October 19, 2012

'The biggest challenge is making the international calendar work'

The world body's CEO, Dave Richardson, talks about the proliferation of T20 leagues, corruption in the game, and the role of technology

What is the biggest issue cricket is facing currently?
On the cricket side, with the proliferation of domestic T20 leagues, there has to be a way to make sure that they can exist and complement international cricket rather than destroy or cannibalise it.

There are huge benefits to having three different versions of the same game which appeal to different audiences and can keep cricket relevant to different people at different times. But with that comes the challenge of making sure that one format of the game does not prejudice the other two and vice versa. So that is probably the biggest challenge: making sure the international calendar works, providing balance between and context for the three formats. All the best players cannot play all of the time and need their periods of rest, and that is a challenge too.

Is the Champions Trophy an example of that sort of sacrifice? Isn't it a shame that if done right, it could have been the best world ODI tournament?
It is not so much about what went wrong. It is a good event. The point is, we now have three viable formats of the game and it makes sense to have one global event for each of the three formats rather than two 50-over formats and no Test event. Yes, it is a pity because the Champions Trophy is a good event - compact, sharp and contested by the best teams, but it is being replaced by the World Test Championship, which will be contested by the top four teams. So it would have a worthy replacement.

As important as the many domestic T20 leagues are, don't you think they are eating into the international calendar, which is the lifeline for the ICC?
That is what the recent at the chief executives' committee and board have been about and trying to make sure they do not impact negatively on the primacy and relevance of international cricket. But not all the players are going to play in all the leagues. You might have a few who become specialist domestic T20 league players. But in the long term their marketability depends on how well they do at international level. That is where they make and retain their names. So I do not agree that it will be a total disaster. These leagues bring a lot of advantages: they have attracted more fans, they provide more opportunities for a deeper pool of players to play at the professional level. Before domestic T20, there was a very select band of players that actually were providing revenue for the game. Now it is a much bigger pool. And that is good for the game.

There has been strong demand for the IPL having a window. Former India captain Rahul Dravid said earlier in the summer that creating a window for the IPL might enhance the quality of Test cricket because all the best players would then play?
In practical terms an informal window will be created for so long as the IPL retains its importance and players want to play in it. Even the likes of West Indies, who have traditionally played during the IPL window, will do their best to start scheduling their international cricket outside of that period. So that will happen just naturally without it being enforced. The difficulty of formally creating windows is, where do we stop? In two years' time the USA might have a very viable [T20] league with lots of money and backing, so are we going to give them a window? I suspect you have to accommodate these domestic events while making sure international cricket remains relevant and attractive for the top players.

"Before domestic T20, there was a very select band of players who were providing revenue for the game; now it is a much bigger pool. And that is probably good for the game"

A conflict that always makes headlines is when a player requests his country's board for a NOC to participate in an overseas domestic T20 event. Is that a source of controversy?
The international game and its development depend on the revenues generated from international cricket. Players get to where they are by coming through the system. It is reasonable to expect that cricket must do what it can to ensure that this development pathway is sustained. Ensuring that the best players are available to play for their national teams is very important to retaining the value and primacy of international cricket. NOCs help in this regard. If a restriction placed on players, which might be considered as a restraint of trade, is done for the reasonable purpose of ensuring the future of international cricket, then the court will say that is a reasonable restraint of trade. A restraint of trade is only unlawful if it is unreasonable.

Speaking on the alleged corruption scandal involving umpires, you said it is a war you are fighting and it is all-encompassing. How does the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit better train the watchdogs appointed by the member boards to stem the rot of corruption?
We have an anti-corruption unit whose resources have been increased in recent times - they have got more personnel, they have got more money allocated, and their databases have been upgraded. What has happened is, because the international players are well educated now and know the risks, displacement has occurred and the bookies are now targeting domestic leagues. So to counter that we have made sure that every Full-Member country has its own anti-corruption unit in place and its own anti-corruption code, so that what we are doing at the international level can be mirrored at the domestic level. And in doing so we have increased the total resources available [to fight corruption]. Each country now has its own anti-corruption unit and the ACSU provides a co-ordinating role. Next year there is a big seminar scheduled to share information and best practice. Hopefully they can operate effectively as a whole.

This has been suggested earlier, but is it possible or necessary for the ICC to run an undercover operation as regards to anti-corruption?
The primary strategy of the anti-corruption unit has been prevention. They are not a police force and have quite restricted investigatory powers. So the focus has been to try and prevent. In other words, gather intelligence, find out who the crooked bookmakers are and keep them away from players. When they come near the players, let us warn the players to stay away. And only if they ignore the warnings then nail them [players].

The criticism has been "How come you have never caught anybody?" But actually it is bit like a good lawyer; he keeps you out of court. He does not wait for you to get to court and then try to help you. The ACSU operates on a similar basis.

A policy of prevention relies on building trust between the ACSU and the players. Sting operations will only serve to destroy that trust. Obviously in some cases the ACSU has not prevented everything and sting operations have exposed things, but by and large the strategy of prevention is proving very successful.

In some ways, can it not be regarded as a success that the sting operations are only exposing the lesser-known people?
Yes, it means that the efforts at education and prevention at the international level are working and the match-fixers have been forced to turn their attentions to domestic levels. We would love to get to a situation where all countries have legislation in place which makes it a serious criminal offence to approach a player to fix a match.

The corrupt bookmakers are the problem. On the other hand, the players have got no excuse anymore - every single one of them has been educated, has been warned as to how these guys could entrap them. They have to say no.

Was there a loophole in the vigilance in the case of these suspended umpires?
Not exactly. The umpires also have rules which prohibit corrupt conduct. Certainly, one would have expected more of umpires. Maybe at the domestic level there could have been an oversight in not providing proper education. That responsibility and that of taking disciplinary action falls on the member boards. The ICC has no jurisdiction over domestic umpires.

A big talking point in the last few years has been the extent to which technology is used in assisting umpires, which is proving to be crucial in matches. Does there not remain large room for improvement in terms of consistent use of technology?
Technology is a moving beast. Technology will keep improving. At the moment we use ball tracking [Hawk-Eye] and Hot Spot. We do not want to limit ourselves to those two tools and we have to keep an open mind to new technologies. As far as consistent application of the DRS in all international cricket, the BCCI remains unconvinced. They are against it as a matter of principle; they also have concerns that the technology is not accurate enough. It is our job to try and alleviate their concerns.

Is it just the BCCI that is opposing the move?
Pretty much. The only time DRS is not deployed in other countries is due to costs.

During the ICC AGM in the Kuala Lumpur it was understood that the ICC was satisfied with the improvements made in Hot Spot and ball tracking by an ICC-appointed Cambridge professor. Has that progress been stalled now?
The testing is work in progress. But the point is, we have presented the results which confirm the improvements in the technology to the BCCI. Hawk-Eye is improving with new cameras, Hot Spot has new cameras. The technology available today is good and provides accurate and reliable outcomes. Often people will say, "Oh, that can't be right." But it is more often than not, their perception that is wrong rather than the ball tracking. The fact that the same technology is used to the degree it is in sports such as tennis is evidence of the level of its accuracy. It is not something developed in some garage.

We have shown the results of the testing to the Indian board. It is now a case of giving them a bit of breathing space and letting them make their own minds up. I do not believe in forcing anything on anyone. We know that Hot Spot is not going to be effective 100% of the time - there are faint edges which are not picked up at times. Yes, there are occasions when the ball-tracking technology may get it wrong, but it is not often; they occur very occasionally. The BCCI's view is that until it is 100%, they do not want to use it.

In your experience as an ICC employee for many years, what do you believe are the best methods to get the members - particularly Full Members - to approach the concerns of the ICC from a global perspective rather than from a national perspective? Or is this a pipe dream?
No, it is not pipe dream. It is something we need to work on. My view is that encouragement and persuasion always work better than a big stick. What you have to bear in mind is that not everyone's view as to what's best for the global game is the same. You might think it is best to have DRS, but someone else does not think it is. Who is right?

Does the ICC lack teeth for the purpose?
It is not a case of lacking teeth. People need to understand what the ICC is: it is a collective of members, it is a co-operative. If the ICC management wants to change the size of the sponsor logo on a team shirt, they would need seven Full Members to vote in favour of that move.

"My view is that encouragement and persuasion always work better than a big stick."

Recently the ICC carried out a detailed review of the governance. There were a whole number of recommendations provided in the Woolf Report. Quite naturally there are differences of opinion as to which recommendations should be implemented and which should not. It is going to be a hard road to get consensus. There is no easy way out. There will be heated debates, differences of opinion among the members. No organisation has ever changed its governance structure overnight. It is a process.

Is there a worry the business model of cricket is not sustainable?
I do not think anyone really has all the answers. So finding the optimum volume of cricket which generates optimum revenues is always going to have a bit of trial and error involved. Market forces will come into play. If the TV rights being paid for bilateral series start to drop, that might be a signal that you should play less but with added context.

That is why the World Test Championship is a good idea because all the matches will matter and people will fight hard to qualify. But will that trickle down to the teams lower in the rankings, and do we end up in a situation where there is a good argument for promotion, even in the top ten?
Whether that happens in Test cricket in the long run is something to be considered in the future. But certainly in the ODIs, the ICC board had already made a decision to introduce promotion and relegation in 2019. That means somewhere before that we need to start the process where we tell the teams that at a particular cut-off date you will be promoted or relegated. That process would probably need to be put in place sooner rather than later, so that teams have sufficient notice. The details as to how that is going to happen still have to be worked out, but promotion-relegation combined with qualification for the ten-team World Cup will provide incentives for the teams and context to bilateral ODI series.

Fortunately because of the traditions, Test cricket has always been about bilateral series. Having the World Test Championship provides fantastic context for Test cricket. The road to the first event in 2017 begins now. Only the top four teams will qualify. Already I am thinking about the cut-off date for the 2017 event. If the cut off were today, would India, for example, be in the top four? The quality of the top eight teams is now so close that we are going to see some very good cricket.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor and George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo