July 3, 2011

Who's the ICC fooling?

It's laughable that cricket's global body asks its member boards to democratise when it is itself politically manipulated by the BCCI to make confusing compromises

In the sixties, Australian writer Hugh Lunn produced a lively story set in Hong Kong called Spies Like Us. The ICC's directors must have heard of it. The recently concluded board meeting in Hong Kong was full of moves a secretive spook would have been proud of: a furtive dart in this direction and then quickly doubling back to see who might be following.

So who is the ICC trying to throw off the scent?

Their original plan to hold a ten-team World Cup in 2015 had already ridden out formidable flak from the Associate members. Why did they need to do an about-turn and return it to a 14-team event, the same as it was for the overly long 2011 World Cup? All they needed to do was add a qualifying tournament to decide the last two teams so that all 10 spots didn't automatically go to the Test-playing nations.

Then in the classic double-back move they teach at spy school, the ICC decided to reduce the World Twenty20 from 16 to 12 teams in both the 2012 and 2014 tournaments. The Twenty20 format is the sport's best opportunity to globalise the game and extend the reach of cricket. It's also the one that can be completed in an acceptable time span, so the players aren't sitting around twiddling their thumbs for long intervals. Twenty20 is also the one chance cricket has to escape the suffocating effect of total dependence on India's wealth to finance the game.

And what did the ICC do? They effectively stifled those opportunities, at least in the short term. This is the classic case of a spy who becomes so paranoid he reaches the point of only fooling himself.

Not satisfied, they then, in an act of unbelievable hubris, asked all the member boards to free themselves from political interference by the end of 2012. It's not that this move isn't welcome; on the contrary, it's long overdue. It's just that the previous day the ICC had conjured up conclusions on both the Decision Review System (DRS) and the Future Tour Programme (FTP) that were classics of expedient compromise, the favourite tool of politicians everywhere.

Instead of insisting on important changes to the DRS, like the ICC having full control over operating the system, and also placing the reviews totally in the hands of the umpires, the BCCI opted for an ineffective and confusing compromise. Why? Presumably to avoid being forced to play one-sided and financially draining Test series against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the new FTP.

Neither of those two nations should be playing Test matches against any country. Instead, they should be competing on a second-tier level with other Associate nations and the stronger A teams in order to improve and provide ample proof they deserve to be elevated to Test status.

And finally there was the important issue of the ICC presidency. Instead of voting to eradicate the public-service-style system of rotating presidents in favour of choosing the best person for the job, this issue has been put on hold for a few more months. Why? Presumably to give the members a chance to hammer out another confusing compromise.

In part of an ICC statement issued following the resolution to de-politicise the individual boards, the CEO, Haroon Lorgat, said: "[…] that through a democratic election process you get the right people to run the sport in the country." Why then wouldn't the ICC set an example and do exactly that when appointing their president?

What with all the efforts to placate India and the obsession with power-broking, the ICC has become the most politicised of all cricketing bodies. Too bad more people aren't actually spying on the ICC in an effort to make them more accountable.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist