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By Suresh Menon
It is a tribute to India’s clout in the International Cricket Council that Australia have chosen a former Prime Minister to head the body in 2012. John Howard who will take over from Sharad Pawar (whose term begins this year) is a genuine fan, unlike the Indian who is a politician and might take offence if it is suggested that he is steeped in the traditions of the game.
It was the turn of Australia-New Zealand to nominate a President, and although they made a dog’s dinner of it, a ‘consensus’ candidate finally emerged. Part of Howard’s brief will be to get the much weakened ICC back where it belonged, as the most powerful body in the sport and a true repository of all that is great and good.
In recent years, goes the argument, India have hijacked the ICC, using it as their plaything, making it jump through hoops because this is where 75 percent of the money in the game is generated. If Howard does his job well, he will keep the family united, with India and Australia and the West Indies and the rest all keeping their communication lines with the parent body and with one another open.
If he does it too well, then it might lead to a split in the cricketing world, with one lot following the colour of the skin and the other lot following the money (although these may be directly related).
Australia’s desperation to have their own man in place (ahead of New Zealand’s John Anderson, a businessman who has represented his country at the ICC for many years) was clear when, following a disagreement, a committee was formed to choose the vice president. It comprised two representatives each from the two countries, under the chairmanship of an Australian. The big brother syndrome in that part of the world is as strong as the one in Asia where India call the shots and are criticized for it.
New Zealanders have questioned Howard’s cricketing credentials but he is at least an unabashed fan, as the cricket writer and historian David Frith has pointed out in a recent article on cricinfo. When the Indian team toured in 2004, Howard held a reception at his place where he showed off Don Bradman’s cap and other memorabilia.
It will be interesting to see how India react to the appointment of Howard. His track record as a supporter of apartheid and white rule in Zimbabwe is well known. That alone could bring him into conflict with India, especially if his unstated brief is to create just such a conflict and put India in their place. The Test cricket world can be split five and four on the basis of colour if we leave Zimbabwe out for the moment (but Howard can’t, the ICC will have to deal with that country).
But ultimately, the cricketing world will not be ruled by either colour of skin or political convenience, but something more basic – money. Keeping India happy has been on the ICC agenda for a few years now, ever since Jagmohan Dalmiya showed the body how it could make money if only it knew how to market itself.
Thus cricket ceased being a mere sport and became a product (or ‘property’), and those who played it or were involved with it became businessmen.
Will Howard have the strength of character to look beyond the bottom line and focus on what has made the game unique over a century and a quarter? Or will he overplay his hand, alienate India, and split the cricketing world?