous period in the 1980s. Roebuck acquired recognition all over the cricket world for his distinctive, perceptive, independent writing. Widely travelled, he divided his time between Australia and South Africa. He died in November 2011

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