The controversy over ball-tampering in South Africa recently forced the ICC to set the ball rolling on the review of the code of conduct. Geoff Allardice, the ICC's general manager of cricket, is at the forefront of this effort.
In a sit-down interview with ESPNcricinfo in Kolkata at the end of the ICC's quarterly meetings in April, Allardice explained how the game's guardians are now seriously considering whether more offences should attract suspensions. He also asserted that ball-tampering could not be legalised, but agreed providing further powers to umpires could be considered.
Is world cricket in good health?
The way the game is played across the three formats - the quality of the play, the depth of talent, is as good as it has ever been. Cricket seems to be more popular than ever before, though we are juggling three different formats of the game.
The balance between international cricket and domestic T20 leagues is seeing more people attending matches than ever before. And the role of international cricket is being enhanced by the Test Championship and the ODI league which will start as the qualification for the 2023 World Cup. So we are bringing more context to the men's game.
Over the last 12 months the women's game has been going strength to strength, the quality of the play is improving, the interest from fans is increasing, the coverage is broader, and players are getting opportunity to make a career out of cricket. So there are a lot of positives at the moment around the game.
Despite the best intentions, there is a view that the demerits points system used in Test cricket has been applied inconsistently. Is anything to going to change there going forward?
Overwhelmingly the umpires and the match referees support the concept of demerit points very, very strongly. Previously there was very little in the way of consequences for repeated breaches of conduct previously had very little in the way of consequence. Now players are on notice on how they conduct themselves on the field.
What we are trying to do is improve player behaviour by providing a significant deterrent for players who repeatedly breach the code.
In terms of how many demerit points for each offence and what levels of offence need to be charged - those are on the agenda for changing the structure of the existing code of conduct.
Does the chief executives' committee approve the introduction of harsher sanctions?
The discussion [at the CEC meeting in Kolkata in April] was about boards taking ownership of their teams and being able to make sure their teams are playing the right way. We have analysed the code of conduct and there is a general trend of offences being more linked to disrespect of opponents, send-offs, abuse, sledging, physical contact. This has become evident over the last five years.
There will be questions around whether sanctions for particular offences are a little bit too lenient, but the principles of defining offences, grading them in certain levels of seriousness, applying sanctions that are as consistent as possible, and linking them to demerit points - that concept is something that was not questioned by the CEC. It is more the detail of how you operate within those four areas more than the concept of demerit points that is being looked into.
There is discussion around sledging and the idea that it creates an atmosphere that sometimes involves retaliation and generates ill-feeling between two teams, and whether there should be more clearly defined offences in that area.
Is there a line that exists anymore?
There are really two areas the code of conduct covers. One is the spirit of the cricket, which is respect for the team, opponents, umpires, and the game itself. And the second one is unfair play. Law 41 now identifies a range of behaviours that are considered to be unfair play. Our review aims to provide more definition of the breaches of spirit of cricket that need to be included in the code of conduct.
Is there scope to provide more teeth to the on-field umpires?
That will be one of the areas up for discussion. Last year we did give them the power to send a player off from the field for what they considered to be a level four offence. Now, we haven't seen one of those offences on the field during the course of a game in the past 12 months.
The other question really is whether the sanctions should be harsher because the majority of players who have breached the code of conduct in the last five-ten years have been fined. The number of suspensions unrelated to over rates is quite low. Over the past 18 months we have had four players suspended for accruing the threshold number of demerit points. The only other time that I remember a player was suspended for repeating the same offence was Ishant Sharma for three send-offs in the same Test [against Sri Lanka]. So the question is to be addressed by the Cricket committee is whether more offences in the code of conduct should be directly linked to suspensions.
And harsher suspensions?
It depends. It is a difficult one in terms of the sanctions the ICC applies at the moment under their current framework of the code of conduct against, say, the sanctions Cricket Australia imposed on their players under their own code of conduct.
Countries will view issues differently, and I think there is nothing wrong with one particular board dealing with its own players under its own code of conduct alongside the ICC. We deal with cricket-related issues at a match via match officials. We have cricket people sitting in the role of referees making decisions quickly so the players can move on with playing the game.
Whether the sanctions that referees can hand down for the offences are harsh enough is something that will be considered by the Cricket Committee.
The other burning topic has been ball-tampering. Is it time to consider making it legal?
The answer is no. The laws were reviewed pretty thoroughly 12 months ago. You use a cricket ball and it deteriorates naturally, and anything you either do to artificially stop its deterioration by polishing with artificial substances you shouldn't be using, or trying accelerate the deterioration is considered to be outside the laws of the game. Ball-tampering is something considered to be getting a team an unfair advantage. If you open it up, it will still continue to provide an unfair advantage to teams. There is a framework as to how far players can go to maintain the condition of a ball, but things that they do that are considered unfair are outside the laws of the game.
The broadcaster plays an important role when it comes to identifying ball-tampering and putting the spotlight on player behaviour. Should there be a code for broadcasters? Should there be ruling about the stump mics being kept on, for instance?
Lots of those things are being discussed. For instance, with the stump mics, the way it is used, the ICC has already put some guidelines in place a long time ago.
There are suggestions they should be [on] all the time. The idea that you need to turn stump mics down because players might say something that cannot be broadcast is not necessarily the right thing. But at the same time there are fairly innocent conversations between players which recently have been put into video clips and sent around. It is a normal part of the game - team-mates talking in the heat of the battle. While that may be of interest to some people, if it is used in a way to embarrass players when they are not really doing anything outside of the laws of the game, then there is a different angle to that.
In terms of player behaviour there have been instances where players have been caught abusing other players, questioning umpires and so on. Sometimes there's a send-off and sometimes a player utters an audible obscenity which is picked up on the stump mic while it is on. They [the mics] are supposed to be on that stage. The idea is for players to not say things that will offend people if they are heard on the stump microphone.
"Is it time to consider making ball-tampering legal? The answer is no. If you open it up, it will still continue to provide an unfair advantage to teams"
You have been at the forefront of implementing the Decision Review System from the time you took up your role at the ICC. You were also closely involved in research done by a team of engineers at MIT to improve the DRS. How has that evolved?
In the last 12 months the focus has been on the implementation of DRS in T20. Prior to that, DRS was operated basically by the Elite Panel umpires. But with T20 international appointments being made by the home boards, a lot of the home umpires are now responsible for operating DRS. So instead of 12 umpires running DRS, we now have about 30 guys running DRS. And to see a reasonably smooth implementation of that has been quite a positive for us.
The game is much better off as a result in terms of getting more correct decisions, taking a lot of the heat out of issues in the middle, and the respect for the decision-making of the umpires is intact.
At this stage there are no new types of technology that are being presented to us for inclusion in DRS, but we are looking at things like: how can we process the reviews faster, how do we get the most relevant information up as quickly as possible. For instance, the ball might pitch outside leg stump and the umpire would check [under the current protocol] for an inside edge before he goes to the ball-tracking, and then when he goes to ball-tracking there might be no review anyway, as the ball has pitched outside leg. If we are going to be using DRS in T20 cricket, are there things we can do to streamline that process and make it quicker? Get the right decisions, but get them in a much faster time frame.
The ICC has decided to award T20I status to all 105 Associates. Some might wonder why no qualification criteria were put in place before granting this status.
The ICC has taken a number of recent decisions that position the T20 format as the one to globalise the game, and the decision to award T20I status to all ICC Members for their men's and women's teams was another step along that path.
We currently have a large number of countries that have no official playing status in international cricket, which makes it hard for them to track their improvement through global rankings. So this decision will give Members increased incentive to arrange bilateral fixtures against nearby countries, with the results counting towards their global ranking. Our members have had to reach a certain level of performance, and provide a certain standard of playing facilities, to obtain both Test and ODI status, and there is no intention to change this approach for these two formats, but this is a significant step to make T20 international cricket the format for all ICC Members.
The World Cup Qualifiers were no doubt successful, but many players from the minor countries remain disappointed because their teams will not be part of the World Cup. They rue spending much of their lives chasing a dream that has now been dashed.
For those who have watched Associate cricket over many years, most of the Associates tournaments have those same sorts of consequences. It is quite cut-throat, as the World Cup Qualifiers were.
One of the things we are looking at at the moment is: how do we make sure the pathways are still relevant to the different formats - qualifying for the 50-over World Cup, qualifying for the World T20, who will play in the next Cricket World Cup Qualifier in 2022 [for the 2023 World Cup], and how do teams get there? A significant piece of work over the coming months will be to define the competition pathways across all formats for the next four years to give clear direction to the Associate countries.
The aspiration to be in the 50-over World Cup has always been the focus for the Associates. What we are trying to ensure is that not only is there a pathway for them to get into the World Cup, there is also an accessible pathway for them to get into the World T20 as well. If we get to a stage where the World T20 is played every two years, then the qualification for that event would come around more quickly and the Associates would get more frequent playing opportunities across the two formats.