Sticky Wicket April 23, 2011

Revealing, damning and compelling

Malcolm Speed's memoir of his time in cricket is an unbiased and relevant eye-opener about what goes on behind the scenes in cricket
23

The chances of the words "riveting" and "administrator" appearing in the same sentence are so unlikely that odds cannot be offered on them showing up. To then suggest that they could be used about a book written by former ICC CEO Malcolm Speed would lead to cacophonous catcalls of "Yeah, right." Well, actually, both "yeah" and "right". Sticky Wicket (subtitled "Inside Ten Turbulent Years at the Top of World Cricket") is that kind of book.

Not merely an eye-opener but a real eye-popper, it features cricketers and administrators, caught in situations both uncomfortable and avoidable. There's Matthew Hayden, who put on his best suit and visited Speed to ask why he had been dropped, Steve Waugh carrying the Australian Cricketers Association's "Intention to Strike" forms in his bag but not distributing them to the players, Desmond Haynes shouting, Nasser Hussain in a massive strop and Viv Richards banging on tables.

And these are mere asides. If cricketers mostly sell their autobiographies on the strength of the few pages that talk up an incident and/or take potshots at an old adversary, bookshelves should demand that Speed's memoir fly off them.

Every chapter contains careful details and facts about events that shook the sport at its roots on Speed's watch. His career as a cricket administrator began as the CEO of the Australian cricket Board (ACB) in May 1997 and ended it as CEO of the ICC in July 2008. He was at the heart of a dramatically changing cricket landscape - from its on-field fundamentals, the business and industry built around it, the politics that was its constant undercurrent and has now begun to control far too much.

The 300-odd pages cover the salary dispute in Australian cricket, the decision to pick Waugh over Shane Warne as captain, the Justice Qayuum inquiry into match fixing, the Mike Denness affair, the scandal that is Zimbabwe cricket, the advent of Twenty20, the 2007 World Cup ("The Event From Hell", in the words of one of the chapter titles) and the death of Bob Woolmer, the growth of the Indian board, Monkeygate, and revealing individual chapters on the Stanford affair and Darrell Hair. And eventually even why he got sacked with two months left for his contract to run its course. "Ten Turbulent Years" sounds like an understatement.

Speed, who came into the ACB job from basketball, was surprised to be picked because he thought of himself as an outsider, in what was an "insular and parochial sport that would not go outside its own circles". When he took over as ICC CEO he reminded himself that every sporting organisation needed to achieve "respect, influence and an appropriate control". When he left cricket, the result of wanting to persist with financial inquiries over Zimbabwe cricket, Speed said, "I had lost the stomach for the fight, especially one with the potential to further damage the already battle-weary image of an organisation that had consumed seven years of my life."

The outside world saw Speed as a tough cookie, a stickler for rules, procedure and method. His staff at the ICC, however, still speak warmly of him, as a boss with humane qualities, with an ability to inspire loyalty, and to keep them focused on the objectivity of what their office was trying to do - concentrate on the world game over singular national interest. Towards the end of the book Speed explains his game face: "I was never going to be warm, soft and friendly, and I was not in cricket to win any popularity contest."

This is a very relevant book and it will stay that way. It will not please all those involved in some of the turbulence: some inside the ICC board, player associations, and the sneakiest of the sport's deal-makers. It is a clear and unbiased account of what battles must be fought, and how they were won (or lost) to keep the game sustainable, viable, and always fair. Every chapter has more than a few facts that, until now, were unknown to the wider world, which explain the chaos that followed crises or controversy. By no means is it a cover-up of errors. It takes a rare sports official to write these words about being booed after the end of the 2007 World Cup final: "I knew it was coming. It was not pleasant, but I deserved it."

It is ironic that the book was released just after the ICC's cynical and dreadful turnaround over how its ten-team 2015 World Cup was going to be structured. Its last two chapters explain how and why the Associates have been shut out. Speed may not have been in any of the meetings but his detailed explanation of how the ICC's board of directors and its executive board (made up of the heads of all the full-member boards or their representatives) works provides all the clues. Hint: keep an eye out for a sudden surge in tours of and by Zimbabwe, and the nations involved in them. You will understand how the voting went for 2015, knocking out even a qualification process for Associate nations, a decision Speed called "insular and backward" in an interview.

This is a very relevant book and it will stay that way. It will not please all those involved in some of the turbulence: some inside the ICC board, player associations, and the sneakiest of the sport's deal-makers. It is a clear and unbiased account of what battles must be fought, and how they were won (or lost) to keep the game sustainable, viable, and always fair

Sticky Wicket is both witness and guide to the game's evolution in the last decade. What "ambush marketing" really means, why the 15-degree rule for bowlers makes sense, and what it means for players and boards to sign up to codes pertaining to anti-corruption, anti-racism and anti-doping. Whenever issues pertaining to those codes arose -spot-fixing or Monkeygate or others - the codes that had been signed on had to apply. Ideally without nationalistic kicking and screaming, or cosy mutual deals - like the one informally agreed upon by the Indian and Australian boards under which they asked Justice John Hansen to "an agreed statements of facts and a consent order that they expected [him] to rubber stamp". Had Hansen done so, a precedent for member boards successfully "fixing" the ICC's disciplinary processes would have been established.

Speed's wrangles with the BCCI were plenty and his observations about India's role in cricket are carefully detailed, though he takes the effigy-burning and newspaper headlines a little too seriously. The chapter titled "A 15-rounder With Dalmiya", related to the Mike Denness affair of 2001, is exhausting to read merely because the episode went on for as long as it did.

Relations between Speed and Dalmiya, who he said had a "manic determination to make India a world cricket power" were never warm. But the Australian has some respect for Dalmiya as administrator and adversary, despite the history of their arguments. Listing the ICC presidents who have added to the "governance and fabric of the game", he says, "yes, even Dalmiya, of whom I have been critical in these pages... he taught the ICC how to capitalise on its new revenue stream".

It is almost three years that Speed has been outside cricket, a period that was marked by the Lahore attack on the Sri Lankan team, the spot-fixing scandal, and the IPL explosion, which has shaken up the game's economy and re-established India's prominence in the sport. India was always the game's "unique selling point" and is now its power base. India does not worry Speed, "as long as that influence and control are exercised fairly, transparently and with the interests of the game as paramount consideration". So we should all worry, then.

The current office bearers of the BCCI leave Speed, "far from confident" about the part they will play in the ICC, whose role "is to balance India's power and look after all its members". DRS, anyone?

Sticky Wicket is packed with both broad brushstrokes and anecdote. During one of the Anti-Corruption Unit's earliest formal lectures with the players who was there was one player who, "for his reasons known only to him, turned his chair around to face the other way and read his newspaper while the lecture was in progress". The guy had better not still be playing.

The book is written like Speed usually spoke: clearly and forcefully. To imagine that it is primarily meant for anyone interested in board politics or cricket's inner workings is inaccurate. It is meant for all those who consider themselves "genuine" cricket lovers, its "true" fans. It is a revealing and often damning document. It will tell the fans what a struggle it is to keep the game they love going, due to the interests and muscle-flexing of cricket's self-obsessed.

Sticky Wicket: Inside Ten Turbulent Years at the Top of World Cricket
by Malcolm Speed
Harper Sports, hb
326pp, A$35

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Homer2007 on April 26, 2011, 13:03 GMT

    Does Mr Speed have anything by way of defense for that aberration called the Super Test? And what about his drive to "standardize" wickets, the single most important reason for the bore-a-thons masquerading as Test matches today?

    Cheers,

  • candyfloss on April 26, 2011, 9:10 GMT

    Oh stop trying to get a pat on the back from the aussies sharda! Besides I remember inspite of holding an important position in the ICC he made some very ungracious comments about India which were unobjective. I doubt you would get an unbiased view from his book.

  • Quazar on April 25, 2011, 9:25 GMT

    Sounds a little naive to call the book "unbiased." Would you also refer to a book by Dalmiya as unbiased? The simple unfortunate fact is this (in my book, so to say!)... the ECB and the ACB for long (through the '60s, '70s and '80s) cast a downward glance at the subcontinent nations, boards and teams; and it will take some time yet for the BCCI to have its fill of "reverse domination"... thereafter we might have some enlightened conduct (an encouraging sign is Pawar's decision to review the 2015 WC participation criteria at the ICC's next meeting).

  • chaithan on April 24, 2011, 15:31 GMT

    Its not as impartial as you make it out to be. But its far more than I expected.

  • on April 24, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    This book would have been better titled the memoirs of the last emperor. Malcolm Speed presided over the end of relevance of cricket australia in world cricket management and this book is only about sour grapes.

    And a word about Ms Ugra. She loves criticising anything about Indian cricket. It is time she realises that many people read her articles just because Indian board has popularised the game so much. May be she should move to a country where she need have to worry so much.............

  • RandomVichar on April 24, 2011, 2:47 GMT

    After reading your review, I bought the book and read it. Some thoughts: 1) Definitely, a must read. Malcolm Speed puts forth his viewpoint on most of the issues that occurred during 2000's. One couldn't help but sympathize with him in certain cases (esp. when dealing with Dalmiya) 2) He goes over the details of the test match during MonkeyGate but does not go through the same detail for the Mike Denness issue. Why? He supports Mike for his actions but provides no convincing argument on why 6 Indians had to be penailized. Further he conveniently overlooks the numerous times when the aussies have shown dissent over umpiring decisions. Obviously he is busy fighting the Indian hegemony. 3) I agree that the BCCI does not have the best interests of the game at heart. But hey, nor did the previous powers did anything to spread the game. England was disdainful towards SL with whom they played a test match or two every 6-7 years. Overall 4/5. Must read albeit not exactly impartial

  • on April 24, 2011, 2:23 GMT

    wow there is so much bitterness towards india.. from even the sub continenters!! if the bcci wasn't as rich, do you guys actually think, your boards would make it on their own???

  • jessiedog on April 23, 2011, 20:10 GMT

    Why is it that people get so defensive when ever the role/influence that the BCCI is having over world cricket is questioned???? Mr Speed makes a very good point, so long as thre power and influence that the BCCI has is used for the benefit of WORLD cricket there will be no issues.

  • Milind_Jadhav on April 23, 2011, 16:24 GMT

    Opinions by definition are biased and that too coming from a man who never missed an opportunity to bash anyone from the sub-continent who disagreed with him or his views. It is well documented that Speed was and by evidence of this book continues to be biased. Fans like us can only comment based on what gets published in the media and the media never hesitated to portray Speed as a monster that he was. Besides, is he not the same guy who would shoot first and ask later? So, what are we talking about here? I far as I am concerned he has no credibility...especially those who have double standards!

  • on April 23, 2011, 15:41 GMT

    The second worst argument for anything is "Oh, they got to be unfair, so do we!". It barely loses to "Well, it's always been done this way." Cricket has both those problems in spades, and it's nice to see someone can actually speak out on it instead of lining their pockets.

  • Homer2007 on April 26, 2011, 13:03 GMT

    Does Mr Speed have anything by way of defense for that aberration called the Super Test? And what about his drive to "standardize" wickets, the single most important reason for the bore-a-thons masquerading as Test matches today?

    Cheers,

  • candyfloss on April 26, 2011, 9:10 GMT

    Oh stop trying to get a pat on the back from the aussies sharda! Besides I remember inspite of holding an important position in the ICC he made some very ungracious comments about India which were unobjective. I doubt you would get an unbiased view from his book.

  • Quazar on April 25, 2011, 9:25 GMT

    Sounds a little naive to call the book "unbiased." Would you also refer to a book by Dalmiya as unbiased? The simple unfortunate fact is this (in my book, so to say!)... the ECB and the ACB for long (through the '60s, '70s and '80s) cast a downward glance at the subcontinent nations, boards and teams; and it will take some time yet for the BCCI to have its fill of "reverse domination"... thereafter we might have some enlightened conduct (an encouraging sign is Pawar's decision to review the 2015 WC participation criteria at the ICC's next meeting).

  • chaithan on April 24, 2011, 15:31 GMT

    Its not as impartial as you make it out to be. But its far more than I expected.

  • on April 24, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    This book would have been better titled the memoirs of the last emperor. Malcolm Speed presided over the end of relevance of cricket australia in world cricket management and this book is only about sour grapes.

    And a word about Ms Ugra. She loves criticising anything about Indian cricket. It is time she realises that many people read her articles just because Indian board has popularised the game so much. May be she should move to a country where she need have to worry so much.............

  • RandomVichar on April 24, 2011, 2:47 GMT

    After reading your review, I bought the book and read it. Some thoughts: 1) Definitely, a must read. Malcolm Speed puts forth his viewpoint on most of the issues that occurred during 2000's. One couldn't help but sympathize with him in certain cases (esp. when dealing with Dalmiya) 2) He goes over the details of the test match during MonkeyGate but does not go through the same detail for the Mike Denness issue. Why? He supports Mike for his actions but provides no convincing argument on why 6 Indians had to be penailized. Further he conveniently overlooks the numerous times when the aussies have shown dissent over umpiring decisions. Obviously he is busy fighting the Indian hegemony. 3) I agree that the BCCI does not have the best interests of the game at heart. But hey, nor did the previous powers did anything to spread the game. England was disdainful towards SL with whom they played a test match or two every 6-7 years. Overall 4/5. Must read albeit not exactly impartial

  • on April 24, 2011, 2:23 GMT

    wow there is so much bitterness towards india.. from even the sub continenters!! if the bcci wasn't as rich, do you guys actually think, your boards would make it on their own???

  • jessiedog on April 23, 2011, 20:10 GMT

    Why is it that people get so defensive when ever the role/influence that the BCCI is having over world cricket is questioned???? Mr Speed makes a very good point, so long as thre power and influence that the BCCI has is used for the benefit of WORLD cricket there will be no issues.

  • Milind_Jadhav on April 23, 2011, 16:24 GMT

    Opinions by definition are biased and that too coming from a man who never missed an opportunity to bash anyone from the sub-continent who disagreed with him or his views. It is well documented that Speed was and by evidence of this book continues to be biased. Fans like us can only comment based on what gets published in the media and the media never hesitated to portray Speed as a monster that he was. Besides, is he not the same guy who would shoot first and ask later? So, what are we talking about here? I far as I am concerned he has no credibility...especially those who have double standards!

  • on April 23, 2011, 15:41 GMT

    The second worst argument for anything is "Oh, they got to be unfair, so do we!". It barely loses to "Well, it's always been done this way." Cricket has both those problems in spades, and it's nice to see someone can actually speak out on it instead of lining their pockets.

  • on April 23, 2011, 15:05 GMT

    I think, speed wants to earn some money and we all should let him, afterall, today cricket is all about money.

  • inswing on April 23, 2011, 13:12 GMT

    How the heck is it "unbiased"? It is from Speeds own perspective, which is completely biased. He was the guy responsible for 2007 WC, and should have been promptly fired. He was at the head of an incompetent organization, and exuded incompetence himself. Now he writes a "revealing" and "damning" book that damns everyone else? That's funny.

  • cricsom5667 on April 23, 2011, 10:37 GMT

    With great power comes greater responsibility - (Spiderman). India / BCCI should view this objectively without shouting from the roof tops about latent racism and shoulder the lions share of responsibility to propagate this gentleman's game worldwide on a bigger platform. And that can be done only on backs of a transparent , accountable and fair world governing body rather than through a big brother / feudalistic style.

    Further, all decisions should not be taken with an eye on the commerce as the aesthetics and romanticism associated with the game should be preserved at any cost. Like soccer, let this noble game transcend boundaries of geography, culture, race and religion and unite on merit, sporting excellence and fast depleting values of chivalry. I am dying to get hold of this book. Mr.Speed would have done a great service to the cause of the game if it is based on facts.

  • on April 23, 2011, 9:41 GMT

    I remember ringing the ACB from the UK many years ago in pre Internet days when I wanted to check the dates of a few fixtures so I could plan a holiday in Australia taking in a few days cricket. No one could tell me at the time but who should ring me back a few hours later with all the details I needed but Malcolm Speed himself so ever since then I've always had time for him, even though I've never been a fan of the ICC. If the ICC was a ship I'd be jumping off at the first opportunity as I'm convinced its taking cricket to the rocks.

  • bonaku on April 23, 2011, 8:53 GMT

    Well here is the clue who voted for 10 team WC. "With the Australian and South African A sides, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Pakistan all having confirmed to tour Zimbabwe between June and November this year"

  • on April 23, 2011, 7:59 GMT

    One of your comments in the article is in very poor taste, Ms. Sharda, very poor indeed - and that is - [India does not worry Speed, "as long as that influence and control are exercised fairly, transparently and with the interests of the game as paramount consideration". So we should all worry, then.] - Before getting judgmental about the way cricket is run by and in India, please give us one, and I say ONLY ONE example where you can say Life is Fair, where power has been exercised with responsibility, and where the world is a perfect place to live in. Why, even when India was not a power in world cricket, and MCC used to be run by Aussies and Englishmen, the cricket administration was far from perfect. To moan about the way power in cricket is being exercised in India is uncalled for and unnecessary, especially in the context of the fact that this was just a review of a book by an administrator and not a commentary on the affairs of world cricket.

  • on April 23, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    A must read. When I heard it mentioned about a month ago in another article , I began trying to get my hands on it instantly. It instantly struck me that a book by an administrator of the calibre of Malcolm Speed would be far more valuable than the ramblings of past players with no command over the language. I intend to order it as soon as I can .. or buy it as soon as it comes to the local bookshops.

  • Charindra on April 23, 2011, 7:01 GMT

    Why do I get the feeling this won't be a bestseller in India.... Hmmm.....

  • Biggus on April 23, 2011, 5:15 GMT

    Sounds like a must read, though I don't suppose I'll finish it satisfied that cricket is in good hands. I think that the cricketing world is headed for a split sometime in the future. I think there will come a time when the conflicting interests of those who prefer the old-world game and those who favour the instant gratification, everything is up for sale to the highest bidder style that IPL is the vanguard of will become so incompatible that the best thing may be to part company as amicably as possible. Those who say, "I haven't got time to watch test or even ODIs. T20 gives me what I want when I want it" and those who would prefer the more stately game both have points that are valid, but ultimately I fear, mutually exclusive. "Don't be so melodramatic", I hear you say, "Everything is just fine". I'm not so sure. When everybody on a ship wants to head in different directions it may be better for some to leave it and seek a vessel that will take them in the direction they wish to go.

  • DamieninFrance on April 23, 2011, 4:51 GMT

    Brilliant review, Sharda. As a character, Malcolm Speed was someone eminently watchable. Although not the most charismatic person, it's clear that he'd always been working hard, in the interests of cricket. I had never thought about buying such a book, but based on this compelling review, I can't imagine my library being without it!

  • cric_fanatics on April 23, 2011, 4:23 GMT

    sharda your article does not make a coherent read..you dont have to add your cheeky puns after every factual line..

  • on April 23, 2011, 3:19 GMT

    Looks like something good is gonna come out of this.........It is with pride that we Indians are part of IPL the most successful league in cricket, but we are also well aware what the people controlling it are capable of. Sharad Pawar as the head of ICC is most worrying of all. World can sit and watch as his tenure unfolds, there will be lot to pick after he goes, but we wonder even here in India whether the game would be irreparably harmed by then.

  • SRT_GENIUS on April 23, 2011, 3:06 GMT

    Speed always came across as a guy who wanted full authority but no responsibility. Surprising to see he accepted the post 2007 WC boos. Maybe it doesn't matter professionally to him anymore. Maybe being a little self-deprecating is in vogue now.

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  • SRT_GENIUS on April 23, 2011, 3:06 GMT

    Speed always came across as a guy who wanted full authority but no responsibility. Surprising to see he accepted the post 2007 WC boos. Maybe it doesn't matter professionally to him anymore. Maybe being a little self-deprecating is in vogue now.

  • on April 23, 2011, 3:19 GMT

    Looks like something good is gonna come out of this.........It is with pride that we Indians are part of IPL the most successful league in cricket, but we are also well aware what the people controlling it are capable of. Sharad Pawar as the head of ICC is most worrying of all. World can sit and watch as his tenure unfolds, there will be lot to pick after he goes, but we wonder even here in India whether the game would be irreparably harmed by then.

  • cric_fanatics on April 23, 2011, 4:23 GMT

    sharda your article does not make a coherent read..you dont have to add your cheeky puns after every factual line..

  • DamieninFrance on April 23, 2011, 4:51 GMT

    Brilliant review, Sharda. As a character, Malcolm Speed was someone eminently watchable. Although not the most charismatic person, it's clear that he'd always been working hard, in the interests of cricket. I had never thought about buying such a book, but based on this compelling review, I can't imagine my library being without it!

  • Biggus on April 23, 2011, 5:15 GMT

    Sounds like a must read, though I don't suppose I'll finish it satisfied that cricket is in good hands. I think that the cricketing world is headed for a split sometime in the future. I think there will come a time when the conflicting interests of those who prefer the old-world game and those who favour the instant gratification, everything is up for sale to the highest bidder style that IPL is the vanguard of will become so incompatible that the best thing may be to part company as amicably as possible. Those who say, "I haven't got time to watch test or even ODIs. T20 gives me what I want when I want it" and those who would prefer the more stately game both have points that are valid, but ultimately I fear, mutually exclusive. "Don't be so melodramatic", I hear you say, "Everything is just fine". I'm not so sure. When everybody on a ship wants to head in different directions it may be better for some to leave it and seek a vessel that will take them in the direction they wish to go.

  • Charindra on April 23, 2011, 7:01 GMT

    Why do I get the feeling this won't be a bestseller in India.... Hmmm.....

  • on April 23, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    A must read. When I heard it mentioned about a month ago in another article , I began trying to get my hands on it instantly. It instantly struck me that a book by an administrator of the calibre of Malcolm Speed would be far more valuable than the ramblings of past players with no command over the language. I intend to order it as soon as I can .. or buy it as soon as it comes to the local bookshops.

  • on April 23, 2011, 7:59 GMT

    One of your comments in the article is in very poor taste, Ms. Sharda, very poor indeed - and that is - [India does not worry Speed, "as long as that influence and control are exercised fairly, transparently and with the interests of the game as paramount consideration". So we should all worry, then.] - Before getting judgmental about the way cricket is run by and in India, please give us one, and I say ONLY ONE example where you can say Life is Fair, where power has been exercised with responsibility, and where the world is a perfect place to live in. Why, even when India was not a power in world cricket, and MCC used to be run by Aussies and Englishmen, the cricket administration was far from perfect. To moan about the way power in cricket is being exercised in India is uncalled for and unnecessary, especially in the context of the fact that this was just a review of a book by an administrator and not a commentary on the affairs of world cricket.

  • bonaku on April 23, 2011, 8:53 GMT

    Well here is the clue who voted for 10 team WC. "With the Australian and South African A sides, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Pakistan all having confirmed to tour Zimbabwe between June and November this year"

  • on April 23, 2011, 9:41 GMT

    I remember ringing the ACB from the UK many years ago in pre Internet days when I wanted to check the dates of a few fixtures so I could plan a holiday in Australia taking in a few days cricket. No one could tell me at the time but who should ring me back a few hours later with all the details I needed but Malcolm Speed himself so ever since then I've always had time for him, even though I've never been a fan of the ICC. If the ICC was a ship I'd be jumping off at the first opportunity as I'm convinced its taking cricket to the rocks.