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If the ICC revolution goes ahead, Giles Clarke would have completed a remarkable turnaround in England's relationship with India
January 22, 2014
England cosy up to power
There is no widespread hue and cry from those actively involved in English cricket over the clandestine deal that leaves the ECB on the brink of reasserting its position as a dominant force in the world game, no concerted calls for resignations or all-night vigils outside Lord's.
Instead, there is a perception that Giles Clarke, chairman of the ECB and inveterate entrepreneur, could be on the brink of pulling off one of English cricket's great diplomatic triumphs, a triumph that completes a remarkable turnaround in England's relationship with India: adversary to ally in less than seven years.
Idealists have raged - and with good reason - about the undemocratic nature of the plans that could leave India, Australia and England as the game's ruling elite, able to do much as they please, issuing instructions from on high to the weaker nations about how they should conduct their affairs, but there is no sign of widespread discontent. Nor will there be.
Much of English cricket is secretly pleased, applauding the dark arts which promise to bring the ECB back in from the cold. England's priority is to protect its interests whatever the outcome and Clarke is presumed to have played a political game as impressive as any produced by Lord Mandelson, the Labour Party's arch spin doctor, at the height of his powers. Because make no mistake, this arrangement has been driven by Clarke without the consensus of the ECB.
If the ICC's executive board accepts the proposals planned in secret for months, and formally put forward by a working party of the Finance and Commercial Affairs Committee, when it meets in Dubai on January 28 and 29, England will have a hold on power not seen since the removal of England's and Australia's veto in 1996.
English cricket is not guilty about this power grab because, by and large, it is heartily sick of guilt. For 17 years, England has felt itself excluded and mistrusted because of its colonial history, outmanoeuvred at every turn by countries often press-ganged whether they cared to admit it or not into voting on racial lines. The democracy which many are fighting so passionately to protect has regularly been proved to be a sham.
If power falls into the hands of the wealthy - and makes them wealthier still at the cost of developing the game further afield- then, many in English cricket shrug, at least that is how the world works.
That is not to suggest, if these proposals are forced through, that England's response will be triumphant. The prevailing mood will be more akin to relief. England perceives its return to the top table as a chance to impose greater efficiency and protect its interests - and those interests, we are assured, have the survival of Test cricket at their heart.
It is remarkable that it is Clarke who is on the verge of this diplomatic triumph. His enemies have long depicted him as a bully, even his friends accept that he relishes an intellectual argument as long as, more often than not, he emerges on the winning side.
When Clarke was appointed as chairman of the ECB in September 2007, with a few bruised adversaries left in his wake, there were more than a few jokes around the Shires along the lines of: "Just wait until Giles starts negotiating with India".
Many presented him as precisely the wrong type of man to represent England at the ICC. Once inside the ICC, delegates from some of the smaller nations were also quick to send up his pontifical style, but to dismiss it as bombast could not have been more wide of the mark because it came with shrewd judgements. Slowly, India began to listen and Clarke built a business-like rapport with N Srinivasan that binds together this potential coup. Along with their much greater share of revenue, which Clarke regards as appropriate for their position as the financial powerhouse of the game, he calculates that with this power will also come responsibility.
Clarke's business instincts are undeniable. Since financing his studies at Oxford by gambling, and beginning his working life in investment banking, he has succeeded in a wide variety of enterprises: wine, pets, storage solutions, online careers, data transmission equipment, gas and oil exploration (I seem to remember once ringing him on a horse somewhere in South America), hotel investments, even a chain of coffee shops in his native south west where one imagines he occasionally starts the day by flinging down a double espresso and a rapid perusal of the Financial Times.
Clarke knows how to make money. Sometimes he knows how to lose it. He wants to instruct the Test nations into ordered financial thinking, just as he did England's first-class counties. His achievements at county level are many, even if the financial crash put him in danger of overstretching himself by saddling the counties with a dangerous level of debt. But he is the sort of man India can do business with.
His diplomatic triumph is all the more remarkable because it grew from such ham-fisted beginnings. Clarke's initial relationship with India was frosty. England held out for a larger financial reward as a partner in the Champions League and was frozen out of India's eventual alliance with Australia and South Africa. England feared the rise of IPL and, in an attempt to maximise the rewards to its own cricketers and retain their loyalty as a result, entered a misguided dalliance with the Texan fraudster Sir Allen Stanford. Perhaps the early trading of blows was unavoidable.
"Stanford will not be my legacy," Clarke vowed more than three years ago as calls for him to resign were at their height. "Test cricket will be my legacy."
It was a brave claim. If the cabal claims power we will see the truth of it. Just as the Church of England is routinely described as the Tory party at prayer, so English professional cricket might be regarded as the Tory party at play. What remains to be seen is whether Clarke would be an heir to the Tory tradition of paternalism, and gently encourage India to buy into a future that really will protect Test cricket in its widest form, or whether he is largely interested in maximising England's financial return and, by accident or design, is now joining India on a self-destructive journey characterised largely by self-interest.
Those of us who want England to act as the conscience of cricket, acting independently on every issue not just for their own good, but for the good of the game, have looked on aghast at the machinations which have been revealed. The idea of sharing rewards seems to have been tossed aside. As for expansionism, it seems we can largely forget it.
Nevertheless, whatever side we find ourselves on, it would be an extraordinary political feat for Clarke not just to secure England's financial future, but to protect the traditional rhythms of the English summer, to foster long-term relation with India, to shock the smaller Test nations into something approaching financial probity and efficiency, and somewhere along the way probably find time for England to play a full part in the IPL and the Champions League.
Knowing Giles Clarke, he will be confident that he has done just that. But then he is a very confident man.
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