One of the elements of the notorious description used by the ECB (and PCA) which provided the name of this site was the implied attitude towards those who at amateur level played the game, or who watched, bought tickets or paid television subcriptions. It was a perfect demonstration of their opinion of the plebians who merely provided all the revenue to allow those either within cricket administration, professional players or indeed journalists or broadcasters to earn a living. It remains one of the most despicable statements ever used by a sporting body towards those upon whom a game relies, and that statement is still carried on the ECB website, and no apology or even acknowledgement of it has ever been made.
But on its own, in isolation, it could perhaps be seen as the botched missive of an idiocracy which most people could brush off and laugh at. Except the trouble was that this attitude was pervasive, and not just within the ECB, it went through every level of the international game. Indeed, the attitude of the ECB was carried forward into the highest echelons of the international game. The film Death of a Gentleman outlined the perspective that supporters were merely there to be monetised in detail, and the ECB were not just complicit, they led the way alongside India and Australia in attempting to grab as much filthy lucre as possible.
The power grab by the Big Three (one suspects that rather than hear the dripping contempt of that phrase, some within will view it as a badge of honour) was largely about increasing power and increasing the revenues to those boards, entirely at the expense of everyone else. The remaining Test nations would be worse off, the Associate nations might as well give up, and for a nation like Ireland, the possibility of Test cricket had receded into the distance and has little appeal to it even if they were to achieve it.
Dmitri yesterday wrote a piece about the anniversary of the removal of Kevin Pietersen as an international player. Even back then, people were told to “move on” and naturally enough, those who always seem to back the ECB no matter what were quick to repeat it. But as so often, they miss the point. Pietersen is one tiny part of a wider jigsaw, and in the grand scheme of things, one of the least important. But what that episode did demonstrate above all was the utter contempt for those who are Outside Cricket not just by word, but by deed. That attitude, irrespective of whether one is a fan of Pietersen the player or not is precisely the reason the ECB, and Giles Clarke in particular, had no compunctions whatsoever in behaving the way they did, and the reason it was so important is that it highlighted the naked greed and lack of any interest in the consequences so demonstrative of that arrogance. It was not just that they abrogated their duty of care for the game, they showed they didn’t care about the game at all, merely their own narrow self-interests. The expression of lofty superiority by authority was echoed in similar ways across the globe, and while Pietersen had his own problems and was to at least some extent the architect of his own downfall, the lack of interest in the game itself reached the point where players were not turning out for their national teams, preferring instead to play the T20 leagues, and the captain of South Africa – South Africa no less – was openly debating giving up Test cricket. Different circumstances, entirely different situations, yet it was possible to draw a direct line between all of them on the basis of the lack of interest the governing bodies had for the integrity of the game.
The Big Three carve up had the consequence of drawing the vast majority of the game’s revenues to themselves, impoverishing the remainder of the Test playing nations and killing any prospect of the game expanding beyond its rather narrow boundaries. Cricket became the first sport in history to deliberately reduce its footprint on the planet. It went further, with Clarke’s flat rejection of the idea of T20 cricket being an Olympic Sport, mostly on the grounds that it wouldn’t make his board any money, whatever he said, while slashing the development funds to non-Test playing nations and turning even the Test playing nations outside India, Australia and England into nothing other than vassals. The three countries took complete control of the ICC, ensuring that all ICC events were to be held solely in their own territories over the following ten years (though no one expected that to change at the conclusion of the agreed period) and challenging all the others to simply lump it or face being excluded from the kinds of tours that would allow them to survive as cricketing entities.
Some journalists objected, and objected vociferously. In Australia Gideon Haigh was scathing as only he can be, in England Scyld Berry broke ranks from his colleagues to condemn it outright, while Wisden in the form of Lawrence Booth sounded the alarm for cricket as a game. Since then Nick Hoult at the Telegraph has frequently written about the machinations both within the ECB and beyond. Cricinfo too raised the matter, with Jarrod Kimber impressively furious and of course along with Sam Collins making Death of a Gentleman, while Tim Wigmore has repeatedly castigated the powers that be for their duplicity and selfishness concerning the wider world game.
From others. Silence. From the Guardian, nothing – really nothing. At the time of writing, there is still nothing on the ICC meeting today. From Mike Selvey, their chief cricket correspondent, absolutely nothing at any point on the whole topic. This is no surprise, for Selvey is known to be close to Giles Clarke to the extent that a paper that has prided itself on investigating injustice has appeared to be an echo chamber – indeed a direct hotline – for the views of the ECB. Selvey’s first response on TMS to the potential for major change in favour of the richest boards was to profess ignorance of the whole matter and regard it as unimportant and when Death of a Gentleman came out he refused to watch it. As far as anyone knows he still hasn’t. It is shameful that newspaper has ignored the matter, it is despicable that they have made no effort whatever to cover it, preferring instead to imply approval of Giles Clarke’s claim that no-one is interested in administration, apparently even when it fundamentally changes the nature of the game. Colleagues such as David Conn may have views on that. For cricket lovers who have adored the Guardian’s previously excellent coverage, it is a dereliction of duty that they will find very hard to ever forgive. That it requires blogs like this one to point this out, and to try, in our own small way, to back up the work of those excellent journalists in asking questions and making criticisms is unacceptable.
Unless there is some kind of statement to the contrary, the assumption must be this is deliberate policy, for it is rather hard to believe a journalist of the quality of Ali Martin is purposely ignoring the whole subject.
Today the ICC held a meeting which largely reversed the changes made a year ago, the status quo ante prevailing. This can be viewed as progress of a sort, though Tim Wigmore wrote an excellent piece on Cricinfo pointing out the limitations of what has happened. It is well worth reading:
Wigmore is completely correct, and points to Lord Woolf’s scathing assessment of the ICC at the time, to which we now more or less return. And yet even this does provide some grounds for hope, and perhaps practicality dictates that in one board meeting the only possible immediate means of rolling back the changes was to re-instate the previous constitution. The ICC under the jackboot of India, Australia and England would have in short order killed at the very least Test cricket as we knew it. The West Indies, already in crisis through their own administrative ineptitude have reached the point where they are uncompetitive against almost anyone, their best players preferring instead to play the shortest form of the game as hired hands – and who can blame them? The battering received in Australia was greeted with sadness in some quarters, and with outrage amongst those who have delved rather more deeply into the wider problems. It was only going to get worse, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing when AB De Villiers made his statement about giving up Tests. The clear revenue increase to the majority that applies now at least buys a little time.
The ICC statement from today is worth reading in full:
It is a curious thing when an ICC statement provides some degree of cheer for the cricket fan. The removal of N. Srinivasan back in November when the BCCI withdrew support and the subsequent installation of Shashank Manohar as ICC Chairman provided the first glimpse of the possibility that the theft of the world game by an avaricious few might just come under scrutiny by those with the power to change it. The other Test playing nations, suddenly aware of their position as turkeys who had voted – or been forced to vote – for Christmas, had raised objections to their diminished status, but the constitution gave them virtually no prospect of changing anything. It required the BCCI in particular to take the lead. Manohar was swift to demonstrate things could change, saying upon his appointment:
“I don’t agree with the revenue-sharing formula, because it’s nice to say that India (BCCI) will get 22 per cent of the total revenue of the ICC, but you cannot make the poor poorer and the rich richer, only because you have the clout. Secondly there is another angle to it which nobody has thought of. India generates money because the other countries come and play in India. If you do not have a fierce competition, the broadcasters are not going to pay you and the sponsors are not going to sponsor your events.”
He went on:
“I don’t agree with the three major countries bullying the ICC. That’s my personal view, because as I have always said, an institution is bigger than individuals. You cannot guarantee which individual will occupy the top position in either of these countries. And, the ICC constitution, as it stands today, says that in all the major committees of the ICC, these three countries will be automatically there. So all the financial and commercial aspects and the executive committee will be controlled by the representatives of these three countries which according to me is wrong.
“You should have the best man, whether he comes from Zimbabwe, or West Indies, or even from an associate or affiliate to work on a committee, who will promote the interests of the ICC.”
Simple statements of truth, but it garnered attention because it was entirely at odds with everything that had gone before. Premature it may be, but there is at least a hope that the new man at the top actually gives a shit about the game. From today’s press release, one line stood out in particular:
“No Member of the ICC is bigger than the other”
Others have been quick to point out that as currently constituted, this is not true, for India in particular have the power that no one else does, and as the major driver of revenue in the game, that is certainly not inherently wrong by any means. And yet the statement has been made, and while they are merely words, they are good words. And this is where ideas begin. At long last there is at the very least a statement of first principles that he and the ICC can be held to. This is some small progress.
Another item was that the chairman of the ICC could not hold office with any of the boards. This has direct consequences for Giles Clarke, as President of the ECB. He has long aspired to be ICC Chairman, but to do so he will have to give up his role at the ECB. And yet the indications are that despite previously appearing very likely to get it, the change in structure has crippled his prospects. Australia and South Africa have already made it clear they won’t support him, Sri Lanka are reported to be reluctant. Given Clarke’s unpopularity in much of the ECB, it would be an irony if the English were the only ones in favour, and it is tempting to wonder if they are even more in favour if it means ridding themselves of him at the same time. Either way, there will be few in mourning for the dissolving dreams of a man associated with the carve up of the world game like few others.
Other elements from the press release include conducting a review of the T20 leagues and their impact on the world game. T20 is a reality, and could – and should – be something extremely good for the game, as it raises the profile, popularity, and yes, the revenues of the sport. That we are in a position where it constitutes a threat to Test cricket and international cricket more generally is not inevitable, and never was. To review this is again progress, with the tantalising prospect of providing a context for Test cricket in particular, as the form of the game most under threat.
Is it an answer? No. Is it even the outline of the answer? No. But does it provide the smallest semblance of hope that international cricket, and Test cricket in particular, has a future? Just the smallest. It is a start. If it goes no further, then the downward spiral, which has been paused today, will resume. But nothing is inevitable, and with the right people at the helm, things can improve. Today is a good day, the despair is slightly lessened, and maybe, just maybe, Mr Smith has gone to Washington.