Another victory for the Spirit of Greed
Back in late March, I wrote an article which was intended for publication on 1 April, revealing that the ICC was considering moving the 2011 World Cup to China. It was, I suggested, a move which was ‘staggering and at the same time utterly predictable’.
This piece was, probably quite rightly, rejected on the grounds that it was unduly provocative. Yet reality has an uncanny way of catching up with fantasy, and I continue to believe that the problem was – as it ought to be with any decent hoax – that the truth was not so far away.
Less than two months later, the ICC announced that the USA would be participating in the next World Twenty20 qualifier, showing two fingers to any notion of rankings on the basis that the commercial possibilities of American cricket were so great – even after the dramatic fall of Allan Stanford – as to override any considerations of justice or equity.
Languishing in the depths of Division 5 of the World Cricket League, the USA was nevertheless to be elevated above more than a dozen higher-ranked countries, solely because of the dollar signs registering on the eyeballs of the cartoon characters who appear to make such decisions in Dubai.
And now we have the estimable I.S. Bindra, former President of the BCCI, co-founder of the Indian Premier League, and these days the ICC’s ‘Principal Advisor’, who in reporting to the Board on Tuesday ‘highlighted the development potential in both the USA and China and encouraged all Full Members to play more competitive cricket in those countries’.
It is, I admit, a sentence you have to read several times before you take in just what it might be that Bindra is advocating.
For starters, what does he mean by ‘competitive’ cricket? Games where both sides are trying to win? As distinct from? And against whom are these Full Members supposed to play?
Since the USA are four World Cricket League divisions away from ODI status, and China’s international record so far comprises a solitary victory over Myanmar – by most measures the worst team in the world – against an eight-wicket defeat by Thailand and defeats by more than 300 runs by Iran and the Maldives, we can presumably rule out ‘competitive’ matches between these countries and any Full Member, even Zimbabwe.
So it seems logical to conclude that Bindra wants the Full Members to schedule ‘off-shore’ matches in the USA and China, against each other, or just conceivably against the six ODI-licensed Associates. Australia v India in Guangzhou? Pakistan v Afghanistan in Fort Lauderdale?
But just where might such games be played? The city of Guangzhou is indeed building a purpose-designed cricket ground, the first in the country, for next year’s Asian Games, and no doubt Bindra is aware of how well that stadium will conform to the ICC’s criteria for an ODI venue.
The United States already has one such venue, Brian Piccolo Park in Fort Lauderdale, although apparently it costs so much that the USACA can’t afford to use it. Perhaps it’s even conceivable that it will in time be able to develop more grounds suitable for hosting full ODIs.
But really, is that where the ICC Board should be directing its attention when it discusses the Pepsi ICC Development Programme?
Global development is one of the jewels in the ICC’s crown, a triumph of vision over complacency and narrow commercial advantage. The World Cricket League structure and the first-class Intercontinental Cup are huge achievements, and the five regional development offices, despite the ludicrous inequities in their funding, have done a great deal to foster the game on almost every continent and many an island around the world.
At the very top of that pyramid, the High Performance Program has contributed a vast amount of money, advice and expertise to the improvement of cricket in the leading Associates, as Ireland’s victories in the 2007 World Cup and this year’s World Twenty20 and The Netherlands’ defeat of England in the latter tournament testify.
Yet the record of the Full Members in providing practical support for this Program has, let’s face it, been woeful. In the two and a half years since the 2007 World Cup, the ten Full Members have condescended to play just 34 ODIs against the Associates, a miserable 1.1 matches a month, across ten countries.
It’s instructive, too, to look at the actual distribution of those 33 games. Zimbabwe, no doubt for their own good reasons, lead the way with 10 (eight of them against Kenya, two against Ireland). Then come West Indies (6), Bangladesh (4), India and South Africa (3), England, New Zealand and Pakistan (2), and Sri Lanka and Australia (1).
And against that largely disgraceful record of non-co-operation, where does Bindra throw the emphasis? On the ‘development potential’ (read ‘possible big bucks’) of the USA and China, and the desirability of the Full Members playing ‘competitive’ cricket there!
No-one would deny the desirability of the USACA throwing off its internal difficulties and achieving its true international potential, and no-one could fail to be impressed by the ambition of the Chinese as they set about building up the sport from a zero base.
But to focus on these as the central issues in global development is to prostitute the vision which motivates the programme, and once again to sell out the ICC’s much-vaunted Spirit of Cricket to the rather less laudable Spirit of Greed.