ICC centenary celebrations

So, in 2009, the ICC will commemorate its centenary and the big cheeses are going to meet up to discuss how to celebrate this momentus occasion. Patrick says:

Any bright ideas out there for how the ICC should mark the occasion? I’d quite like them to have a month of apathy, when they do no administrating and we can see whether the game will survive. Or how about a month-long World Test Championship, when the leading eight Test nations, divided into two pools with a final for the teams that come top, compete in the only proper form of cricket?

Nah. They’ll probably just have another 50-over tournament to fill the gap between the 2008 Champions Trophy and the 2011 World Cup.

Any ideas? Now that they live in Dubai – where, among the desert camels, you can find an indoor ski centre – why don’t they create a vineyard? ICC Chardonnay, 2009 in honour of, well, you know who…

‘A ridiculously crowded international schedule’

Andrew Strauss has blamed his loss of form, luck and his Test place partly on the ‘ridiculously crowded international schedule’. He does not strike me as someone who gives up easily, or who minces his words, and his column at Sunday Telegraph makes for depressing reading.

Without any sort of window in the last 18 months – in a ridiculously crowded international schedule – to take stock, make technical changes and refresh the mind, turning it around has been extremely difficult.

It isn’t that I have been completely out of form, unable to contend with the rigours of Test cricket, but rather that I have been caught in a limbo, where every decent innings seemed to be followed by a low score. Without nailing a couple of really substantial contributions to silence the doubters, the pressure has grown.

When will the ICC realise that they are running a sport that is eroding from within? Cricket is doomed if they continue to run talented players – their most prized commodity, surely? – into the ground, beyond repair. Strauss is the latest victim of the crammed schedule. Who will be next?

‘World cricket all but paralysed’

You know your sport’s in a real mess when, in the space of 12 months, it can host a disastrous World Cup; investigate a murder; have an umpire take the game’s governing body to court; host a much more successful World Cup six months later but not call it a World Cup. Oh, and racism has popped up its ugly duplicitous head again.

The ICC has lost all credibility. I don’t know of another governing body in any sport which is quite so dysfunctional, and this latest spate of racism will further divide the Members unless the ICC – and India – act now. I refer you to Patrick Smith’s excellent column:

WORLD cricket is all but paralysed. The ruling body cannot make a decision that is not compromised. Bowling has been reduced to throwing, umpiring to the art of convenience, racial abuse to a point of view. Player behaviour teeters on the brink of violence.

Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralidaran is outside the law, so change the law and not the action. The ICC considers Darrell Hair umpires by the book and is not a buddy of the players. Sack him.

Pakistan and India refuse to appoint officers to investigate racism in the sport. The ICC has been reduced to writing letters that are ignored and beating the heat in Dubai. Apparently Pakistan and India players and supporters can only be offended and never offensive.

Racial vilification has been redefined. What is said is no longer critical, but who says it to whom is at its heart. So Symonds is vilified by Indian supporters and it goes unheard and ignored. CA whimpers its concern but fails to report the matter officially.

I don’t believe any sport is rife with racism. Not at all. But sportsmen are as much members of society as the rest of us, and we are living in a confused and fragmented world these days. Sport can reflect that with uncomfortable clarity.

Like a pair of naughty schoolboys

Trying to prove in a court of law that the governing body of cricket is racist is an ambitious aim, and it may well be that Darrell Hair’s surrender stems from a realisation that he was going to lose, and lose expensively. It also appears that he hasn’t managed to cut a deal with the ICC, and is thus probably destined to spend the rest of his life umpiring club cricket and shopping at Primark.

I can’t think of a single incident in the last decade which has split cricket more evenly. Both sides’ arguments make eminent sense. Yes, Hair was simply applying the laws of the game, yes, the Asian lobby probably do wield too much power and yes, the ICC should have offered him more support. But equally validly, Hair was a pompous, posturing fool that day, there was no firm evidence of ball-tampering and trying to blackmail your employers for $500,000, let alone labelling them racist, is just plain daft.

Mercifully, then, it appears to be all over. It’s not really for me to apportion blame to one side or the other – although you should feel free below – but in this ugly display of playground mudslinging, neither party has exactly covered itself in glory and you can’t help thinking that surely, surely, the world of cricket can do better than this. Hair and the ICC have behaved like a pair of name-calling schoolboys. And as your teacher always told you: “It doesn’t matter who started it. You shouldn’t have reacted.”

Hair drops racial discrimination case against ICC

Darrell Hair arrives in court

This really is big news and utterly unexpected. Darrell Hair, the Australian umpire who was suing the ICC for racial discrimination, has dropped his case at the start of the second week of hearings.

“Darrell Hair withdraws his allegation of racial discrimination against the ICC board, members and staff,” Robert Griffiths QC, Hair’s barrister, told the media. “Mr Hair has undertaken to work with ICC management in accordance with the rehabilitation programme over the next six months.”

Hair is contracted to the ICC until March 2008 but Cricinfo has learned that he then has to be given 12 months notice, so in effect he remains an employee until March 2009. He will continue to umpire international matches, but not those involving Test-playing countries. The ICC board will meet in March to discuss the results of Hair’s rehabilitation and decide whether he can return to elite umpiring, and if so, on what terms.

The term “rehabilitation” is a dirty one. And I’m intrigued by Malcolm Speed’s comments:

“I think in six months we’ll have a better idea [about his future as an umpire], it’s a matter for the board, which is a very diverse group generally with strong and differing groups, so a lot will depend on the rehabilitation programme and his attitude towards it.”

“…a very diverse group generally with strong and differing groups”? Even in the current climate, I think it’s fair to say Speed is speaking about the Asian Bloc, against which Hair has been fighting. The ICC appear to be divided by skin colour and it is a huge concern for the future of the game.

My boss, Martin Williamson, wrote an excellent comment on the whole mess.

But more seriously, the executives that run the world game were shown to be a pretty rum bunch. Faced with a cunning QC, they not only fell into his traps but often appeared to give him a hand in digging them as well. If these are the men entrusted with the future of the game and its best interests, then we are all in trouble.

That’s not necessarily the ICC’s fault – it has to work with what it is sent by the Full Member countries. But, with a few exceptions, a more self-interested and self-important bunch would be hard to find.

So finally the circus is over and, when his contract with the ICC expires at the end of March 2009, so almost certainly is Hair’s career. But when he is gone and largely forgotten, most of those on the ICC executive will still be running cricket. That’s a sobering thought.

This case had all the makings of becoming a landmark for racial discrimination in sport. But now, neither party has won. In fact both Hair and the ICC lost – their reputations are in absolute tatters. Hair’s a goner, so where does that leave the ICC?

A necessary evil

I have to disagree with what Will’s written below, if only indirectly.

By this I mean that I too wish that there were less cricket, and fewer meaningless one-day nothings. But the reality is that international cricket must turn a hefty profit, seeing as domestic cricket everywhere in the world – and Test cricket in some countries – does not. To fuel the intense growth the sport needs in order to survive, it has to reach as many people as possible. And if you’re not sure that’s a good thing to be aiming for, consider this: a generation ago, the only way of following overseas tours was in the paper the next morning or in a 30-second report on the news. TV and the web have made cricket global, and it’s benefited all of us.

And thus the pointless but necessary one-day treadmill. But it’s not like all this extra cricket is being shoved down our throats against our will. If real cricket fans weren’t prepared to watch and pay for it, it wouldn’t happen. The cricket boards, the ICC and the executives are only meeting demand.

Of course we’re worried about standards, and we’re right to rail at the greed of those in charge. But we shouldn’t discard a formula that has given fans greater access to cricket than ever before. Besides, the only people who could realistically do something about it if they wanted to are the players themselves, and apart from the odd muttered protest, they’ve been strangely inactive on the issue.

A final thought. This time last year England were in exactly the same position – thrown into an Ashes series straight after a major tournament. Back then the criticism was not that England were playing too much cricket, but not enough. We have to strike a balance somewhere.

Cricket’s carbon footprint

The fresh sea air has made me think. Maybe the ICC should be put under pressure for cricket’s ever increasing carbon footprint as a way to persuade them to play less cricket. With the exception of Zimbabwe, and other minnows, I don’t think a host nation should play more than one country in any one season. Stage five or six Tests, six one-dayers and keep it at that instead of three and four-match series involving two countries. The current set-up provides masses of cricket, not all of it as intense or enthralling as the public deserve.Never thought the damned carbon footprint hype could prove useful to cricket, but maybe it can!

Well, something has to be done so that’s my solution. What’s yours?

What’s the point of Super Eights?

It’s all been fairly entertaining stuff so far, then. Every major tournament needs a victory for the host nation, a close finish and an upset in its first week, and the World Twenty20 has delivered all of them four days ahead of schedule. Sixes have been hit, dances have been danced and grounds have generally been full enough for the local TV directors not to have to focus on the same group of fans for a whole match.

Still, it wouldn’t be an ICC event if you couldn’t complain about the format. And although this tournament is positively size zero in comparison to the World Cup, the organisers again seem worryingly keen to make sure absolutely everybody plays absolutely everybody. It will take twelve matches to reduce twelve teams to eight, and another twelve to reduce the eight to four. What’s wrong with quarter-finals? Most other sports seem to have them, and they work a treat.

Super Eights, while snappily-named and sound in theory, take all the sting out of a major tournament. At the last World Cup, around a third of Super Eight games, at a conservative estimate, were dead. That should reduce this time as a result of the lower number of matches played, but the ICC should take a long hard look at the Super Eights format. Keeping the games meaningful is surely more important than making sure India and Pakistan meet every time.

2007 Cowdrey Lecture

Have you read this year’s Cowdrey Lecture, delivered by Christopher Martin-Jenkins’? Hmm, thought as much. Well you really ought to, not least because this year marks the first time in its brief seven years that it hasn’t been delivered by a professional cricketer. And it is fascinating.

I confess not to have read it all, yet, but am working my way through it and finding myself nodding all too frequently. Pleasingly for me and my employers, he mentions Cricinfo (and, revealingly, by name and not “the cricket website Cricinfo” as we are so often called. Clearly the brand hasn’t extended that far yet…) while raising a very good point about the access to, and interest in, county cricket.

Cricinfo recorded 29 million page views from 7.5 million visits to county cricket alone in 2006 – and has already had 19 million this season so, despite the rain, they expect the figure to be exceeded. Obviously because a great many people want to find out the latest scores. Sadly, if they are on the move in their cars they can listen for them in vain; and when they are given it often seems to be as a breathless afterthought following the big story that Scunthorpe’s millionaire chairman has denied rumours that their controversial manager Bruno Boscovic is going to be sacked. Or, more to the point, some utterly mundane comment by Jose Murinho such as he thinks that Chelsea have the players to win the Premiership. What a surprise. The media has been conned to a dangerous extent – if you value the variety of life – into becoming a sort of spin machine for the all-pervading, all-powerful Premiership. Also into the belief that it can’t be of interest if it’s not on television.

Regular or past readers will know of my near-hatred of football, and it is primarily for this reason: that it consumes so much media attention, undeservingly so. But hey ho (Flint), that’s the way of the world.

The lack of fast bowlers also come under Christopher’s scrutinous gaze – and he reveals that changes are afoot to decrease the boundaries. My boss and I went to The Oval earlier in the season and I was absolutely shocked at the shortness of the boundaries. Cynics argue that they are brought “in” from their original position in order to maximise the chances of sixes, increase the number of runs scored in a day and generally get the game finished as quick as possible. The evidence is damning too.

But there is a tremendous amount to be thankful for in the contemporary game – in many respects the standards are higher than ever. There are some magnificent batsmen in world cricket and some magical spinners too. The fielding is sensationally good. It is the fast bowlers who are in short supply in the current phase of a game that has always evolved. In the eternal struggle to find that essential balance between bat and ball what we need is a determined effort to lengthen boundaries – happily both the MCC World Cricket Committee and the new ICC Cricket committee are agreed on that but there is no evidence yet of boundaries being stretched to the furthest practical limits on all grounds as they should be.

Do give it a read, and offer your thoughts of the points he raises.

Cameroon, The Falkland Islands, Peru and Swaziland

Who? Well, these four are the latest Affiliate members of the ICC. I wrote a couple of pars on each for Cricinfo, and they’re not as estranged a family member as you might think.

As the ICC family expands to 101 countries, Cricinfo looks at the four newest Affiliate members who were elected at the annual conference last month

Cameroon

The airstrip on the Falkland Islands
© Falkland Islands Government

Cricket doesn’t stand much of a chance of forging a stranglehold on a country so crazed by football. Or does it? Cricket in Cameroon is most certainly on the up, with a national league competition now in place – and the formation of their first cricket federation (Fecacricket) in 2005. Much of the work has been done by the British high commission’s embassy in its capital, Yaoundé, providing equipment and logistics. Indeed, in May this year, the British high commissioner to Cameroon, Syd Madicott, was kitted out for a match in order to help publicise the game. And they have plans for expansion, too, with their president, Victor Agbor Nso, promising to bring the game to other towns in the country. Agbor Nso has also organised teaching seminars for coaches, administrators and umpires.
Number of grounds: 3
Number of senior teams: 4

The Falkland Islands

Cricket’s second most southerly outpost is more familiar with penguins than pavilions and lbws. But they were warmly welcomed into the ICC’s ever expanding bosom, in spite of possessing just one proper pitch: a synthetic wicket laid in 1985 at Mount Pleasant Airfield Oval, about 30 miles outside the country’s capital, Port Stanley. Around Christmas each year, the island hosts the South Atlantic Ashes, a match between teams representing the governor of the country and the Commander of the British forces. However, though the Falklands Cricket Association was formed in 2001 in an attempt to better organise the set-up, a lack of funds has prevented their expansion.
Number of grounds: 1
Number of senior teams: 4

Peru

Cricket in Peru dates back to 1859 when the Lima Cricket and Football Club was formed. Nowadays, much of the interest stems from the local Indian expats who have combined forces with the British. However, in 2005, they boasted only 25 players (considered by Wisden as “hard core…plus tourists are welcome”), and share the pitch with the footballers. The corrugated pitch makes for difficult batting, to say the least, but nevertheless they have one hotly contested fixture: India & Pakistan v Rest of the World, including one Peruvian, Jorge Pancorvo who Wisden described in 2005 as “an excellent wicketkeeper (aged 51, but still fit)”. Freddie Brown, the former England captain and allrounder, was born in Lima and, in 2005, the local club had completed 15 years of play without losing a single minute to rain.
Number of grounds: 2
Number of senior teams: 4

Swaziland

Like many smaller nations, cricket in Swaziland has so far belonged to a privileged minority: those who can afford entry into the exclusive country retreats and clubs. But in January 2005, a group of enthusiasts decided enough was enough and a new slogan was formed: “Cricket for All”, designed to take the game to as many people as possible. In 2006 they received further encouragement when the Sport Council of the government donated a piece of land to be used as their home ground. However, the country still has very few decent-quality pitches and outfields, preventing them expanding as well they might – and a row broke out recently regarding the lack of equipment available. As much as they struggle, the Swaziland Cricket Association (SCA) continue to do their best, with their president promising to take the game to “street children” in an attempt to give them a brighter future.
Number of grounds: 4
Number of senior teams: 5

ICC criteria for application for Affiliate membership

  • Cricket must be played in accordance with the laws of cricket
  • There must be a minimum of four senior teams playing in a structured competition
  • At least six competition matches must be completed in a season
  • The applicant body must be able to field a national senior team
  • The applicant must be recognised as the sole governing body for cricket in the country
  • The association must have a formal written constitution; a designated secretary; contact details and a suitable administrative structure
  • They must have at least one ground on which matches are played
  • Annual accounts must be submitted every year