MCC Spirit of Cricket September 1, 2015

Marsh wants 'elite group' to oversee game

Michael Clarke says the onus must be on Test nations to ensure people come to watch the game Ryan Pierse / © Getty Images

Rod Marsh, the former Australia wicketkeeper, longtime coach and selector, has called for cricket's global funding to be overseen by an independent "elite group" to determine whether administrators are making the right decisions about its future. He also declared Test-playing countries should be suspended if they are deemed to be failing this task.

In a wide-ranging Cowdrey Lecture to a packed Nursery Pavilion at Lord's, Marsh also reckoned cricket should place greater restrictions on the size and power of bats, but ease restrictions on ball tampering. Among other proposed changes to the game, Marsh argued for the return of the back foot no-ball law, and the reduction in the DRS to remove ball-tracking technology for lbw decisions.

Starting with his views on the Spirit of Cricket, Marsh offered a raft of suggestions to improve the game itself, but it was in his suggestion for oversight of the game's governance and administration that he may have struck a nerve. The way cricket is run has been the subject of much scrutiny around the release of the documentary Death of a Gentleman, and Marsh's views reflected discontent about how the game was not healthy enough outside the game's most prosperous three nations.

While commending the rejigged ICC for committing $10 million to a Test match fund to subsidise the format in countries other than India, England and Australia, Marsh said the money in the game needed to be better utilised to help it to grow. He pointed to the long-standing struggle to draw crowds to Test cricket in South Africa, despite boasting the world's top-ranked side, as evidence of his concerns. Free admission to Test matches for children was among his suggestions to grow fan interest and participation.

"Along with the $10 million the ICC are giving to the seven countries maybe they should spend a little more by getting an elite group of people together to both suggest ideas and to actually review the way the money has been spent," Marsh said. "It may take a little while to get it right in each country but it will become pretty obvious by attendances and revenue streams which countries have embraced ideas and spent the money wisely. 

"Sadly, those who don't comply and can't get Test cricket moving in their country should be temporarily suspended from playing further Test matches. Another member could then have access to the ICC funding and have the opportunity of playing Test match cricket.

"How can the Test match crowds in South Africa be so poor? They have a magnificent team with arguably the best fast bowler in the world and possibly the best batsman in the world. Yet no one goes to watch them play at home. Come on you guys get active, there will be a time when your product isn't that good and you'll struggle to exist."

The no-ball law has been a source of contention for many around the world, with Donald Bradman and Richie Benaud among other Australians to feel that the older back-foot law was superior to the current front-foot model. Marsh made his pitch for it to be changed by layering the effects of a change on several levels, from greater safety for umpires to better judgment of lbw decisions, thus reducing the need for DRS oversight.

"I do believe there should be a DRS but I'm afraid I have little faith in the ball tracking systems," Marsh said. "I have witnessed too many predictions on what path the ball will take that just don't ring true to me. I may add they don't ring true to anyone who has played a lot of cricket.

"So, I would let the umpires call on all lbw decisions stand unless it was an absolute howler. The batsman knows if he's hit the ball and will ask for a review if given out. There won't be too many howlers on height or direction because we'll be playing under the back-foot no-ball law and the umpire will have had more time to steady his eyes and give a very accurate assessment. The umpire can place a disc or make a mark where the back foot should land which basically means the bowler's front foot is behind the front line. 

"If the bowlers resort to dragging on their back foot as they did in years gone by, we now have a third umpire who can alert the on field umpire and he can then place the disc accordingly. The added bonus to all this is that the Indian board may well agree to this and Test cricket would then be played under the same playing conditions worldwide for every Test match."

Marsh struck one of his more strident notes in arguing that bat technology had got too far out of hand. He observed how the game of golf had dealt with similar technological problems in terms of advances in the distances the golf ball can be struck by high-powered drivers, or spun with heavily grooved irons. Marsh cited the fact some golf clubs are legal for social players but illegal in elite competition, and asked why this was not the case in cricket.

"Maybe we can limit the size of a cricket bat for international and first class cricket but still allow those who play the game every weekend can use whatever they like," he said. "I would put a restriction on the width of the edges because I will never condone a player being totally beaten yet the ball still traveling 70 or 80 metres for four or six off the fat edge. That's just wrong!"

Enjoying his chance to correct a few perceptions about how the game was played by the great Australian team of the 1970s, Marsh denied making a sledge to Ian Botham that has gone down in cricketing folklore. He used it to underpin his message about how the game should be played, with respect among teammates, foes and officials the key principle.

"What remains vitally important is the players are educated at an early age that above all they must respect the game, the umpires, their opposition and their own team mates," he said. "I was fortunate enough to be involved in three National Academies in Australia, India and England. This message of respect was very much part of my non-negotiables for these young tyros. 

"I completely understand how players can get hot under the collar during the contest, but I will never understand how personal abuse can make the situation any better. This should not and cannot be tolerated in our game.

"It makes my blood boil every time I am quoted as having delivered one of the best ever cricket sledges. Supposedly I said to Ian Botham on his arrival at the crease during a Test match 'how's your wife and my kids?' He also supposedly replied 'the wife's fine but the kids are retarded'. I can promise you I would never ever make a comment like that to a fellow cricketer. I have too much respect."

In more recent times, Marsh pointed to the confrontation between Wahab Riaz and Shane Watson during this year's World Cup as an example of tremendous competition and entertainment, and was heavily critical of the decision to fine both players. Instead, "They should have both been given a bonus."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig