David Richards's new empire at ICC, 1994

A whole new world

On February 2, 1993, what was almost certainly the most acrimonious and shambolic meeting in the history of ICC broke up amid signs of lasting anguish. The central debating point had been the venue for the next World Cup. So strongly had feelings run on all sides that a one-day meeting had gone on well into the night. The issue of the World Cup was finally resolved on the morning of the second day. It would be played in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka- this in spite of a decision in favour of England at a previous ICC meeting.

The announcement of the World Cup decision was followed sotto voce- as an afterthought, almost - by a statement to the effect that David Richards, chief executive of the Australian Cricket Board, had been appointed chief executive of the International Cricket Council. He would take up his duties, at Lord's, five months later.

The meeting focused on the World Cup marked an alarming departure from the way business had been conducted within ICC from its foundation as the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1909. Since then, the name had changed to the International Cricket Conference and then to the International Cricket Council, and ICC had seen some contentious times. But that 1993 meeting was something different. It was the outward and visible sign, if one were needed, that the playing of cricket as a game, so long the chief preoccupation of those gathered round the tables of the MCC Committee room at Lord's, and pursued invariably with an attitude of quiet and civilised deference, had been overtaken.

The meeting had been prolonged, almost beyond endurance, by a series of legal quibbles concerning an interpretation of ICC rules. There were frequent adjournments so that India's two chief representatives (of the nine apparently present at various times) could seek the support of India's Lord Chief Justice for their contention that a simple majority of those voting was all that was necessary to determine the destination of the next World Cup.

This had been the case with the allocation of previous World Cups. By rule, the 19 Associate Members had one vote; the Test-playing countries, with two votes each, mustered 18 between them. But because this put the Associate Members in a position of strength, unwarranted in the eyes of Full Members, the voting had been changed. A binding resolution now required a simple majority of those present. But that would apply only if support were given by two-thirds of the Full Members, of whom at least one had to be a Foundation Member ( England or Australia).

Complicated perhaps; but, since this rule change had been made with the backing of India and the other Full Members, not, one would have thought, questionable. The new voting system applied to all decisions categorised as binding. From all accounts, the position of India and her supporters was to question that the World Cup vote should fall into the category of a binding decision. Here the mind boggles. If a decision as to where the World Cup would be staged, at a meeting called specifically to decide the issue, was not considered binding, then what was?

Madhavrao Scindia, the President of the Indian Board and one-time Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism, was supported by representatives of Pakistan and Sri Lanka in a determined in and prolonged attempt to win the day. The intrusion of legalistic arguments into the game had already become familiar to Sir Colin Cowdrey, chairman of the meeting. The Pakistan tour of England, with its ball-tampering row and the swift interventions by lawyers employed by Pakistan, had surely prepared him and the MCC secretariat, or should have done. The obduracy of India and others in the face of ICC's own lawyers must have come as a shock, however, and the meeting degenerated. All that cricket used to stand for was thrown out of the committee-room window.

Politicking and favour-seeking among member countries by those from the sub-continent had apparently begun well before the meeting. Those representing the Associate Members were aware that substantial funds would be made available. India had supported Zimbabwe's elevation to full membership; talk was rife of favours being called in.

After the ICC meeting, an unprecedented press conference was called by the chief executive of the British Test and County Cricket Board, A. C. Smith. Never one to volunteer information ( no comment but don't quote me has often been put forward as one of his more adventurous remarks), Smith went to town. We endured a fractious and unpleasant meeting beset by procedural wrangling, he said. There was no talk of anything like cricket. It was, by a long way, the worst meeting I have ever attended. He confirmed that although his board felt that a previous minute nominating England as the next host country for the World Cup was still valid, they had finally succumbed in the best and wider interests of the world game. Smith also confirmed that a price for his Board's compliance had been that they would definitely host the World Cup after next, currently scheduled for the English summer of 1998. As part of the deal, they also ensured that the profits of the tournament supposed to be held in 1995 (which is actually now scheduled for early 1996) would fund the new ICC secretariat.

For the Marylebone Cricket Club, the agreement to appoint Richards was an outward manifestation of a notably unwelcome passage in their history. They would no longer help to administer the international scene, even peripherally. Their last remaining influence on the world stage of cricket was officially at an end. It was a turn of events presaged by the appointment in 1988 of a chairman, Cowdrey who, though nominated by the President of MCC, was ostensibly, for the first time, an appointment of ICC itself. What had happened since then had been a far cry from the original idea when Francis Lacey, the secretary of MCC, came together in conference with Australia and South Africa on June 15, 1909.

A memorandum was published in The Times a week later. There were two parts to the memorandum. The first set out the regulations for Test matches between the three member countries: England, Australia and South Africa. Most of these regulations were still in existence in the 1980s. The other set out a programme of matches between the three countries, including a triangular contest in England in 1912. In general it was agreed that every team shall pay and receive a visit from each other country in every cycle of four years.

Thus was a valuable talking shop opened. It was kept chiefly as a conduit through which ideas could be passed and was run by the law-makers, MCC. With few exceptions, thereafter, meetings kept to the original intentions. Certainly, a framework of rules, designed for recommendations rather than decisions afforded Precious little scene for it to be otherwise. In cases of emergency, member countries could be mobilised fairly swiftly, but throughout most of its long history ICC saw itself as a co-ordinator rather than a dictator. The conditions under which Test match cricket between two countries was played were left to them; the disciplining of players remained in the hands of individual boards. Positive changes remained few and far between. The modus operandi mirrored that of the Commonwealth of Nations. To all intents and purposes Lord's fulfilled the function of Buckingham Palace.

Sir Francis Lacey, first secretary of ICC, and David Richards, the first chief executive.

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As Test cricket spread, so the founder members protected themselves with a power of veto, almost never used but there just in case. India, New Zealand and West Indies became members in 1926. The newly created Pakistan took its place in 1953. South Africa left the Commonwealth and ICC in 1961. In 1965 the rules were changed, the title International Cricket Conference was adopted and the first Associate Members, with strictly limited voting powers, were allowed inside, including, now that Imperial had been dropped, the United States.

Gradually, as governments throughout the world became more interested in sport, recognising the prestige it could bring, more and more countries applied for associate membership. The first World Cup brought an avalanche of them. MCC paid for all the administration and there were few barriers in the way of any country that could show that cricket was firmly established and organised. A loose-knit family was gradually formed: representation regarding the Laws could be made; Full Members were given the task of encouraging cricket in countries nearby. Other areas of common concern were tackled, but until the 1970s two issues above all others were kept strictly out of ICC's province: finance and politics. Without these two erratic and sometimes unpleasant strands of human existence to consider, ICC remained for a long time a benevolent but only mildly persuasive body. Goodwill prevailed.

Thus ICC was a source of guidance rather than a central bureaucracy. There were times when guidance had to be firm, but this applied in the main strictly to cricketing matters. The isolation of South Africa became the subject of a ruling only in the 1970s. For almost a decade after they left the Conference in 1961, their fellow founder members continued to visit them. These unofficial Test matches remained outside the province of the Conference and England and Australia saw that they remained so. Yet ICC, in conjunction with MCC, acted swiftly enough after the Bodyline controversy in the 1930s, came to an agreement about the spate of throwing that developed early in the 1960s and formed a united (if not successful) front against Kerry Packer and his rebel players in the 1970s. Throughout, undefined but pervading all contentious issues, was the same spirit of fair play that prevailed on the cricket field.

Often, ICC was the merest shadow of a co-ordinating, let along a ruling body. At times Australia, for instance, wanted little part of a world governing organisation and would often make the point during the post-war years, sometimes by sending local representatives with limited powers to the annual meeting. The Anglo-Australian axis with its special position remained firmly against any thought of centralised power in the cricket world, although comparative newcomers such as Pakistan beavered away at achieving it.

For them, and for other emergent countries, a way to advancement lay through a homogenisation of world cricket. The dominance of England and Australia was all very well - but. The persistence of the Pakistani Board president Air Marshal Nur Khan led to the appointment of observers, forerunners of the Test match referees. They were powerless, but their appointment, even if only to view Test matches in Pakistan, was a small step in what Pakistan considered to be the right direction. Gradually, the days when Billy Griffith, secretary of ICC and MCC between 1962 and 1974, would issue brief communiqués to the press agencies at the end a two-day meeting receded. Often in later years cricket writers were disappointed at the apparent lack of progress on the world front. But there was no short cut to decision-taking if even one of the Test-playing countries did not want there to be. Consequently, as secretary of ICC I found that the items of hard news to give to the press concerned either South Africa or the World Cup or Kerry Packer. So many other issues which were the subject of fierce, sometimes brilliant, debate could be frustrated by one or two dissidents who could not, by code of practice, be publicly named. Yet, by and large, cricket prospered.

It was inevitable, perhaps, that in the end there had to be a centralised administration employed by ICC itself. The appointment of Test match referees was a visible sign of an attempt to stamp the views of a central authority on cricket throughout the Test-playing world. Commercialism is snowballing. From 1994, at least one neutral umpire will stand in each Test match, a development abhorrent to the purists. Central control, with a chief executive answering to ICC sub-committees, and to the full panoply of countries probably more than a once a year, was the almost certain outcome. Financial and political considerations will come high on the agenda. The welding together of many disparate points of view and aspirations will be a tough job. That 1993 World Cup meeting refers.

It is hard to imagine a combination better suited to deal with issues which confront them than the newly elected chairman, Clyde Walcott, and chief executive, Richards. Clyde's name as a cricketer puts him in a position of high regard, even from those for whom commercial and political gain is more important than the game itself. He is a modest man, a man of wit, with a strong sense of fair play and a shrewdness which underlies his genial exterior, and since he represents West Indies- strong, in playing ability, less fortunate in terms of home-produced funds - he will see the point of view of the less well-off.

David Richards has not played first-class cricket, although he was a more than useful grade cricketer. He is a professional cricket administrator, tough, likeable and efficient. As secretary of the Victorian Cricket Association he played a pivotal role in the staging of the 1977 Centenary Test match in Melbourne and we hardened cricket administrators marvelled at the industry and ability he displayed in getting together former cricketers from all over the world. Since then, he has served with distinction as chief executive of the Australian board, having to come to terms early with the commercialisation of the game and the apparent lack of authority vested in the board itself after the deal had been struck with World Series Cricket. A fixture list dominated by one-day cricket was one outcome, the brash commercialism generated by the board marketeers who had previously acted on behalf of the Packer organisation was another. Whether or not PBL, the organisation responsible for marketing World Series Cricket for Kerry Packer, or the Australian board were calling the shots became a matter for conjecture, but Richards rode it all with equanimity and emerged not only unscathed but with a reputation sufficiently enhanced to hand him the number one job in cricket.

Still in his forties, Richards has the additional advantage of having come through a particularly hard school in which not too many words are minced before delivery. He also has positive views on the future and is backed by a cricket committee which includes Bob Cowper, a fellow Australian and formidable Test batsman who, as a banker in Monte Carlo, knows his way around the financial world.

Stationed at Lord's, but beholden to nothing and nobody other than his international role, Richards and his operation will be financed by a levy on World Cup income and membership fees from all members of ICC. Victoria and Australia no longer claim my loyalties in a cricketing sense, he says. It is a global sport and it will be a large part of my job to look at the year 2003 and make sure the game holds its place in global sports then. One move has been to form an off-shore company to deal with ICC's commercial activities. Richards sees a role for ICC in cricket at all levels and he is unashamedly in favour of all the recent innovations at Test match level: TV aids, referees, sponsorship of umpires, more stringent regulations. Aware of traditional values, he will not be bound by them.

Already many of the ties which bound his predecessors (in their joint roles) no longer apply to him. His empire seems bound to grow well beyond the two assistants now at his elbow. He will be a target for the media. He will need patience in dealing with strident politicians. He will need to be most things to all men, but never all things to anybody. One can only wish him, and cricket, well.

Jack Bailey was secretary of MCC, and therefore of ICC, from 1974 to 1987. He previously played for Oxford University and Essex. He is now a journalist, contributing mainly to The Times.

© John Wisden & Co