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BCCI - The long tail that wags the ICC dog
by Boria Majumdar
Jan 08, 2008
By Boria Majumdar - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

As the ICC gets set to celebrate its centenary, it is facing what might be its worst ever crisis. A body, which started out as the Imperial Cricket Conference once again stands the risk of being restored to its original status. Only this time it is a new brand of imperialism born recently in the Indian sub-continent that threatens to take over cricket’s governing body. This was evident in a mundane, yet most fascinating, media briefing by ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 8 January 2008.

Speed, while at pains to emphasize that the ICC was under no pressure to dump Steve Bucknor from officiating in the third Test, can hardly justify the removal if it hadn’t been for pressure exerted by the BCCI.

Soon after the briefing was over, nearly all of the Australian reporters present conveyed to their editors a simple truth-India had won this round against Bucknor and also the ICC. And however much the ICC tries to stave of India’s growing influence, in a situation where India contributes 70% of the money generated in world cricket, it will prove an uphill battle.  

If the ICC was confident of its position as the sole arbiter of world cricket and supreme authority in the appointment of umpires, as its media release states, it could have ignored the pressure exerted by India and could have suggested that Bucknor has just had one bad Test and things are sure to look up in Perth. At the same time, there was absolutely no reason to summon its chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle to Perth to dissipate tensions between the two teams by convening a meeting between the two captains.

While it continues to attempt to protect its sanctity by emphasizing that Mike Procter will continue to be in charge, Madugalle’s presence is sure to put pressure on Procter and placate the Indians given his reputation and past record. At the moment, it is a rather interesting stage in the tug of war between the BCCI and the ICC in which neither wishes to wink first. However, unless the ICC is able to reduce its monetary dependence on India, that it will have to concede ground is a formality.  

Perhaps the best example of the growing sub-continental clout is Kumble’s statement that one team played in the spirit of the game. A press conference is an integral part of the game and such a statement in a packed media conference was bound to have evoked a reprimand from the ICC had it been in a position of authority. Had it known that the Indians weren’t in a position to fight back, Kumble would surely have been asked to explain why he brought the game into disrepute by labeling such a serious charge against the rival captain. The ICC, however, did nothing of the like. In fact, it accepted that things aren’t well and resorted to summoning Madugalle to set things in order.  

Questions have been raised in India why Speed, while he dumped Bucknor unilaterally, did not do the same to Mike Procter for handing Harbhajan Singh the three Test ban. Answers reside in the ICC’s desperate attempt to retain its sanctity. While accepting the right to appeal and by holding back the hearing for a while, the ICC certainly did damage control. India’s primary demand that Harbhajan be allowed to play in Perth was thus granted. At the same time it allowed itself the opportunity to suggest that it had stood by its match referee and legal arbitrator. Had Speed unilaterally suspended the ban, not only would he have compromised Mike Procter’s position, he would also have made Nigel Peters look like a non entity after Peters had been appointed by the ICC. That Speed did well to diffuse tensions was evident from the BCCI statement that the tour would go on as planned.  

However, while Speed was able to successfully do damage control on this occasion, days aren’t far off when even damage control would prove impossible. There may well come a situation when India presses on for the acceptance of all its demands and insists that a compromise is not satisfactory.  

While the ICC is about to celebrate a hard earned century in 2009, its well-being is certainly in doubt. It may well be that the final stamp of compromise is put once Sharad Pawar assumes the Presidency of the world body in a few years time. The process can be hastened if an Indian is picked to succeed Malcolm Speed come July 2008, a position many leading Indian cricket administrators are after. In fact, the situation is such that Malcolm Speed, having done a fair stint at pole position, wouldn’t mind handing over the reins to his successor while still continuing to call the shots somewhat.  

Finally, it can be suggested there will be two Test matches played at Perth come January 16 2008. The first will be played in the middle between India and Australia and the second in the ICC’s boardroom where its leaders will play each ball with equal intensity as the players. Another crisis and world cricket may well be divided down the middle, something the ICC can ill afford on the eve of its centenary. If that happens, the centenary may well turn into a funeral.  

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