A rather watered down spirit
I'll start by admitting that I don't like Tony Greig. Whilst he's not as incompetent or ignorant as some TV commentators, I find him to be rather dull and uninteresting, especially when he gets on his high horse about something. His frequent support of DRS during commentary has actually turned me against it.
So I wasn't really expecting too much from his “Spirt of Cricket” lecture at Lord's yesterday, and it was in many ways exactly what I expected.
The MCC Spirt of Cricket Cowdrey lecture began in 2001 in memory of Colin Cowdrey. The people who have given the lecture have mostly been former players, with current players invited on two occasions and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008. The event usually attracts much comment.
Most of the lectures have been rather uncontroversial in the cricketing world, but Greig decided to turn his lecture into a rather ill-advised rant against India. Greig's idea of what the “Spirit of Cricket” is seems to be “What India doesn't do”.
Whilst India's current dominance is almost certainly bad for the game, it is rather naive of Greig to assume that it is all India's fault. England and Australia are playing their own fair share in the current system we have whereby almost all of the wealth is concentrated in just a few nations.
Greig also shares the opinion of some within cricket today, including the MCC's World Cricket Committee, that lie detectors should be used to help stamp out corruption in the game. Lie detectors are pseudoscience at best and studies show that they are not significantly better than chance at “detecting” lies, which is why they're not used as evidence in court in most jurisdictions around the world. Even if we accepted the claims of 90% accuracy, you'd still have to take into account the low prior probability of cricketers being corrupt in the first place.
To get back to the topic of this website – cricket beyond the Test playing nations - Greig has some things to say in relation to that.
After a long introduction, Greig then openly admits that he has “only considered our game from the narrow perspective of the 10 Full Members of the ICC”. A narrow perspective is right, and this is precisely the problem with many within the mainstream TV, Internet and print media. Ignoring 90% of the ICC membership goes so against the spirit of cricket, it's amazing Greig had the nerve to say it.
He has something to say on the Woolf report. Early on he says that Woolf considered the view of the 95 Associate and Affiliate members and hence has a rather negative view of the game. Which is no wonder – when you listen to people whose views are usually ignored you're bound to come out with a negative view.
He expresses his dismay at the “proliferation of external reports telling us what changes need to made”, comparing this with governments telling cricket boards what they need to do. The comparison is barely valid – Woolf and others are independent, a government, by definition, is not.
He says that Woolf is talking about the cricket equivalent of asking the US, UK, Russia China and France to give up their vetoes at the UN security council or the UK's House of Lord's voting itself out of existence. Woolf may be doing that, but Greig doesn't consider whether those two examples would necessarily be bad things!
Greig says that he wants “cricket people running cricket in the best interests of cricket” and not “outsiders reading from a text book”. The thing is, as the Woolf report makes clear, the cricket people currently running cricket aren't running it in the best interests of cricket, they're protecting their own self interests, which is why some “outsiders” are needed.
At one point Greig starts to talk about the “substantial difference in available resources between the haves … and the have-nots”. But before anybody thinks he was talking about the difference between the Full members and their much poorer Associate and Affiliate counterparts, his idea of the “have-nots” are six ICC Full members – basically anyone who isn't England, Australia, India or South Africa.
The idea that Full members could possibly be “have-nots” when they get more than 100 times the funding of some Affiliate members is just bizarre. But it is not unexpected from a man who openly admits that he only considers the game from the narrow perspective of the Full members.
It is, to be frank, a betrayal of the principles of the “Spirit of Cricket” that the MCC does so much to uphold. The current ICC system, which Greig supports apart from India's dominance, is also a betrayal of that spirit.
The MCC should be embarrassed that they have had such a watered down version of the “Spirit of Cricket” presented at their annual lecture. They would do well to invite someone from the Associate/Affiliate world to deliver next year's lecture. There are plenty of suitable candidates, but I think I shall conclude this article by making an early pitch for my CricketEurope colleague Rod Lyall to deliver the lecture!