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By Suresh Menon
The former Australian Prime Minister John Howard may not have been the ideal candidate for the presidency of the International Cricket Council, but that assumes there is such a thing as an ideal candidate. For Australia and England, the ideal candidate would be someone who put India and their supporters in their place, while for India it would be someone who appreciated the ground reality and behaved accordingly. The ground reality being that India had the money, the muscle and the manpower and should thus be allowed to get their way. The ICC has been steadily making itself irrelevant over the years.
Despite the fact that only nine countries play Test cricket, it was a tenth, Zimbabwe, out of the circuit for five years, who called the shots. Zimbabwe organized the opposition to Howard, and got six countries to sign the letter rejecting him (while not signing it themselves). That is cause for worry. Zimbabwe run the most corrupt cricket board in a world where corrupt cricket boards are the norm.
As long as money rules, India’s seat at the head table is assured, but England and Australia know all about divide-and-rule, and may have backed Howard’s candidacy for his possible talent in that area. No country has come out of this mess with dignity. No country, that is, with the possible exception of New Zealand, who, after their own candidate was rejected by a bullying Australia, threw their weight behind the man chosen from their region.
To assume that a politician like Sharad Pawar is any different from a politician like John Howard would be naieve in the extreme. Howard at least is a genuine lover of cricket, and has been one for years; Pawar might have married the daughter of a Test cricketer, but his interest in the game is of recent vintage and based not on the attributes that make it unique but on the power it helps him wield (and possibly the money it helps him make, if the allegations of his finger in the IPL pie turn out to be true).
Much of India’s support stems from the fact that until Jagmohan Dalmiya took over as the President of the ICC and changed the face of cricket administration, the founder members were notorious for running the international body like a private club with its private rituals and exclusion principles. It is not unique to cricket that those with power have ridden roughshod over those without. India and other countries suffered at the hands of the ‘veto’ nations Australia and England till that anomaly was removed in 1992.
Sadly, when the balance of power shifted to India, they lacked someone with a statesman’s world view and the ability to carry everyone with him. Dalmiya succumbed to populism, giving as good as he thought India had got in the past, and that trend continues. Howard doesn’t look the sort of person keen on breaking the cycle of give (when in power) and take (when not), so from an objective point of view too he was not an ideal candidate. As long as settling of old scores remains the guiding principle, the ICC has little chance of climbing out of the rut it has got itself into. Between the veto power and brute majority, cricket has suffered enough. Pawar has the chance now to be statesman and diplomat rather than politician.
Still, the whole thing could have been handled with dignity. A couple of phone calls here, an email message there, and the message would have got home, saving the international body the embarrassment of a public humiliation. That is, if Australia were even the slightest bit sensitive to the negative feelings Howard generated.
They have till August 31 to nominate another candidate, and those who know Howard say you cannot write him off yet. He might well be the chosen one again, and that would be interesting. It would also be an insult to the many fine Australians, administrators as well as former players, capable of doing a better job.