Cynical, greedy, and an utter disgrace
It would be difficult to imagine a more blatant or brutal abuse of power, at least in the world of sport, than Monday’s decision by the ICC Executive Board, not only to restrict the 2015 World Cup to ten participants, but to exclude the leading Associates absolutely.
It is a decision which will do incalculable damage to the global development of the game, undermining the ICC’s own programmes, but the simple truth is that the greedy money-men who made it just don’t care. The only things they are interested in are their relationships with their beloved sponsors and commercial partners, and the accountants’ bottom line.
It is arguably the most destructive decision for the future of cricket since the early 1960s, when those who were running the game in those days, the English, the Australians and the New Zealanders, gave the finger to the rest of the world and to their own constitution, and announced that despite South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth they would go on playing Test cricket against the representatives of that appalling racial tyranny.
The present power-structure of the ICC has its roots in that crisis, and those who now wield the power, the BCCI and its allies, are as ruthless in their pursuit of self-interest and as audacious in their contempt for reason and decency as their predecessors ever were.
You have to admire, in a perverse way, their capacity for hypocrisy and double-think. As others have already observed, even as they were slamming the door in the faces of their 95 Associate and Affiliate members, they were congratulating themselves, with the most ghastly complacency, on the splendour of the 2011 event. It had been absolutely terrific, they said, they’d all done terribly well – and therefore the next one would be completely different.
It did not matter to them that one of the most dramatic matches of the entire tournament had been Ireland’s victory over England – or perhaps it was precisely to avoid such humiliations of the past that gutless Full members voted to prevent such things happening next time.
Everything the ICC says about its decision is marked by dishonesty and hypocrisy. It’s a decision to streamline the event – but 2015 is likely to be just as long and drawn-out as 2011. It’s intended to prevent one-sided games – but the side dismissed for the two lowest totals, Bangladesh, and the three who lost by ten wickets, Zimbabwe, the West Indies and England, will be given automatic places.
There had been rumours in recent months that the worst effects of the impending decision would be softened in some way: there would be a qualification process for the last two places, perhaps the 2015 tournament would involve twelve teams. But in the end raw power and grubby backstairs dealing prevailed, and gifted players like Kevin O’Brien and Ryan ten Doeschate, whose performances lit up this year’s event, were told their World Cup careers were effectively over.
Even the sops which are offered to the Associates and Affiliates are worthless, or will do more harm than good. What trust can be placed in the ‘assurance’ that there will be some kind of qualification process, based on a yet-to-be-finalised ODI championship, in 2019? Are the Full members likely to be more altruistic, or less manipulative, in four or five years’ time?
As for the expansion of the World Twenty20 Cup, which ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat so patronisingly holds out as compensation, what will be the effect on domestic structures and on coaching of the message that hit-and-giggle is the only kind of cricket the Associates and Affiliates are good for? How would Zimbabwe or the West Indies react if they were told that they weren’t good enough even to have a chance to qualify for ‘the Cup that Counts’, but that they’d be allowed to play two Twenty20 matches every two years instead?
And what have the Full members just told the talented cricketers of the leading Associates and Affiliates? That if they aspire to making it on the world stage, they must be prepared to abandon the country which nurtured them and helped them develop their skills, and which is so much in need of their abilities, and play instead for one of the privileged few.
Ireland and the Netherlands have improved, the egregious Lorgat proclaimed on Monday as he attempted to defend the indefensible, but Canada and Kenya ‘have gone backwards’. Maybe so, but might some of the blame for that not fall on the shoulders of the Full members, who can’t be bothered to offer a meaningful programme of matches against the top Associates, and then declare that they’re not competitive enough?
There is much that needs changing in Associate and Affiliate cricket. But this short-sighted, self-serving decision can only make things worse, not better.
And in my pantheon of contempt for cricket’s loathsome ‘administrators’, there’s a special place for the three Associates’ representatives on the ICC Executive Board. Maybe they did their best on Monday to argue the case of the powerless group they speak for; perhaps the deal over 2019 was some kind of victory for their political skills.
But I am utterly at a loss to understand why they did not come out of that meeting in Mumbai declaring that the Board had made a terrible mistake, that the Full members had abused their power outrageously, and that they were resigning, en bloc and forthwith. Their silence makes them complicit, and leaves them open to the suspicion that they are more interested in their own position and their illusion of power than they are in the members they represent or the game they supposedly love.