June 16, 2014

Why cricket's future is bright

Cricket has suffered many evils recently - fixing, chucking, mankading and sledging, to name a few - but it will emerge from the darkness stronger, wiser and better

Don't you get the feeling that cricket has been through an almighty tornado lately? The ICC has shot itself in the foot again, as seen in the Big Three revealing their true colours. Then there have been more match-fixing tales involving well-known players, as well as burnout, depression, ugly sledging, chucking reports, mankading, and players choosing a quick buck over an international legacy.

Yet through all that upheaval the game marches on, showing its deep-rooted resilience. You sense that soon the game will begin to enjoy a rich period of balance, consolidation, growth and good old-fashioned fun again. From the gloom, light appears.

All these devilish happenings have exposed nasty boils that need lancing. These open wounds, some of them cancerous, are godsends and blessings to aid a sport that needs constant balancing. While the wounds are attended to and the healing goes on, the game gets more immune and enriched with new wisdom and enlightenment. All this crap we have endured lately is actually a great thing.

The Big Three have tripped up nicely enough for all to notice. Their leaked position paper exposed their overall motive - more of this and lots of that for them, because they have muscle. That they excluded themselves from any possible demotion under a proposed two-tier Test format was a ripper. India's demand of a humongous slice of the pie was no surprise, but the threats to form its own breakaway body were hilarious. India needs to sort out its leadership fast before it can expect the rest of the world to truly acknowledge its rightful position.

The Big Three won't get away with bullying any longer. The masses are anticipating their motives and moves. They will win here and there but the way of the world will ensure they are pulled in often and hard. The cricket media and the overall cricket community are a hardy bunch of men and women who know a rotten scheme when they smell one. The game is superbly policed, if not governed.

The match-fixing bracket will cop enough through this recent highly public laundry of dirty deeds, and back off a little. While anything is illegal, men will operate in foul ways to prosper. But don't you sense that players are going to be harder to con while the pay is reasonable for playing clean?

Mankading is not so much about spirit but about not breaking the rules. The umpire should give the repeat offender out, taking out the friction between teams altogether

This latest series of investigations, from the Supreme Court in India to the High Court in London, will send out a clear message to stitch up that hideous deep cut in our game. It finally appears that a necessary move by governments to pass greater penalties for fixing and give teeth to the anti-corruption bodies to prosecute in tandem with law enforcement will eventuate in due course. All a result of this painful public airing.

The Cronje affair brought in the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, and now the various cases dominating headlines will bring about the proper power to deal with the corrupt. While it's never a guarantee that chemotherapy will forever snuff out the cancerous cells, its worth is undeniable. Harsh jail terms must be introduced.

The ICC cricket committee is waking up to the chucking pandemic. It realises now that if it doesn't act quickly then in ten years half the bowling attacks around the world will either be illegal or downright ugly to watch. While the officials are fixing bowling actions, maybe they could tackle bat thickness and boundary size to bring the balance of the game back to its rightful position. With a bit of thought and a collective effort to do so, the game will benefit greatly.

When players see that the game is in solid shape, that fewer one-dayers are scheduled, and a better balance of all three formats is in place, they will be blinded by the need to take every opportunity to play international cricket over wanting IPL riches, to create a legacy and a meaning for all those to follow. This, I believe, will all fall into place when the storm passes and the calm, balmy days arrive.

I am confident leaders and captains will soon come together and form a pact. The MCC has a world committee that should be downsized to make room for a special annual captains' run, where representatives from each country - captains, vice-captains or player-association bosses - meet and suss out the main issues of the game.

They can tidy up the overly personal sledging that tarnishes the game, and especially the ugly image that wrongly influences the young of how to dominate matches. This must be discussed and mutually settled, along with mankading, ridiculous referrals for 50/50 lbws, and those low catches, which should be sorted out on the field instead of in the 2D review room.

Mankading is not so much about spirit but about not breaking the rules. If a non-striker is trying to gain an advantage the umpire must communicate clearly as to the consequences, if repeated. The umpire should give the repeat offender out, taking out the friction between teams altogether.

All this and more can be worked through when the captains pledge an oath and combine to fight for a better spirit and a clear regard for the rules. This pact idea is not a romantic fool praying to the heavens. It is is a bloody necessity.

These dark times are nearly at an end. I see 2015 and a sunny yet combative World Cup looming as the greatest platform on which to launch a new era for the decades to come.

Life throws up pain and tough times to ensure a balance is sought. It can't all be roses and bloom. There has to be a bit of devil and gloom to remind us to not be complacent and to not take anything for granted. These last 12 months will serve us well.

A year from now, we will experience a new dawn.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand