WITH the nomination of former Australian prime minister John Howard to the ICC vice-presidency – he will become president in 2012 – the power-brokers in the countries that play the game have ensured that priority will be given to politics, not cricket.
Howard was prime minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. He was a divisive figure, refusing to apologise to the country’s first people for atrocities committed by white settlers, supporting the US in its crazy Iraq adventure and ensuring that the rich got richer and the poor poorer. Australia’s economy was doing well during his time – due to the boom in resources exports, not due to any financial reforms introduced by Howard’s government – but none of the money was saved; it was spent on buying votes through pork-barrel politics.
Howard is known for his support of apartheid South Africa. He was also quick to brand Sri Lankan spinner Muthiah Muralitharan a chucker, because, in his own words, “they proved it in Perth with that thing”, as stupid a statement as one can find uttered by a politician in any part of the world. His contribution to the game, in other words, is a big zero.
What makes the selection of Howard all the more amazing is that the man who was ranged against him, Sir John Anderson of New Zealand, has impeccable credentials to hold the post. Sir John became chairman of New Zealand Cricket in 1995 and then represented his country on the ICC board.
Sir John was one of the main figures in restructuring the ICC’s internal make-up and he also re-drafted its articles and committee manual. He served for 13 years. And a man like Howard has now been pushed in ahead of him. Australia, a bigger player in world cricket, has once again heavied its smaller Tasman neighbour to promote an unworthy candidate.
Cricket’s world governing body has not exactly covered itself with glory in its administration of the game. In the days when Australia and England were the dominant powers in the game, the MCC was running the show and rarely did it make decisions that ensured the progress of the game. Cricket was confined to a few counties while the officials enjoyed their sinecures.
In 1969, following the omission of a coloured player, Basil D’Oliviera from the England team to tour apartheid South Africa, the MCC had to finally rise from its slumber due to the pressure from the media. It’s worthwhile recalling that after the Gleneagles Agreement was reached, Howard was still keen on visiting South Africa.
It’s not as though politicians have not been appointed to head the ICC. But rarely has there been so much of a gap in quality between candidates and the less qualified one selected. Howard loves sinecures, parading the world stage and free travel. He used to attend the Test matches in Sydney every year but then any Australian prime minister who does not turn up at big sporting events is a fool, given the nation’s obsession with matters sporting.
Some of the most damaging things to happen to world cricket took place during the reign of Jagmohan Dalmiya, a Bengali, as ICC head. It was during his time that Bangladesh was made a Test playing nation. Nearly 13 years later, the folly of such a decision is apparent – unlike Sri Lanka, which has a good cricketing pedigree and an almost fanatical devotion to the game, Bangladesh is more attuned to soccer.
Dalmiya also brought in the infamous future tours programme which has all Test nations constantly playing games. It has ensured that there is too much of Test and one-day cricket. Players perform poorly – they are human and their bodies and minds can only handle so much.
The West Indies, a powerhouse from 1980 to 1995, and not exactly a pushover even before that, has fallen away to become little more than a joke – and the ICC has done nothing to try and prevent this disaster taking place. Now it is too late.
If the ICC wants to keep making money off cricket, it needs to look at the health of the game in all its constituent countries and take measures to ensure that teams remain at their full potential. It is not only the responsibility of the national cricketing bodies. (This is not to say that those who followed Dalmiya were much better than him when it came to looking after the health of the game.)
I think Howard will follow in Dalmiya’s footsteps. And if a situation like that which arose with Darrell Hair comes up again, it is clear in which direction he would go. World cricket is already in trouble and has had to resort to gimmicks like Twenty20 to draw crowds to the game. With Howard, a man who has the imagination of a dead duck, leading the organisation, it may well be time to start writing the game’s obituary.