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16 the list of Great Sporting Fiascos of our time. Edinburgh and Atlanta were flawed in execution; England’s Champions Trophy was a terrible idea from the start – a turkey of a tournament. This was all said here a year ago. The International Cricket Council (ICC) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) must share the blame, and we will leave it at that.
But among the dozens of tricks they missed was the idea of lining up not merely all the players at an opening ceremony (which is fundamental) but the officials of all the competing countries as well. Had they done that, it would have made the point that the ICC and ECB, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, are not the worst administrations in cricket.
Let’s consider the dozen countries who took part in the Champions Trophy. It would not be difficult to argue that a majority of their governing bodies could, in varying degrees, be categorised as either incompetent, corrupt, government-controlled or racist. The Kenya Cricket Association acquired a reputation so bad even by the standards of its own country – one of the most notoriously corrupt in Africa – that it was disbanded by the government. The USA Cricket Association has been appalling for years, and by the end of 2004 the ICC felt stung into sending it a letter of such vituperative splendour (quoted in our Cricket in the United States section on page 1521) that it should stand as a classic of its kind.
The Sri Lankan board’s ex-president is still listed as a member of cricket’s supreme body, the ICC executive board, and has continued to attend meetings, but only after receiving special bail arrangements from the courts (he faces charges relating to his alleged involvement with a gangster, who was shot dead in court). In January 2005, the AGM of the Indian board, the most powerful in the game, was closed in 30 seconds, having been preceded by elections that were at best suspect and at worst outrageous. And so on. In a way, this explains the ICC’s complaisant attitude towards Zimbabwe, a full member with a seat at the table. Pick on them for maladministration, and where do you stop? But uniquely, there is evidence that Zimbabwean cricket is guilty on all four of the above counts.
Zimbabwe’s rebel players may not be saintly victims, except in the sense that everyone suffering under Robert Mugabe’s regime is a victim. And it may be that they will have been driven to submission by the time this is published, and that some kind of peace will have broken out. That might have solved the most visible of the country’s cricketing problems – its inadequate team. It won’t deal with what lies beneath.
The ICC managed to find a couple of judges who solemnly reported that Zimbabwean cricket is not racist, just as British governments always find some supine judge to blame someone else for a disaster. How can Zimbabwean cricket not be racist? The board’s announced policy is racist. If it isn’t racist, it would be the only institution in the whole damn country that isn’t. That’s not new: Rhodesia was a white racist country; Zimbabwe has turned that on its head. The racism might be a legitimate redress for past injustices (I think that’s broadly true of UCB policies in South Africa), but non-merit selection is still racist. And in Zimbabwe, it has been executed with a peculiar mixture of malignancy and ham-fistedness. When the Mugabe
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regime falls, then – as with apartheid – something of the truth may come out. Those who collaborated with the regime’s excesses, inside the country and out, might then feel some sense of shame. That includes cricket administrators. Christmas Day at Headingley, anyone? The most consistent fault of the game’s rulers, however, is that they are rotten impresarios: they have lost any sense of when and how to present a cricket match. I have warmed to the Super Test and one-day Superseries between Australia and the Rest of the World scheduled for this October and (unlike some statisticians) think the world will still turn if the fixtures have official Test and one-day status. But why hold them in October, when Australia is not geared up for cricket watching? And why only one Test when this could have provided the best series of all time? There is too much dross on the fixture list, that’s why.
In the meantime, we move on to the 2005 season in England, an absolutely lip-smacking prospect, not least because it is an odd-numbered year when the midsummer months of June and July are (unlike any others in the twoyear cycle) free of football, leaving a gap in the back pages and the public consciousness for cricket to burst through. And what better than a potentially close Ashes series?
But no. Locked into an inflexible TV schedule and an even more inflexible mindset, the ECB have come up with something else. They are filling the entire second half of June – traditional time for the Lord’s Ashes Test – with a tournament dedicated to the thrilling proposition of discovering the two best one-day teams out of England, Australia and Bangladesh. The Ashes will not even start until July 21 (when football is limbering up, earlier than usual to make room for the 2006 World Cup) and will not finish until September 12, deep into the football season and, very likely, the weather that did for the Champions Trophy.
This year marks the sesquicentenary of Wisden’s greatest editor, Sydney Pardon. And it seems right to quote somewhere in the Notes his most famous phrase “touched the confines of lunacy,” which he used to describe the 1909 England selectors. The selectors have made themselves fireproof lately, but the rest of cricket is so target-rich that one holds that phrase like a card player with the ace of trumps, hardly knowing the right moment to deploy it. This would be it, except that someone has already played the joker. A leader in The Times described this scheduling as “total madness”. And so it is. The Gulf between us It now seems almost certain (though it is as yet unconfirmed) that, after 96 years, the ICC will soon move from Lord’s to pitch what will no doubt be a more palatial camp in Dubai. This is not an unreasonable decision, enabling it to maximise tax and cost advantages, and it will probably prove more symbolic than significant.
The main consequences will be for the ICC itself. Dubai is an excellent airline hub, a pleasant destination for a weekend break and a useful place
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