As if it wasn’t enough for the ICC to get bogged down by a bankruptcy of ideas and control of the game, the organisation has now found a new way to embarrass itself. It has stumbled to a new low resting point through a shocking mis-management of the process for electing John Howard as President-Elect of the august body!
In his article on Cricinfo, Gideon Haigh states, “Say what you like about the members of the International Cricket Council, they are utterly consistent. No matter how far you lower your expectations, they always find a way to underperform.”
Hilarious opening to an interesting opinion piece. I do not agree with much of what Haigh says in this article, but it certainly paints a mobid picture of a moribund organisation! The problem with Haigh is that he has declared his cards as a person that views the BCCI, IPL, Modi and Indian cricket with suspicion if not disdain! In the past he has stopped short of stating that the only cricket that really matters is that which is regularly held between England and Australia for a little urn. So I certainly have that grain of salt handy when I read anything he writes!
But he does have a point. The ICC finds stunningly innovative ways of repeatedly embarrassing itself in public.
The ICC Presidency chair is a rotating beast. So it cannot and should not really get political. If it is a Boards’ turn to have a crack at the top job, it ought to have all linen washed internally (as New Zealand and Australia did in choosing John Howard) before offering up a candidate who ought to be elected unopposed. That is how a rotating chair ought to work. There is, however, a danger in such a method because, before you know it, when it is Zimbabwe’s turn we may be forced to stare at Robert Mugabe’s smirk on the ICC website for four long and painful years! Hence there has been a proxy election in place. It has never, however, been used up until now.
It has been used now! The result is that Australia feels insulted. New Zealand is probably saying “I told you he sucked as a candidate”. England is embarrassed through no fault of theirs — again! And the ICC is in some disarray as a result of (a) a terrible, terrible choice of candidate (in my view), (b) the organisations’ ineptness in making decisions other than those driven by consensus, and, most importantly (c) the organisation being unable to state to the losing candidate why (s)he lost!
Ever since the International Cricket Council was formed (after its predecessors, the Imperial Cricket Conference and the International Cricket Conference were canned) we have had this rotation system work near-perfectly: England had Lord Colin Cowderey as President of the ICC (from 1989-1993). West Indies had the great Sir Clyde Walcott from 1993-1997. India had that wily combatant, Jagmohan Dalmiya as ICC President from 1997–2000. Australia had Malcolm Gray from 2000–2003 followed by Pakistan’s Ehsaan Mani from 2003–2006. This was followed by Percy Sonn (2006-2007) and Ray Mali (2007–2008), a dual South African act on account of the fact that Sonn passed away while ‘in office’. This then saw an England-India double act in David Morgan (2008-2010) and Sharad Pawar (2010-2012).
The system has been working well in so far as providing a mechanism for tokens and lollipops to be routinely handed out to the member countries as appeasements.
That is up until now, when the word “trust” has started to take on much more of a meaning in our collective dictionary than ever before. Moreover, through a combination of their collective increase in their self-confidence as well as an improved ability on the field and (especially for India) their money power, the word “trust” has also been bandied about more often than necessary. Muscles have been flexed!
John Howards’ rejection has to be seen in this light and should not be seen as a collective insult to the Australian people.
Malcolm Speed has reacted angrily to the insult in his emotional outburst. He even suggests that Australia and New Zealand should give up their automatic right to a lollipop hand-out and, instead, hand it over to the next set of boards in the lollipop queue: Bangladesh and Pakistan!
Gideon Haigh has reacted emotionally and bemoaned the insult to the man who was so loved by the Australian people that they elected him not once, not twice, not three times, but no less than four times! Gosh! Of course, that must mean so much to a rag picker in Southern Mumbai. Right?
John Howard was a brave man when he was in power as Australian Prime Minister. He had views on most things and did not take a backward step in going forward on things he believed in. He routinely commented on things cricket. He loved his cricket. He even bowled once when in Pakistan when on a tour there — never mind the fact that few of the balls even reached the hapless batsmen! He also came out in the open and called Muthiah Muralitharan a “chucker”!
Do you think the people of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Board would trust a man at the top of the ICC tree after his utterances against their beloved son — utterances made by an incredibly honorable man while in a position of the power that was bestowed on him by the good people of Australia no less than four times?
The fact that the good people of Australia showered their love on John Howard — and I have no doubt he is an incredibly honorable man — four times should mean diddly squat to the people of Sri Lanka or officials on their cricket board! However, the fact that Howard ignored the opinions of bio-mechanics experts and chose to comment on Muralidharan’s chucking, would have made the Sri Lankan Board and her people sit up and view Howard with some suspicion. Let us not forget that one of the men close to the officials that run the cricket board in that country is Arjuna Ranatunga, the captain that labored through that awful awful time for Sri Lankan cricket; a time made worse by John Howards’ comments. Sri Lanka simply does not have trust in the ICC-man Australia has chosen. Simple. Ditto Zimbabwe, given Howard’s utterances against that country and its cricket.
Was Howard right with his views? That is not really the issue. The issue is one of trust deficit.
Ultimately, Howard just did not have friends in ICC member countries. This is not an insult to Australians or to Howard.
Gideon Haigh emits his true colors, though, when he yells, “Ultimately, however, responsibility lies with the chaotic, fratricidal, law-unto-itself Board of Control for Cricket in India, for had it chosen to back Howard, the decision would have gone through on the nod. The BCCI likes to think of itself as cricket’s leader – as, indeed, it is, by any economic measure. But where was it when actual leadership was required? Sunk in its own macchiavellian intrigues, busy trying to claw back a facilitation fee from World Sports Group, and poring over Lalit Modi’s hotel and limousine expenses. Suggestions in the Indian media are that the rejection stems from internal upheavals at the BCCI, where ICC president Sharad Pawar, who supported Howard’s nomination, is on the nose with his former colleagues for being too close to Modi. Who knows? And who, ultimately, cares?”
If Gideon Haigh did not care, why would he devote so much eyeball space to the BCCI and its “fratricidal” ways? I have a feeling that Gideon Haigh will soon drop the blame for world hunger and world peace at the door steps of the BCCI!
Yes, there was indeed a report in a few Indian media outlets that the BCCI’s decision not to support Howard stemmed from the current BCCI leaderships’ desire to stick it to Sharad Pawar! And Gideon Haigh, a reputed and thorough journalist, fell for that piece of unfounded and ill-informed junk? The initial story quoted no source nor attribution. Nor did it have a basis. It was a story that I read and discarded. Gideon Haigh must perhaps learn to develop a few filters, especially when reading Indian media — most of whom are story tellers who look at the phrase “breaking story” and pay more attention to the word “story” than the word “breaking”!
Leadership by the BCCI has minimal role to play here in this, in my view.
There was, in my view, a leadership vacuum in Australia and New Zealand when the choice of John Howard was made. I could have predicted this outcome the day John Howard was put up as a choice.
Indeed, let us have a look at what our own Soundar Iyer wrote on i3j3cricket after a conversation with Gideon Haigh. Soundar writes that in the view of Haigh, the decision to back John Howard “largely revolved around the relative merits of each candidate pertinent to their ability to handle the behemoth that was the BCCI. The view was that Howard, the wily politician that he was, was probably the best equipped. Time will tell.”
Time did tell.
An alternative view to that which Gideon Haigh formed above — when he laid the blame for the Howard-shafting on BCCI’s doorstep — could be that the BCCI perhaps showed immense leadership and foresight by saying:
- We know Australia and New Zealand have selected a candidate that has been expressly chosen to shaft us,
- We know that that choice is bad because South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka have enough gripes to reject the man without us getting involved in the scrum,
- We will openly show our support for the choice,
- We will then protect our relationship with Australia and New Zealand by watching as this terrible choice is torn down by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka!
Unfortunately, if the above hypothesis is correct, the BCCI did nothing more than protecting its self-interest! Protecting self-interest is not wrong in itself. After all, look at what England and Australia did in the formative years of cricket! Moreover, everyone looks after their self-interest.
What is wrong is putting self-interest so high that the game itself is compromised or ruined in the process.
The latter would happen if John Howard was the only human being left in Australia and New Zealand! The last time I looked though, despite negative growth rates, New Zealand and Australia do still have a few people left! I am sure one of them would be an acceptable candidate — and even a strong candidate — for the whole of the ICC. Indeed, before Australia pushed hard for John Howard, New Zealand wanted to pursue John Anderson — former chairman of the New Zealand board and a terrific cricket administrator. Surely, he would have been elected unanimously and we would not have had to assess whether the Australian people had been viscously insulted and victimized!
Therefore, in my view, the mistake lies not in the doorstep of the BCCI or Sri Lanka. The mistake was in the choice of John Howard who had perhaps made many an enemy in the cricketing world.
That said, the ICC, sunk to new lows because it showed again that it is political, moribund and powerless.
The saddest thing about this episode is that it is a clear signal that cricket is divided with England, Australia and New Zealand on one side and with India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh on the other and with South Africa and West Indies developing collective sore backsides from time to time! Despite strong and stellar attempts by Australia, and in particular, James Sutherland, in recent times, the trust deficit exists.
As Sambit Bal says,
But in recent years cricket seemed to have moved away from post-colonial angst into the lap of naked capitalism. Self-interest remained the guiding principle, but alliances based on commerce rather than race seemed far more palatable. The use of the term Asian Bloc – it had a pejorative ring to it – became rarer as India and Australia, the richest board and the strongest team, moved closer.
It’s premature to proclaim an official split or speculate what immediate impact it will have on global cricket, but on the Howard issue it was evident who stood where. Australia and New Zealand stood by their nominated candidate, and they had only England by their side.”
So why is Howard’s rejection at the ICC table wrong? And why do I think the ICC is moribund?
Any candidate is owed the duty of care and the dignity of feedback in any transparent election process. If they are not selected they need to understand why they were not chosen. The only feedback that John Howard will have received, as Sambit Bal has noted, is from the Sri Lankan Board that stated openly that they did not rate Howards’ sport administration skills!
On dear! Really! A man who led a country cannot run a cricket board? Clearly then, Sri Lanka rates Sharad Pawar’s sport administration skills highly. They probably took one good look at him asleep at the wheel while Lalit Modi diddled the IPL books and decided that Sharad Pawar ought to receive their backing! Right!
Clearly, the reason offered by Sri Lanka has much to do with wool and eyes. But at least Sri Lanka offered a reason; albeit one that cannot be countered or defended in such a process. The rest of the members in the cast played some back room games, cast their vote and moved on with the same disdain that England and Australia used to dish out when the only cricket that mattered was that which the two of them played!
Roles have reversed. The owners of the despicable attitudes have changed. Cricket stumbles through darkness yet again!
As Sambit Bal writes, these actions “threaten to drag cricket back to the age of acrimony and mistrust.”