Richardson ticks all the boxes
The meeting was held at the coffee shop of the Sandton Sun Hotel in Johannesburg. The two men were not strangers, though they hadn't met before: Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive at the time, and Dave Richardson, the former South Africa wicketkeeper who was now representing the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) and was vocal in his opposition of the ICC on player issues. Richardson thought he was there because Speed wanted to talk things over in person. In reality, the Australian wanted to make a job offer.
"In personal settings David could be quite shy and it takes a bit to get to know him," Speed says, remembering that first meeting in 2001. "I wanted to talk to him about coming to London to work for the ICC. I could see he was clearly interested but he was sceptical about moving his young family. But I thought he was the man for the job and that, with a bit of prodding and patience, he would be interested in doing it."
Speed was looking at Richardson as the ICC's general manager of cricket. He had had a word with Ali Bacher, the former managing director of the South African board, who said that despite Richardson's background as a former international cricketer, he might be better suited to the commercial side. "Because in South Africa, after he had retired he got involved with quite a few companies revolving around the commercial aspect," Bacher says.
Richardson took over as the ICC chief executive on July 1 this year, having seen off a heavyweight contender in David Collier, the highly experienced CEO of the England board. Did Speed see Richardson going on to occupy the seat he had himself once held at the ICC?
"He had the potential to do that because he was very well qualified as a cricketer, and professionally he was very well regarded throughout the cricket community," Speed says. "The most impressive thing about him is, he is a very honest, straightforward man with good values. He has worked hard during his time at the ICC to put himself in a position where he can be appointed as the chief executive."
Bacher has no doubt about Richardson's credentials. "He has never been there for the ego trip," he says. "He is a very solid individual. He will do a very good job at a time when world cricket is divided." Honesty and integrity, Bacher stresses, are qualities that the head of the ICC needs, and Richardson's character is above board. When he was in office, Speed had asked Paul Condon, the then head of the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, to vet Richardson, considering he was South Africa's vice-captain.
From kit to suit
By his own admission, Richardson feared he would never play international cricket, having grown up in the apartheid years. He made his international debut on the wrong side of 30 but eventually went on to play 42 Tests and 122 ODIs, keeping wicket for seven years. Much of his career was under the captaincy of Kepler Wessels, first at domestic level and then for South Africa; towards the end he was vice-captain to Hansie Cronje.
At 38, he decided it was time for Plan B. A trained lawyer, Richardson knew what he wanted to do after he retired from the game.
In the early 1990s, Bacher once assembled the South African squad at Kingsmead in Durban to talk about the future. Richardson, Bacher remembers, was sitting in the back row, and raised his hand towards the end of the meeting. "Dr Bacher, can I be brutally honest?" he asked, before going on to convey the message that the South African players were not being looked after properly from the professional and commercial point of view.
It was the first hint of his penchant for negotiation. Bacher took up the matter with the South African board and soon enough player contracts were issued, with monthly retainers. "They had finanicial security for the first time, and there were other financial incentives, like win bonuses," Bacher says.
Andrew Hudson, the former South Africa opener and currently chairman of selectors, credits Richardson for nurturing SACA in its infancy. "In those years players were just happy to play, but he had the foresight to see that players had rights as well and that we would get our fair share in terms of player pools. He was instrumental during the negotiations. That was the start of profit-sharing, in terms of players getting a good deal," Hudson says.
He describes Richardson as a man serious about what he was doing, one whom players could trust. It is the sort of respect Richardson consistently evokes. But his journey to the upper echelons of the ICC has called for patience. When Speed finished his tenure and Richardson applied for the job in 2008, he didn't quite get it - he was put in charge as acting chief executive till the recruitment committee finalised their choice from the shortlist, settling on Haroon Lorgat.
"I was very impressed with his maturity at the way he accepted the board's decision and just continued with his job," Lorgat says. "After a couple of months, I recall him coming up to me and saying, 'I'm glad you got it and not me because I can see there are a few things for me to pick up and learn.' So he now believes he is far more qualified to take over the job."
Among the things Lorgat did early in his tenure was send his senior executives on professional management learning programmes. In 2009, Richardson attended an in-depth business management training course at the London Business School.
The players' CEO
Traditionally the role of the chief executive has been one subject to the balance of power among the ICC board members. Richardson, Speed says, has always remained an apolitical man in highly political situations. He has been vital to smoothing the introduction of various rule changes, especially in one-day cricket. A look at the most critical decisions involving the ICC over the last few years will reveal Richardson's involvement: amending the laws on chucking, the setting up of the Elite panel of umpires and match referees, the Oval forfeit issue involving Darrell Hair against Pakistan, the Monkeygate scandal in Sydney, and more recently the DRS. Richardson has been the first man his bosses have got on the phone with and dispatched to broker solutions.
Richardson's manner is described as not confrontational. He listens to the other side but remains firm in his own decision-making. His leadership in shepherding the DRS process, its general management and improvement, has been exceptional - to the extent that, save for the BCCI, there are very few in world cricket administration who don't now acknowledge the value of the DRS.
Sunil Gavaskar, the former Indian batting legend, who has served with Richardson on various ICC cricket and technical committees, describes the South African as earnest. "David's strengths are that he is forward-thinking and is keen to make the game even better than it is for not just the players but the spectators too," he says. "So he is quite prepared to look at new ideas and innovations that will make the game more attractive without losing the essence of the game. He is also a good listener who will accept another person's point of view if he is convinced."
Gavaskar remembers an instance of Richardson using his skills of persuasion to argue the case for one bouncer (over shoulder-height) per over in limited-overs cricket, back in 2001. "There was a former skipper who was adamant that allowing a bouncer per over meant that 50 deliveries were unscoreable, and felt that it would mean negative cricket. David gently asked him how he would like his country's pace bowlers to be hammered by tailenders who were promoted up the order as pinch-hitters. These same pinch-hitters would not dare come on the front foot in a Test match against the same bowlers for fear of the bouncer. The dissenter thought about it and agreed to one bouncer being allowed in limited-overs cricket."
Rahul Dravid is another who has seen Richardson in two avatars: from being opponents, the two now sit together on the MCC's cricket committee. "He can see both sides of the coin and has that unique advantage," Dravid says. He remembers an example from Richardson's early days as an administrator, in 2002. Back then the ICC was asking all member boards to make player contracts mandatory. The Indian players found themselves at loggerheads with the BCCI over the terms of those contracts. Dravid and Anil Kumble were leading the player-board talks and met Richardson to put their point of view across. "He understood our point of view well and willingly heard us," Dravid recalls.
That is a big advantage Richardson has over his predecessors, Speed and Lorgat: he already has the players and umpires on his side as they feel he can understand and sympathise with them.
"Be impartial, be strong"
At the ICC's executive board, things are more about politics than sport. Both Speed and Lorgat grew used to coming out of meetings with frustration written on their faces. Will Richardson, who has always worn a sunny smile so far, stand a chance in the face of the inevitable politicking? "All he can do - and he does this well - is, he needs to treat everyone fairly, to be honest in his dealings," Speed says. "He needs to be impartial, and he will need to be strong."
Both Lorgat and David Morgan, the president between 2008 and 2010, think that for the ICC to function effectively as an influential parent body, it is essential the corporate governance model be uniformly adopted top-down. Lord Woolf in his independent governance review in February this year stated the need for restricting the ICC's executive board to make it more independent and less dominated by the bigger countries, and also recommended a re-examination of the rights and benefits of the Test-playing Full Member nations, calling for measures to increase transparency in dealings by the ICC and its members. Richardson, Morgan says, needs to keep the flame of the Woolf report burning. "One does not have to implement every last detail of the review, but it is important that the review be kept as a live topic."
According to Speed, a good ICC CEO needs to be a leader, a good manager of people, an excellent listener; he needs to be prepared to make hard decisions and follow up on them, be someone with good judgement, who is prepared to work within the political confines of the game, and is respected by the people with whom he is in contact with; also, intelligent, patient and with a sense of humour. "Richardson ticks all those boxes," Speed says.
Richardson has handled adversity with patience in the past. And he will do well to listen to the man who offered him his first job at the ICC. "Don't try to become popular," Speed says. "Don't worry about what the media say, or think. Just do your job without fear or favour."
With additional reporting by Firdose Moonda
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo