WORLD cricket has finally shown some commonsense in rejecting the bid by former Australian prime minister John Howard to become the vice-president of its governing body.
The post of vice-president serves as a two-year incumbency for the next president and the nominations for this position come from different cricket-playing regions in turn. This time it was the turn of the Australasian region and Howard was nominated by Australia while New Zealand put forward an eminent administrator, Sir John Anderson. Politicking ensured that Howard, the worse of the two candidates – by more than a mile – was put forward.
This happened in March. It was assumed that the vice-presidency was a shoo-in but it was not to be. Six countries put their names to a letter on June 29, objecting to his nomination and saying that he was not a suitable candidate. They have asked for the name of another candidate to be put forward.
Howard has had little to do with cricket. He is the type of man who will confess a love for anything if it gains him political mileage and cricket is one game that is very popular in Australia; indeed, many people describe the Australian cricket captain as the second most powerful man in the country.
The Australian media is trying to make out that Howard is an extremely principled man and that the cricket boards which have objected to him are trying to prevent the entry into world cricket of a man who will try to put the house in order. Rubbish.
Howard showed during his 11 years as prime minister that he was willing to sleep with the devil if it would keep him in power. He had no principle – apart from that of doing anything to stay in control of his party. He did nothing to fight against the xenophobic policies of a woman politician named Pauline Hanson, put Aboriginal reconciliation back by a few centuries, was as anti-asylum-seeker as they come, sent the military to board a ship carrying refugees to Australia and did everything possible to discriminate against non-whites.
When it comes to things cricketing, there are a couple of things about Howard’s past which are unlikely to have endeared him to the six boards – Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, and the West Indies – which objected to his nomination. One is his crude comment about Sri Lankan leg-spinner Muthiah Muralitharan, calling him a chucker. Howard’s words were, “they proved it in Perth with that thing.” If anything, the reverse was true.
The second thing is Howard’s refusal to let Australia tour Zimbabwe in 2007. At this point, white farmers were being dispossessed of their land by blacks, with official support from the government of Robert Mugabe. While this decision is certainly justified, it must be borne in mind that Howard was deeply enamoured of South Africa during its apartheid era and only constant advice that it would harm his political prospects kept him from making a visit there in the 1980s. He opposed sanctions against South Africa but was more than willing to institute sanctions against Zimbabwe once Mugabe came to power.
It is, thus. difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was disturbed only by one kind of discrimination. When blacks were the target, it did not seem to bother him.
Cricket has always been a political game. It was taken up by countries colonised by Britain and for a long time Australia and England had veto power over decisions taken by the world body. Power has slipped from these two countries as the ability to generate finances to support the game has grown in India. Today, four-fifths of the money in the game comes from India which distributes it to all the cricket-playing countries.
As the old English proverb goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Once India decided to reject Howard, it was only natural that Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would go along. That would have been sufficient to sink his candidacy.
There are other factors why India has decided to reject Howard. It is doubtful that Australia commands a great deal of respect in India, following the attacks on students which have taken place over the last three years. Additionally, all the Australian kow-towing to China and its refusal to treat India on the same level would hardly have gone down well in New Delhi.
Despite all the righteous talk that politics has no place in sport, the reverse is true. A politician who wants to keep his options open as a sports administrator later on in life would do well to be more circumspect than Howard has been.
It’s worthwhile remembering here that Australia and England ran world cricket for a long time with a condescending and patronising attitude towards the other non-white nations. South Africa was part of the clique and the fact that it would not play against non-white nations caused no disquiet either in London or Canberra.
More than once, rule changes were introduced to curb the rise of the West Indies in order that England, Australia and South Africa could continue to be the dominant powers. The first time in the 1950s, when Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine were bamboozling the opposition, the front-foot lbw law was changed. Not many seasons after that, at Edgbaston in 1957, Colin Cowdrey and Peter May used their pads to negate everything which the two spinners could throw at them in a partnership of 411. The spin twins never recovered from this.
The next time the West Indies threatened to dominate was in the 1960s and Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith were their spearheads. A campaign began to label Griffith a chucker (Richie Benaud was in the forefront); it succeeded to some extent but did not daunt the fierce Barbadian. Then the front foot no-ball rule was introduced. The pair were reined in.
The last time the cricketing authorities attempted to rein in the West Indies was in the 1980s. Clive Lloyd’s fearsome four-man pace battery had started its triumphant run and the question of bouncers was raised. Mind you, world cricket’s governing body had never been exercised about bouncers when England’s John Snow and David Brown were running amuck, nor when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson were causing havoc in the ranks of opposing teams. The number of bouncers per over was clipped back to one but that did not get in the way of the West Indies finally squashing all and sundry under their heels.
Discrimination has always been part of cricket since its inception as an international sport. Australia, thus, has no reason to whinge now and complain that it is not getting a fair deal. The wheel has turned and both Howard and Australia should just shut up and cop it sweet.