The ICC and world cricket: a brief unofficial history (Part 2)
In Part 1, we saw how the Founding Members of the Imperial Cricket Conference ensured that Test cricket – at that time the only real form of international cricket – was open only to a small number of countries. The only change to the numbers after the Second World War was that when, in 1947, India was partitioned, Pakistan was admitted to the magic circle five years later.
Curiously, although Tests were a jealously-protected category, there was during this period no absolute standard of what the playing conditions should be. From the outset, matches between Australia and England in Australia were played over an unrestricted number of days until after World War Two, sometimes running into a sixth day, while those in England were limited to four days.
Even after the War, when it would agreed that England-Australia matches would consist of a standard 30 hours’ play, geographical differences meant that these were spread over six days in Australia and five in England, while it was only in 1955 that it was agreed that all countries visiting England would be allocated five-day Tests.
There were other local differences as well, in the number of balls in an over, and on whether the pitch was covered or not. Even the playing surface was not specified: all South Africa’s home Tests were played on matting wickets until 1931, and in India and Pakistan matting was used as late as 1952 and 1956 respectively. Test matches may have been the gold standard, but the size and value of the coinage was extremely variable.
Underlying all this was the basic fact that, apart from an unsuccessful experiment with a triangular tournament in 1912, Tests were bilateral series, and there was no suggestion of any kind of international championship. Test cricket’s spine was the Ashes series, with Australia and England exchanging visits every four years except in wartime, and other tours being arranged on a largely ad hoc basis in between.
The all-white South African Cricket Association only played against England, Australia and New Zealand, while for entirely different reasons the Australian Board, having arranged one Test against New Zealand in 1946, declined to play them again for more than a quarter of a century.
After all, the Imperial Cricket Conference was simply that, a Conference – a talking-shop with little real power. It did set the eligibility rules for players in Tests, and in 1947 it finally agreed on the definition of a first-class match, although the status of teams was still left to each national governing body to determine. And it was the Marylebone Cricket Club, host and convener of the ICC, which continued to control the Laws of the game.
But it was the first element on the ICC’s name which ultimately caused the problems, not the last. Having decided by a referendum of the all-white electorate in October 1960 to become a republic, South Africa was required to apply for readmission to the British Commonwealth and, faced by increasingly stiff opposition to his government’s apartheid policies, prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd chose to withdraw his application in March 1961 rather than have it rejected. On 31 May of that year, South Africa left the Commonwealth.
Since membership of ICC was restricted to ‘countries within the British Commonwealth’, this had immediate implications for cricket, and even more so because the sport in South Africa was organised along strictly racial lines. The Conference met on 20 July and after a one-and-a-half-hour discussion of the question issued a statement which claimed, somewhat improbably, that ‘the agenda at the Conference had to be sent out prior to the South African Government’s decision to leave the Commonwealth, with the result that the consequent position of the South African Cricket Association could not be included on the agenda’.
This obvious attempt to buy time was necessary because the Conference was deeply split: MCC had made it clear that they would continue to play South Africa, and the Australian Board confirmed that the visit by the South Africans in 1963-64 would go ahead. More immediately, New Zealand were scheduled to tour the new Republic in 1961-62, and the status of these international matches was extremely doubtful.
In the event, the issue was fudged in a way that suited South Africa and its traditional opponents (by which, of course, we mean friends). The July 1962 meeting of the Conference determined that the five Tests between South Africa and New Zealand were ‘unofficial’, but they were always included in the records and statistics as if their status was no different from any other Test, so in effect South Africa’s Test status remained unchanged despite the clear definition of Tests a ‘matches played between sides duly selected by Governing Bodies of cricket who are members of the Imperial Cricket Conference’ [my italics].
England continued to play South Africa until the amazingly botched D’Oliveira affair led to the cancellation of the 1968-69 MCC tour. New Zealand did not meet them after their 1963-64 visit, but Australia persisted in visiting the Republic until 1969-70. Even in 1971 the Conference, by now renamed the International Cricket Conference, refused to compel its members to isolate South Africa, but the balance of the debate over its racially-divided cricket structure had shifted so far that Australia cancelled the scheduled South African tour of 1971-72, and thereafter no Tests were played until a very different South Africa was readmitted to the club in 1991.
The South African issue split the ICC right down the middle, with England, Australia and New Zealand on one side, and India, the West Indies and Pakistan on the other. As Founder Members, moreover, England and Australia held a veto over any decision, ensuring that the balance of power remained in their favour and breeding a whole flock of chickens that would eventually come home to roost.
It is clear that the constitutional crisis created by South Africa’s departure triggered some radical thinking among at least some members of the Test club. Norman Preston, the editor of Wisden, reported in his Notes in the 1962 edition:
This is clearly the germ of the idea which would lead, three years later, to the creation of Associate membership, and it is notable for its suggested elimination of the Commonwealth-only clause. Just what the implications are of that ‘second division’ phrase is somewhat less evident, and it may be no more than Preston’s gloss on the proposal.
In 1962, of course, one-day international cricket had yet to make its appearance, and the model which would have come readily to hand would have been more traditional, multi-day internationals between these lesser cricketing nations. Naturally, no decision was taken at the 1962 meeting, but the following year Pakistan’s proposal for what by now was being called a Junior Section received a more sympathetic response. ‘All the representatives were in agreement over the proposal,’ Wisden reported, ‘but because it necessitated changes of rules, the secretariat of the Conference was invited to prepare a draft of the proposed alterations for confirmation at the next meeting’.
Finally, in 1965, Associate membership was introduced, and Ceylon, Fiji and the United States were the first countries to be admitted; Wisden, interestingly, added ‘there being no application from South Africa to rejoin’. The disappointment is palpable.
As some administrators must have realised, even in 1965, a time bomb had now been placed in the ICC’s offices at Lord’s. There was no theoretical limit to the number of Associate countries that might be admitted, and even with the protected position of the Full members, and the Founder members in particular, in the end that would shift the balance inexorably in the direction of change.
How that decision in 1965 brought us to where we are now will be the subject of the concluding part of this story.