May 7, 2013

Silencing the voices of truth

Tim May's removal from the ICC cricket committee maintains the eclipse of the outspoken at the governance table

For once, Tim May was something less than frank. In the days before his summary removal from the ICC's cricket committee, May was careful not to speak publicly about his looming exit at the hands of the BCCI and their preferred candidate as players' representative, one of the board's in-house television commentators, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. Instead he let the heads of other players' associations speak out about the manner of his removal and its unsavoury implications.

This silence felt highly ironic, since May has, for more than a decade, been one of international cricket's most unapologetic voices. Since leaving his post as the chief executive of the Australian Cricketers Association in 2005, May has served exclusively as the figurehead of the Federation of International Cricketers Associations, more smoothly referred to as FICA. He has used this post to agitate, cajole, and rage against various ills afflicting the game, from near-sighted scheduling and questionable security arrangements to the often-lengthy delays in player payments.

As might be expected, May's position and his willingness to speak out on matters that did not reflect well on cricket or its administrators in many countries - certainly not just India - did not endear him to various boards or decision-makers. At one point in 2006 he was described as "unnecessarily belligerent" by the then ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed.

But May carried on fearlessly, safe at least in the knowledge that the players he represented were broadly supportive of his fierce convictions and plain-speaking methods. It was with grudging admiration that Speed wrote of May in his illuminating account of cricket administration, Sticky Wicket: "The players regarded him as their leader. They relied on his judgement and his understanding of the game's finances. We were to learn that he had a high level of support across the player constituency."

To gain further insight into May's trenchant presence at global negotiating tables over the past 15 years, it is worth recounting a few of his more memorable lines. These were seldom spoken with the dry wit May was admired for within the Australian dressing room when he bowled in fruitful tandem with Shane Warne. Rather, they were delivered with the kind of righteous fury familiar to those who watched Simon Katich in action at the Sydney Cricket Ground theatre in mid-2011 after the loss of his Cricket Australia contract.

On the ICC's prevarication over Zimbabwe in 2005: "Players are only too happy to recognise their responsibility to the game's image but equally recognise that the game's administrators should be answerable to the same standards of conduct expected of the players. The game's handling of the present Zimbabwean issue has disillusioned and disappointed the majority of players around the world."

On the new ICC Future Tours Programme, 2006: "The FTP is a disaster because it puts no upper limit on the amount of cricket that can be scheduled. There are five or six guys in the five leading sides in the world who play Tests and ODIs, and they are being flogged. You only have to look at the doping record in baseball to see that recovery not enhanced power, is the motivation for most drug misuse. The more we push players the more they might look at options."

On the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds affair, 2008: "The priorities of each board have been misdirected at best - one hell-bent on protecting its image and the other hell-bent on protecting its revenues. Allegations of intimidation, interference and some good old 'backroom bullying' have unfortunately been all too prevalent in this issue and other issues. Racism is a sensitive and very serious issue within our respective communities. The boards have failed in their responsibility to uphold their respect for this issue. They have failed the players, they have failed both the ICC's Code of Conduct and the ICC's Anti-Racism Code, and they have failed the communities where racism is a real, live issue."

The most concerning element of the May episode, and those that preceded it, is that continued skewering of those expressing unpopular opinions from time to time will leave the game's governance even more aimless and self-interested than it already is

On the Woolf Report, 2012: "Player rights will be better protected and respected if the game is governed responsibly and decisions are made in the wider interests of the game, rather than in the self-interests of those who sit on the board. Players want the ICC to be the best possible organisation it can - we want the ICC to grow the game, to make smart, unbiased decisions, and to be free of conflicts of interest in decision-making."

Frank and unfettered views these, all guaranteed to upset someone, somewhere in cricket's web of power and influence. In that sense, it is perhaps a surprise that it has taken this long for the BCCI - or another board - to curb May's influence at the ICC. He had already faced up to a certain marginalisation at the IPL, where India's steadfast refusal to recognise or share information with players' associations had forced cricketers to seek other opinions on safety, logistics, and the like.

But May's exit from the cricket committee should also be seen as the latest episode in a disheartening trend away from plain speakers in influential posts around cricket's governing body. Over the past decade or so, numerous figures have been pushed to one side, their names synonymous with various moments of rancour in the game, often though not always involving India. The recently deceased former match referee Mike Denness, the former ICC chief executive Speed, the would-be ICC president John Howard, and Speed's successor Haroon Lorgat all spring to mind. And now May.

These men did not share too much in common, and often found themselves opposed to each other. But one thread running through all their stories was a desire to address the game's pertinent issues head-on, regardless of how that might look. It is an approach that does not often win friends. It is also anathema to many on the subcontinent, who prefer a more circular, backroom process, for reasons of culture and history, as much as for the more immediate financial or political considerations of the moment.

The most concerning element of the May episode, and those that preceded it, is that continued skewering of those expressing unpopular opinions from time to time will leave the game's governance even more aimless and self-interested than it already is. Those who wish to take up posts in the future will do so having either sworn off their former frankness or having risen to the role because they never demonstrated such qualities in the first place. This is in every way a shame, for now more than ever cricket is in need of leaders capable of clear thinking and fearless speaking.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mick on May 8, 2013, 6:24 GMT

    Seems like we're running out of 'race cards' in the deck. Honestly, I think some people want to be offended so they can spread their mock outrage. How else to explain people turning this into a race issue when it's nothing of the sort?

  • Simon on May 8, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    @Gunjan, sounds like you don't know much about cricket either. Tim May was also an international player in his own right, who play 24 test matches and 47 ODIs for his country. He has then built a career on representing the rights of players since 1997. You would think, given that he played more internationals than Mr.Sivramakrishnan (your point was that Sivramakrishnan played international cricket and is therefore entitled to a spot on the board) and is not drawing a pay check from any cricket board, also given that he is a professional representative of the player's rights, you would think he is better qualified to be their representative at the highest administrative level. This is not a case of race or anything else, this is a case where a man who is better qualified on all counts has been overlooked for a man that is in the pay of one of the biggest cricket boards in the world? Is that not a little suspicious?

  • Peter on May 8, 2013, 0:13 GMT

    @ Gunjan Rathore. He was part of the winning Indian squad in Australia in 1985/86? My records show India lost both finals to Australia & he didn't even play a part. The 3 test series was drawn, albeit India had the better of tests, no doubt, as it also featured Steve Waugh's test debut. The facts are simple, May is a representative of the players, Siva is a representative of the BCCI. Now if the test captains wanted Siva (without outside pressure to them to vote one way) fine, but the initial vote was overwhelming to May. It is the process, not the people, that the main area of concern is here.

  • Peter on May 7, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    @ Meety. Have to agree with you totally. Here we have a board that is the richest, the largest population (ex China) yet the Ranji Trophy players get a pittance of what their counterparts in NZ, England, NZ & SA get, & you wonder why they don't want a player's association? Sort of reflects the culture, does it not? And still, we see posts here from the ill-informed that all is well & above board. Simply stunning.

  • t on May 7, 2013, 20:40 GMT

    thank you @Meety. your comment about "a seperate cricket council" being a "Win/win to the good guys" demonstrates the xenophobia that is still widely spread in the game. bet the good guys in the WHITE hat are pining for the good ol' days that existed from the inception of the game till the '90s when the "right" people were in charge of world cricket & rode roughshod over everyone else & dictated terms. the bad guys in the BLACK/BROWN hats are such an inconvenience, right? where do the get off trying to be powerful. lets see if cricinfo publishes this or are they too as one-eyed where they publish comments like yours but not ones that counter them..

  • Dummy4 on May 7, 2013, 20:39 GMT

    Yet another off-field skirmish that leaves the playing of the game a little more tarnished. The management of international cricket is not some medieval battlefield where the might of one camp is often wielded at the greater good of the game, so much so that imaginations of racism, revenge by emergent cricket nations of past colonial sins, and the like are given a new lease life. It is a shame that the innocent are always the victims. In this case both Tim and Siva. Both are their own men and can speak up for themselves. Thing to remember is that great former cricketers don't always make great administrators. Tim on the other hand has experience on his side. Any way, cut the crap out people, we don't need this.

  • Dummy4 on May 7, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    I just sense bias from the author while trumping up Tim May's credentials as supposedly a proponent of players interest ,he is painting L.Sivramakrishnan as "a BCCI'S in house television commentator " ...Dear Author, the in house television commentator was a leg spinner who played 9 test matches and 16 Odi's ,was a part of the winning indian squad in 1985-86 world Championship in Australia.maybe u do not know cricket ....face it with a +1 Billion audience ,the BCCI is the most powerful body and they will call the shots....and i never think any player FICA Member or otherwise has complained about IPL Dues..

  • Andrew on May 7, 2013, 9:16 GMT

    @Chris_P on (May 7, 2013, 6:14 GMT) - sometimes I think we'd be better off just forming a seperate cricket council. If you want to join fine, if you want to stick with the BCCI cough, cough ICC fine, we'll play our own Tests. The Ashes underpins our cricket economy, we would get Trans Tasman tests more often & I dare say SA would join - so we get quality cricket played. Throw in Ireland & maybe Zim for some one-off Tests, a reduction in irrelevant tours & hence a less crowded FTP - would I think (to quote the great Richie Benaud) would be MARVELLOUS! We'd have NO selective watering, we'd have a consensus on UDRS, & we'd impose a transfer duty on any contracted players in the IPL. Win/win to the good guys.

  • Andrew on May 7, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    @ sachin_vvsfan on (May 7, 2013, 6:49 GMT) - well firstly there was a re-vote AFTER May was voted in. Secondly there is apparantly proof that after the first vote, the BCCI did exert pressure on at LEAST one Board. It is not hard to follow the dots, Shiva - a BCCI employee versus May - a player advocate which is something the BCCI does not believe in.

  • Bhawani on May 7, 2013, 8:58 GMT

    If it is the players representative being elected, then all the players should have a vote and not just the captains. This would make 'lobbying', or was it 'rigging', quite difficult. The eligibility for the voters could be cricketers who have played a minimum of 15 Test Matches or 30 ODIs, and are currently available for selection, or make all the centrally contracted cricket players eligible. The second necessary eligibility criteria the players who have retired in the last 3 years, subject to having played a minimum of 15 Tests or 30 ODIs. The number of Tests or ODIs could be decided by ICC and FICA together.

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