Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer
World cricket is set for a serious political rift over the nomination of John Howard, the former Australian prime minister, as the president-designate of the ICC. The cricket boards of South Africa and Zimbabwe are leading an initiative to block Howard's nomination, while Australia and New Zealand, who jointly nominated him, stand behind their man. Four votes are needed to block Howard's nomination and it is believed that, barring some dramatic late changes, his candidature will not be a formality.
The BCCI's position is expected to play crucial role in the issue. David Morgan, the president of the ICC, is scheduled on Thursday to meet Sharad Pawar, who takes over the presidency next month, and is expected to discuss the matter.
Cricket South Africa has taken up the matter in the strongest of manners, accusing David Morgan, the ICC president, of ignoring the sentiments of an "overwhelming number of ICC directors" who were opposed to Howard's candidature. Morgan has also been accused of making the matter a personal cause.
The ICC follows a policy of regional rotation for its presidency and this year was the turn of Australia and New Zealand. Howard, a career politician and self-declared cricket tragic, beat off a strong challenge from New Zealand Cricket, which favoured John Anderson, a former chairman of the board and a long-time cricket administrator, to win the nomination for the term, which starts from 2012. He was due to serve as vice-president to Pawar for the next two years.
As it turns out, though, a section of the ICC board has strong reservations about Howard. Zimbabwe Cricket has made no secret of its opposition to a man who was so critical of it when he was prime minister and is certain to vote against him if the matter reaches that point.
Morgan has strongly defended his position in an email exchange with Mtutuzeli Nyoka, the CSA president. He is believed to made it clear that he had no personal agenda and that he had acted according to the ICC constitution. He is expected to vigorously defend Nyoka's charge and is understood to have reminded his fellow directors that their job is to act in the best interests of ICC members, and not pursue personal agendas.
Howard, it will be stressed, was selected by New Zealand and Cricket Australia as part of the ICC's constitutional process, and therefore Morgan has not acted unconstitutionally
For the record, the ICC is playing down the issue. "The board has not yet discussed the matter," its chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, told Cricinfo." What you might be hearing might have happened on the sidelines but it was not discussed at the board meeting. The process is that Australia and New Zealand nominate someone, followed by the board considering the nomination before putting it before the annual conference. It is a three-step process.
"It [the opposition to Howard's nomination] is speculative at this moment. We haven't yet faced such a scenario; it has not been blocked as yet, nor even considered."
Asked what would happen if the nomination was rejected, Lorgat said: "We will probably go back and ask (the same region) for another nomination. But that has never happened and what you are saying is speculative."
Meanwhile, Cricket Australia stood firmly behind its man. "We remain rock solid in our support of the nomination," Peter Young, the CA spokesperson, told Cricinfo. "CA and NZC undertook an exhaustive professional process and have come up with a joint nomination that we are convinced is the best possible nomination we could put forward. We will continue to be welded on in our joint support of that nomination. We have made that clear to the ICC in recent weeks."
Australia's position received unqualified backing from New Zealand cricket. "We certainly haven't heard any notification from ICC that there's a problem with that. We're certainly not contemplating any other scenarios than John Howard being our man," Justin Vaughan, the NZC chief executive, said.
"We believe we went through a very robust and thorough process. We believe ICC should accept that and accept the nomination."
The matter may come down to the neutrals and the ECB offered a non-committal comment on the situation. "It's up to New Zealand Cricket and Cricket Australia to nominate a candidate and we as the ECB will await that nomination at the ICC annual conference," an ECB spokesman said.
The sense of what is at stake was summed up by Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman. "This is a very sensitive issue right now so I don't want to discuss it," Butt said. "I know John Howard personally and I know how much he loves the sport and the game."
(Andrew Miller, Osman Samiuddin and Nagraj Gollapudi contributed to this article)