Test cricket's ten-year plan and more, 2001

Notes by the Editor

Graeme Wright

In Harvard Square in 1896, a man was knocked off his bike by a wagon and subsequently died. The wagon owners claimed that the accident "could not have been helped". "There are some things which must not happen," retorted Josiah Royce, professor of philosophy at Harvard. There are some things which can be avoided.

Royce's reply came back time and again as Hansie Cronje's reputation was peeled away, leaf by leaf, at the King Commission hearings last summer. It wasn't so much the facts themselves: the bribes from bookmakers, the attempts to fix matches and inveigle his team-mates into corrupting cricket's, indeed sport's, very ethos. It was the date when Cronje first crossed the line and accepted money from the Indian bookmaker, M. K. Gupta: 1996. We would learn later, through India's Central Bureau of Investigation, that Mohammad Azharuddin's involvement with Gupta began a year earlier. Still significant. It was in February 1995, you see, that Mark Waugh and Shane Warne admitted to the Australian Cricket Board that they had accepted money from another bookmaker. Admissions that the ACB, with the compliance of the International Cricket Council, whose chief executive was a former ACB employee, chose to keep under wraps. What I kept wondering was whether Azharuddin and Cronje would have become involved with Gupta had those two supposedly responsible organisations gone public immediately, and made an example of Waugh and Warne. As it was, the sound of silence rang out loud and clear both to bookmakers and cricketers. The game's administrators were not going to interfere in their activities. It took the Indian police to throw some light on cricket's darker side.

Cricketers are only cricketers

As Cronje's complicity was revealed, it was remarked that it was fortunate Jim Swanton was not here to witness this latest shame. It would have broken his heart, some said. Yet that misread the man. He would certainly not have condoned Cronje's behaviour; nor Azharuddin's. He would have been deeply saddened at the way cricket's reputation had once again been sullied by those who set their own interests above those of the game. But he would have been one of the first to find understanding and forgiveness, as well as advocating the appropriate punishment. And he wouldn't have been alone. Towards the end of his lengthy inquiry into match-fixing in Pakistan, Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum was similarly inclined. "To those disappointed with their fallen heroes," he wrote in his report, "it be suggested that humans are fallible. Cricketers are only cricketers."

Cronje's worst crime was not against cricket - accepting the bookies' bribes or trying to fix matches - but against morality and decency. It was in the way he ensnared the two most vulnerable members of his team, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams. Cronje's white team-mates could afford to send him on his joking way with a rejection; he was just the captain, one of the boys. For Gibbs and Williams, however, even in the rarefied atmosphere of the new South Africa, Cronje was the white man in charge. It takes more than a rainbow for generations of social conditioning and economic deprivation to be washed away.

A system of self-aggrandisement

Of the three government-sponsored inquiries into match-fixing, in India, Pakistan and South Africa, India's CBI enjoyed much wider scope than the terms of reference that constricted both Qayyum and Justice Edwin King. As the title of their report implied, the CBI had freedom to investigate "related malpractices", allowing them to be wonderfully critical of cricket administrators in a way the other two could not. In spite of much post-Cronje posturing, the CBI decided, the office-bearers of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had been negligent by not looking thoroughly into alleged malpractices in the past, even though there had been clear indications of the malaise in the game there. The primary reason behind this was "the lack of accountability of the BCCI to anyone". The BCCI, the report made clear for anyone who didn't know it, "perpetuates a system of self-aggrandisement". It is not only in India, either. The men in clover become so besotted by the opiate of their own importance that they lose the will to confront problems. The trappings of power become more important than the judicious exercise of the power.

This might matter less if cricket were still primarily a domestic game, given a touch of glamour by Tests and one-day tournaments. But it isn't. It is an international sport, a multi-million-pound enterprise, and the question of accountability spotlights the dilemma at the heart of the game. Who does administer it? Well-meaning national representatives with other business and personal interests, or a coterie of power-players pursuing their own political or self-serving agendas? The ICC's few years as a governing body - it can hardly be called independent or autonomous - have not been glorious. It is still perceived as little more than a talking shop, not always the sum of its fractious parts and impotent to act without the agreement of its member countries, with their own vested interests.

The ICC's initial response to Cronje's admission of guilt was to resist calls for a worldwide inquiry into match-fixing, preferring that each country should determine its own methods of inquiry. This after India and Pakistan had already held inconclusive inquiries in recent years. It took a little prodding from the ECB's more proactive chairman, Lord MacLaurin, to get the nine Full Members around a table. In due course, the ICC established its own Anti-Corruption Unit under the former commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Condon. Even so, its powers are limited. Although nominally independent, the unit is none the less financed by the ICC and its role is to support the ICC's Code of Conduct Commission. By its own terms of reference, this Commission "recognises and confirms that each member has sovereign rights over its own players, umpires, team officials and administrators and... is responsible for all disciplinary matters". In other words, the countries, not the Anti-Corruption Unit, not the Code of Conduct Commission, not the ICC, decide what's what.

Take throwing. Cricket balls this time, rather than matches. On December 31, 1999, the ICC banned the Pakistan fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, because of a suspect bowling action. Pakistan alleged racial bias, a card that's beginning to fray at the edges, and appealed directly to ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya and cricket chairman Sir Clyde Walcott. In little more than a week, the Rawalpindi Express was steaming in again, though only in one-day internationals. The thinking behind his reprieve had touches of Alice: Shoaib's bouncer was the delivery that concerned the ICC bowling panel; bouncers are not legitimate deliveries in one-day cricket; ergo, Shoaib won't bowl bouncers and his bowling won't be suspect. Just to be on the safe side, the panel's power to suspend bowlers with suspect actions was revoked, and eventually replaced by a three-stage process that initially puts the issue back in the hands of individual countries.

More recently, there have been discussions about relocating the ICC headquarters to a country with a more favourable tax regime. The United Kingdom, currently at any rate, taxes sporting bodies; the suggested alternatives do not. It explains why the finance men slip away from Lord's to do their deals. In addition to this possible move, the ICC needs a new chief executive to replace David Richards when he has worked through the notice he gave last October. The time must be coming for the member countries to put the ICC on a proper business footing, with full-time executives empowered to take decisive, unilateral action as a centrally functioning administration. Otherwise, it makes no odds whether it's in Singapore or Switzerland, Dublin or Dubai.

Test cricket's ten-year plan...

The ICC's independence might not matter so much if it weren't for its global ambitions and the income cricket now generates through broadcasting rights. Last year, the ICC agreed an eight-year television deal worth a minimum $US550 million (£355 million), to include the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, 2007 in the Caribbean, and other tournaments. Such is the attraction of one-day internationals, mostly to viewers in the subcontinent. So that Test cricket also has a focus over and above traditional rivalries and piecemeal series, the ICC has agreed a ten-year programme, in which the Test-playing countries meet each other home and away over two five-year periods, and introduced a Test Championship along the lines of the Wisden World Championship. Each series will comprise two or more Tests, accompanied by a one-day series - perhaps as a way of countering the profusion of "offshore" tournaments regarded by some as the feeding-ground of illegal bookmakers and their bribes. A glance at the list on page 28 suggests Test cricket, too, is not beyond suspicion.

Traditional series such as the Ashes will maintain their accustomed timetables within the five-year cycles. While there are bound to be anomalies - cricket revels in them - the ten-year plan prevents Test newcomers like Bangladesh, welcomed last year as the tenth Test-playing nation, from being sidelined in the way Zimbabwe were by Australia, England and West Indies after joining the club in 1992. It also provides a framework into which other countries can be worked; Kenya, who already have one-day international status, have applied to become the 11th Test member. What will be a test for the weak is going to be no more than another outing for the strong.

...brings an official Test Championship

The new ICC Test Championship gets under way this summer with England's series against Pakistan. Wisden is providing data for a league table based on recent series results. Like our own World Championship, introduced in 1996 in the hope that it would stimulate official rankings for Test cricket, the ICC's system will be based on the results of the latest series, home and away, between each of the teams: two points for a win, one for a draw. The interest shown by the media in the Wisden World Championship, not least when England hit bottom, certainly indicated the popularity of a league table. Hardly had a series finished than journalists and broadcasters were phoning or e-mailing to discover their country's new position.

Not that the Australian media have bothered of late. With five straight series victories behind them after hammering West Indies 5-0, giving them a world-record 15 successive Test wins, Steve Waugh's team were impregnably on top. India could stop their winning sequence, if only through drawn games. Reports suggest that pitches will be on the lifeless side to counter Australia's bowling strength. At least the directives are coming from official quarters this time; when Australia lost at Delhi in 1996, bookmaker Gupta claims to have influenced the pitch preparation. The Australians were setting off for India as this Almanack went to press. England, meanwhile, were about to take on Sri Lanka, the last country to beat Australia in a Test and a series.

A series to savour

Whatever the results of those series, they will not diminish interest in this summer's England-Australia Tests. More than a decade has passed since England held the Ashes and, a year ago, the prospect of winning them back was the stuff of fantasy and stand-up comedians. But from the evidence of 2000, England are again starting to take a grip on their game. It is not only the victories over Zimbabwe, West Indies and Pakistan, impressive and encouraging as they were. It is the way the players approached their cricket. After years of managers and coaches who have talked a useful game, it has been a pleasure, not to say relief, to watch a coach who keeps his words to a minimum and lets his team's cricket do the talking. (Lord MacLaurin, who apparently finds himself being misquoted rather regularly, might want to employ a similar tactic.) Duncan Fletcher will be under no illusions when it comes to taking on Australia. Nor will Nasser Hussain. But between them, England's coach and captain will instil the discipline and pragmatism that underpin the most successful sides.

Running parallel with England's resurgence was West Indies' continuing decline. As when Australia were in the doldrums in the 1980s, and England in the 1990s, cricket is the biggest loser. The game needs its star attractions: very few countries are major draws. West Indies were not always pretty to watch in their glory days of high fives and riding high, but they were always good for the box office: they bristled with quality. The background to their demise sounds all too familiar: cricket's diminishing importance in schools, and poor pitches. West Indies' success in winning the Under-15 World Challenge at Lord's last year suggests they are not without young talent. It has to be nurtured, however. The West Indies board have attracted investment through television deals and sponsorship, but cricket in the Caribbean has never been flush. A forward-looking ICC might even look at its own millions and consider whether its global ambitions can afford a weak West Indies.

Planning for the future

Some have said there was an element of good fortune in England's success. Marcus Trescothick, for example, one of the summer's finds, was not a first choice: he came into the side because of injury. It would also be possible to subscribe to the theory, given much currency in England's down time, that success comes in cycles. That depends on how long you're prepared to wait. Good fortune and cycles obscure the planning. Not merely the planning that Hussain and Fletcher put into the team itself, but the planning and strategy that have been set in motion for English cricket's long-term future.

Heaven forbid that these Notes should praise men in suits. But it seems to me that Lord MacLaurin came to the ECB convinced of at least two things. English cricket's future lay with the success of the England team: what MacLaurin, with his businessman's nous, called the shop window. The other was the poor quality of county cricket as a provider of Test cricketers. England Test cricketers, at any rate. That was only four years ago. Not really long enough to drag the game, a way of life for many and something of a sinecure for others, out of the 19th century and into the 21st. But he and the ECB could be getting there.

Much of what they have done and are doing, not only at county level but also in the recreational game, has been viewed with suspicion. Change, let alone radical change, is rarely welcomed. We fear it will destroy what we hold dear. Yet destruction, it has been said, is only the shady side of progress, and the world of cricket is bent on progress.

As Mihir Bose's article on match-fixing explains, multinational companies have seen cricket as a means of furthering their development in Asia, the game's great growth area. But the commercial realities are different for English cricket, which exists in an established economy with more stable growth. The days when sponsors wanted their names associated with cricket for its traditional values and its place in English life have passed. And they passed rather quickly. These days, the money follows football. When England team sponsors Vodafone extended their contract with the ECB until 2005, the new four-year deal was worth £12 million, although "with additional substantial bonuses available for success in Test matches and one-day internationals". When the same company became the principal sponsor of Manchester United for a similar period, the price was £30 million.

This doesn't just put cricket in context. It highlights the problems the board face every time they have to find sponsors, and why a winning national team, attracting good headlines, is essential for English cricket all the way down to the grassroots. Last year the game bade farewell to one of its oldest sponsors, when Cornhill Insurance called it a day. It was sad to see them go. They were as concerned for the game's values as for England's success; those who provided the human face to the corporate body were friendly, warm and generous - as, indeed, cricket's sponsors tend to be. Cornhill benefited commercially from their relationship with cricket since 1978, and deserved to. The game would have been poorer without them, and not only in a financial sense. They came in at a bleak time, during the Packer schism, and remained supportive through less and less thick and lots of thin. It was good they could bow out with England on the rise again.

England claim their cricketers

There are new Test sponsors, npower, presumably providing power if not funding to the nth degree. But financing the county game continues to tax cricket's administrators, and some counties have good reason to be concerned about their futures. So do their members, and 2000 gave them plenty to talk about, with the introduction of the two-division County Championship, a summer of almost continuous international cricket (the blueprint for summers ahead) and the arrival of central contracts for Test cricketers. Some of them, anyway. The system, which essentially put those with central contracts under England's management rather than their county's, was by no means perfect. Counties losing players who were not under contract complained they did not receive the same level of compensation.

However, lessons were learned, and adjustments have been made. In principle, the system worked. At first sight, it appeared more beneficial for bowlers than batsmen to have time off between Tests, though England's 37-year-old wicket-keeper-all-rounder-cum-one-day-opening-batsman-cum-stand-in-captain will have appreciated not having to drive back to The Oval for a county game, as he would in days gone by. County members see central contracts as one more downgrading of the domestic game; the counties themselves recognise who butters their bread and have gone along with them. Meanwhile, that large constituency which follows cricket, without necessarily supporting a particular county, started going around with a smile on its face as England hit their stride. If England get to The Oval with the Ashes still at stake this summer, they'll have to cordon off the Harleyford Road.

The first 12 players given central contracts may be found on page 1517. One can imagine the snorts of derision around some counties when Craig White's name was announced. Then there was the mysterious collapse in the street that put his health, let alone his cricket career, in doubt. So his emergence as a strong candidate to be England's cricketer of the year was worth celebrating. England look all the better for having a fast-bowling all-rounder on board, and always have; the search for one has gone on too long. If White fits the bill, it will also take some pressure off Andrew Flintoff, of whom too much was expected too soon. He was in danger of becoming the Moby Dick of English cricket, forever pursued by his potential.

There's more to it than England, though

After advocating a two-division County Championship in these Notes in 1991, I could hardly turn on it now it has come to pass. Not that I would want to. Three-up three-down may be one too many in a nine-team division, but the third place certainly concentrated some minds last summer. Not all the cricket was noticeably better. And pitches still helped bowlers too much, even allowing for the third-division summer. Batsmen, with five bonus points at their disposal to the bowlers' three, were outscored 576 to 759. No wonder the ECB had their flying squad of pitch inspectors sitting by the phone - if anyone sits by the phone any more. However, if there are fewer meaningless matches, there should be more meaningful cricketers. Not Test cricketers perhaps, but players people will want to watch, and who will stiffen the sinews of those destined for the England team. Even if the county game's role is playing second fiddle to international cricket, it's still a lovely way to spend a day.

There will be, and indeed already are, players who feel they belong in Test cricket, and see Division One competition as essential to the pursuit of their ambition. County contracts increasingly look one-sided affairs: players want the security but not the tie. Yet any trend to pursue advancement through the top counties could have unforeseen consequences. It could offer a rationale for the more radical reformers who advocate a smaller group of first-class counties. After all, if the best players don't want to mix it with the not-so-good, why not have a compact, more competitive first-class structure that brings together only the best? The Professional Cricketers' Association might like to consider this aspect as the players start to come and go.

Life's confusing enough...

The ECB, meanwhile, have been considering slow over-rates in county cricket and decided to call time on loitering with intent. It has been obvious for years now that fines weren't working. Surrey's £8,000 fine last year was a worthwhile investment when they reaped £123,000 in prize money; 12 other counties also incurred financial penalties. Spectators have been short-changed for long enough. From this season, counties will lose Championship points at a quarter-point per over if they fail to average 16 an hour. In one-day games, six runs will be credited to the batting side for each complete over not bowled within the specified playing time.

Someone might also care to consider the county programme in general. Having had a more active interest in following county cricket last summer, I found it anything but consumer conscious. I'm sure this wasn't intentional on the ECB's part, but it struck me that the fixture list took little account of the fact that people like to go to cricket. As for the League, it may be national, but there is only a notional pattern to it: some teams play under lights, others don't; some teams invariably seem to have games in hand. You should be able to read a newspaper in mid-season and know what's going on without a calculator and the back of an envelope. The Championship is not quite so confusing, but two divisions of nine are obviously not ideal when teams have to mark time. Maybe it is an unfair criticism, but I don't think I am alone in finding the county programme irritating.

Still, the domestic season does end. A greater problem, from the viewpoint of editing this Almanack, is the increasingly seamless international season. This edition carries two Test series and a one-day tournament played in Sri Lanka from June to August, and three one-day games between Australia and South Africa in August, played indoors at Melbourne's Colonial Stadium. On the same day as the third Melbourne game, a one-day tournament started in Singapore, but that is for next year's Wisden. We had to draw a line somewhere, and the Equator seemed as good a line as any. As for putting the Sri Lankan and Melbourne games into a season, they have been designated 2000 and, when necessary to differentiate them from the English season, the host country's initials appear in brackets: for example, 2000 (SL).

Wisden online

In essence, the old, established rhythms of northern and southern hemisphere seasons have become a thing of the past. Once the ICC's ten-year plan comes into effect, there's every chance of Test cricket being played concurrently in England, northern Australia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The Almanack will continue to record them for posterity, but Wisden will also be able to capture them immediately, thanks to the expansion of our website, wisden.com. There will be live scores, match reports and rapid analysis, as well as constantly updated records and career figures. Moreover, by incorporating 138 Wisdens, the website links the present with the past to provide an interactive reference database. The future has become a reality.

In the eight years since I stepped down as editor of Wisden, cricket's growth has been enormous; the issues as well as the games have become manifold. Following the match-fixing story brought that home. Wisden Cricket Monthly captured the breaking news through its regular Cronjology feature; the Almanack has had to encapsulate, to provide an overview. A website, journalistically, offers the world. But it also provides a challenge. There is no shortage of websites. Anyone can put up stats and stories. Wisden has to do more than that. It has to maintain its reputation for accuracy, authority and independence. If it doesn't, we know from more than a century's experience that someone will let us know.

© John Wisden & Co