World awaiting justice from ICC
Neil Drysdale (Glasgow Herald)
Later this month, the ICC will convene in Hong Kong for their annual conference and, although there are plenty of other items for them to discuss, the burning issue for the Associate countries lies in whether the governing body will commit a U-turn and allow the emerging nations the chance to qualify for the 2015 World Cup. Their own president, Sharad Pawar, has asked his fellow officials to re-consider their original decision, and it seems probable that they will follow his advice. But this is the ICC, an organisation with a labyrinthine structure and a tendency for making bizarre judgments, so it would be as well not to take anything for granted before their grand panjandrums assemble.
The principle at stake is a simple one: how can any sport which claims to be a truly global pursuit preach to the unconverted by resorting to a cliquey closed shop, with the likes of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and even the West Indies being allowed automatic entry without demonstrating they have deserved the opportunity. I watched some of the, erm “action”, from the ODI series between the former giants of the Caribbean and India at the weekend and it was painful to behold the disintegration of a cricketing force who once ruled the globe. And, as for the attendances….well, it has grown obvious that fans who used to be passionate and vociferous have had the enthusiasm and the stuffing knocked out of them during the last 20 years of gradual, but apparently inexorable decline.
Ireland have been the most vocal opponents of the ICC’s original ruling and why not, considering that they recorded a series of notable scalps, including victories over Pakistan and England at the last two World Cups. Their chief executive, Warren Deutrom, is a little coiled spring of restless energy and industry and he, as much as anyone, will be nervously awaiting the news from the ICC’s deliberations, despite arguing persuasively that this matter is a no-brainer.
“The bottom line of what we want to see emerging from Hong Kong is that the directors remember their duty to the sport, not to mention their fiduciary duties, and reinstate the qualifying tournament,” Deutrom told the Herald this week.
“Not one of the 95 countries beneath Test level, nor, for that matter, most of the media, players and people I have spoken to confidentially in the Full Member countries, fell that the decision which was reached was in the best interests of the sport.
“As for the public, the fact that a poll by Cricinfo, in which more than 90% of 17,000 people who were surveyed, felt the ICC decision was either “a disgrace” or “tough on Ireland” speaks eloquently about the feelings of cricket fans all over the world.
“With the ICC president having acted to reinstate the issue at board level, and with the greats of the game on the ICC’s Cricket Committee [which includes such luminaries as Clive Lloyd, Ian Bishop Mark Taylor, Kumar Sangakkara, Gary Kirsten and Ravi Shastri] stating unanimously that the sport needs to be in step with every other major sport on the planet in having a qualifier for is showpiece event, one hopes that the ICC directors are finally listening to what every other stakeholder in cricket is saying.”
These sentiments have been echoed by Deutrom’s counterparts in Scotland, Canada, the Netherlands and in every corner of the earth where men and women are being captivated by the battle between bat and ball. I know this from personal experience, having received several messages, during the last week, from readers who wouldn’t normally be able to purchase a copy of the Herald, but for the wonders of the Internet revolution.
One such missive arrived from Cyril Djebah, who dwells in Port Harcourt in Nigeria and who wrote the following, in response to my plea for the Associates to be offered greater assistance by the ICC: “I read your article and couldn’t help but show my entire support for it. I felt as if I was the only one, noticing the insincerity of the ICC about Associate cricket and new converts to the game. I think it’s high time that they formed a world body of their own to run their affairs and move on from there. As you said, the ICC is only interested in Test-playing countries and doesn’t want others to join the party.”
This theme was reinforced by Vince Graham, a keen-as-mustard amateur player in Jersey, who believes that those officials who clamoured for the second-tier nations to be excluded from the next World Cup should fall on their swords in Hong Kong.
“What they did was against the spirit of competitive sport, where the smaller teams have the chance to cause an upset, and the ICC should be ashamed of the way they behaved. The fact is that any sport which only has 10 countries involved can’t consider itself a truly global one and if cricket wants to move into new territory, it has to keep breaking new ground. Otherwise, you might as well forget about calling it a “World Cup”, because, at the moment, there’s nobody there from America, Eastern Europe and China. Let’s have a qualifying event and the more teams who are involved in it, the better.”
There isn’t space to carry similar messages from Ireland and Canada, but one trusts that the ICC now realise the depth of resentment which their actions have sparked. One of the curses of any organisation, where self-preservation holds sway, is that everything tends to be concentrated on the elite at the expense of the little guys. But this was an absurd cock-up by the directors in the first place and they should be made to acknowledge it.
WHAT ABOUT AN INVITATION TO THE TWENTY20 PARTY?
Regular readers will be aware that I am not a devotee of endless Twenty20 fixtures, and the Sky schedules have been packed with these contests in the last few days. Of course, anything which encourages the MTV generation to glance at cricket is to be welcomed, but T20s are not, and never will be, any substitute for the longer versions of the sport.
They are the cork-and-willow equivalent of fast food; they provide you with sustenance while you are watching them, but you’re hungry again half an hour later.
Firstly, why didn’t the ECB see fit to extend an invitation to the Scots to participate in the group stages, or even ask the European Associates to assemble a team of the best performers from Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands?
That would have ensured they were both a competitive force and would have allowed the amateurs to sharpen up in Twenty20 in preparation for next year’s world qualifying tournament. Whereas, both Celtic countries are scrabbling around for matches at the moment, which is the opposite of ideal.
The second thought is more whimsical. Namely, what happens next when this format loses its appeal? Do we switch to Ten10 and then Five5?
Doubtless, there will be some bright spark anxiously scanning the attendance figures for Twenty20 – and they have fallen markedly in some places – and plotting the next cricketing revolution.
And with some players retiring at 27 and 28 to focus on the crash-bang-wallop circuit, it will surely only be a matter of time before somebody moans that Twenty20 lasts too long!
Neil Drysdale will be at next week’s Intercontinental Cup game between Scotland and the Netherlands at Mannofield in Aberdeen.
Follow him on Twitter at @NeilKDrysdale or get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org