Alan Isaac is used to cricket challenges. In his playing days, the man slated as heir apparent to the ICC presidency, was a well-respected left-hand batsman in Wellington senior club cricket. He was good enough to captain the province's B team for three seasons, but that was as good as it got. Finding a place in the senior Wellington side in those days wasn't easy. Wellington's batting was strong in the 1980s. Bruce Edgar, Robert Vance, John Morrison, Jeremy Coney and Evan Gray, all Test players, had a lock on batting spots. It was, needless to say, a pretty strong outfit.
Those in the know remember the man they call "Zac" as a solid, dependable batsman who knew his limitations and sold his wicket dearly. He had made age-group representative teams, and played senior rugby for three Wellington clubs, mainly at fullback.
Isaac was made a partner of accounting firm KPMG at 24, and became treasurer of the Wellington Cricket Association around the same time. Fourteen years ago, he was made chairman of partners at KPMG and retained the job until stepping away in 2006. The 58-year-old businessman faces another set of stiff challenges in the years to come, assuming his path to the presidency, around June 2012, proceeds smoothly.
These are testing times for the game. Isaac will serve as Sharad Pawar's deputy for two years, learning the ropes before stepping up. He sits on a range of boards, including the high-profile Rugby New Zealand 2011 Ltd board, overseeing the biggest sports event in New Zealand since the 1990 Commonwealth Games - next year's Rugby World Cup - and is well regarded as a seasoned, astute operator.
He makes no bones about his disappointment that Sir John Anderson, his predecessor as New Zealand Cricket chairman, could not accept the Australasian nomination for ICC president at the second time of asking.
Anderson was New Zealand's nomination, alongside former Australian prime minister John Howard, when the two bodies first got together to finalise their choice. With the panel of five charged with settling on the candidate comprising three Australians and two New Zealanders, it was no surprise Howard got the nod. This despite Anderson's long, credentialled career as a cricket administrator versus Howard's zero experience, allied to Australia's inability to come up with a cricket person.
"The realities are that when the ICC sells its commercial rights, a large proportion of that value comes from the Indian market. In my 22 months at the ICC table, I've had no problems dealing with the Indians or any other countries"
Isaac doesn't believe India's clout is a problem
When Howard was deemed unacceptable to six of the ICC full members, it was time for Plan B. However, Anderson rejected overtures to put his name up again. Isaac was disappointed when Anderson gave him the news but he was encouraged to put his hat in the ring. Australia, though stubborn in defence of their first choice, have backed Isaac. But if it seems Isaac, New Zealand Cricket's chairman for the last couple of years, got in as other preferred choices fell away, it doesn't worry the man himself. ''I don't feel like I'm second or third pick. I was encouraged through the process to be available by several people,'' he said.
So what will the ICC get? A chartered accountant who is careful to think before he speaks and who won't shy away from being described as a pragmatist.
Isaac knows the ICC's reputation is not as good as it should be for a sport's governing body. Polishing that reputation is among the goals he wants to achieve in the next four years. He defends the ICC against charges that it gets things wrong too often: "Often no one has the right answer, so people who have the responsibility have to get on and make the best of all the information they've got. When you're sitting on the outside and haven't got all the facts, or have a particular reason for having a different decision made, you are always going to be criticised. Often there have to be compromises as part of getting a more important decision agreed. That's just life. It's about being pragmatic."
He is a strong believer in treating others as you would want to be treated. ''It's about trust and respect. If you don't have that, you are going to struggle. "My priority is to get that trust and respect and then at the end of the day we can build a better reputation for the ICC."
The ICC will find they have a man who is unequivocal that the international game must remain top of the heap. Isaac cites other sports - rugby, rugby league, football - where club or privately owned franchises have pushed for top billing.
In his mind, when it comes to priorities, the question of international versus domestic or privately owned franchised-based cricket is a no-brainer. He supports the idea of some form of Test championship, and in an age where India is singled out for criticism as having too much say in how the game is organised and wielding too heavy a wallet, Isaac takes a practical view. "The realities are that when the ICC sells its commercial rights, a large proportion of that value comes from the Indian market. In my 22 months at the ICC table, I've had no problems dealing with the Indians or any other countries."
If a Test championship can be worked into shape, he'll be happy. "Market research, and the view of administrators and players, is that it would be better if there was some context, but we're under pressure because of the volume and competing interests."
And those who suspect Isaac might push New Zealand's barrow with a shade too much energy might be surprised. "The role of the ICC is to act in the best interests of cricket. If I'm elected, that is an honour for New Zealand, but clearly the responsibility is to act in the best interests of world cricket."
David Leggat is chief cricket writer and chief sports reporter of the New Zealand Herald