<i>Hitting a Speed bump</i>

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Oscar Wilde once said of sport: "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you place the blame". For a man who didn't even like cricket ("because it requires one to acquire such indecent positions"), he seemed to have marvellous insight into its chemistry. On the other hand, maybe he just had a good understanding of the human mind, and realised that some things would never change.

Wilde's musings sprang to mind this week as the International Cricket Council continued to take a complete hammering over its decision to place chief executive Malcolm Speed on gardening leave. The story goes that the Australian was at loggerheads with his board over the question of Zimbabwe's financial irregularities, and was particularly upset that an audited report into the affair would not be made public.

Since then the invective has flown thick and fast. Murderers and rapists have escaped with lighter criticism. The world body has been charged with endorsing corruption and racism, of being broken-backed and weak, and by one writer, of being amoral, unprincipled, shallow, self-centred, ill-informed and contemptible. Oh yes, and pathetic.

All of which might be true, particularly if suggestions that individuals within Zimbabwe Cricket have been misappropriating ICC funds turn out to be correct. In fact, considering what happens with many aid packages throughout the third world, it was perhaps naive to imagine anything else. Of course there have been fingers in the till.

But the point is, it doesn't make any sense for the cricket community to roast the ICC over this, because the ICC is the cricketing community. The world body's voting members are the chairmen and presidents of the 10 test-playing nations. They are the face of world cricket; a representative image. Buffoons maybe, but what does that say of us?

I mean, the most strident critics of the ICC in the past week have been of Australian, English and New Zealand origin; perhaps echoing the cries of a fading cabal. Yet the ICC's executive board voted unanimously against disclosing Zimbabwe's alleged financial irregularities. That is, the Kiwis, the Aussies and the Poms were in it up to their eyeballs, just like everyone else.


I'm confused (again). Who are we blaming? It wasn't the ICC that protected Zimbabwe, it was our own elected representatives. I understand that it would be nice to imagine the world body as a separate entity, a mythical bogeyman that we could tar-and-feather and pelt with fruit, but the reality lies a little closer to home. If we want to think of them as a pack of idiots, that's fine - but we should always remember that they're our idiots, and we chose them.

There are a couple of postscripts to this story, however. For starters, the explanation from ICC president-elect David Morgan that, rather than identifying any particular culprits, the report had "essentially reflected the extremely difficult tradition position in Zimbabwe", deserves at least a measure of consideration, given the volatile inflationary and exchange rate conditions present. But even then, it is still hard to swallow.

The other aspect is all too familiar: India. The game's major power-broker has invested heavily in Zimbabwe over the years, and is now harvesting its reward in the shape of a vote at the board table. Zimbabwe has sided with India on just about every meaningful ICC issue for years. An alliance has been established; a cash-for-votes arrangement pursued, and India is not about to allow a rogue chief executive to get in the way.

Just as China nurtures struggling regimes in return for credibility or votes at international conferences, so does India exploit the most vulnerable ICC members to their own advantage. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are all onside; South Africa and Zimbabwe are willing accomplices, and it seems inevitable that the West Indies - one of the least financial operators - will eventually clamber on board.

There was also the commotion caused within the Indian board a few weeks ago after Speed seemed to soften his stance on the rebel Indian Cricket League, suggesting that the question of the outlawed competition gaining the ICC's sanction, could be an "interesting" one. Talk to any major cricket journalist in India at the moment and they will swear that it was this statement, as much as the Zimbabwe question, that hastened the chief executive's departure.

Whether that's true or not is anyone's guess. What is clear is that the premature loss of Speed and the retention of Zimbabwe at the voting table have strengthened India's position, particularly in regard to the on-going question of the ICL's status. You can bet your last rupee that the incoming chief executive, South Africa's Haroon Lorgat, has been thoroughly vetted.

As distasteful as it all might seem, this is the way of the political world and has been for some time not just since India started flexing its muscles. For those who doubt this; who would hold the Indian subcontinent to blame for perceived declining standards, I can only point them in the direction of a quote from former Pakistan great Imran Khan.

Accused of all sorts of skulduggery and underhand tactics in his heyday, and a comment from one English player that all Pakistanis were unprincipled "cheats", Imran agreed it was probably true, saying "yes, and we learnt it all at your universities".

The reality seems to be that we enjoy placing blame, but are reluctant to take any responsibility. It doesn't matter whether it's the school board, our elected members of parliament or the United Nations. We're more than happy to excuse ourselves from any involvement, and then start hurling the toys as soon as any decisions are made.

The trouble is, our criticism- rather than encouraging change or improvement - often asks more questions of ourselves than the intended target. Former England captain Geoffrey Boycott managed that in one sentence last week when he described the ICC as "an organisation with all the brains of a chocolate mouse".

A pot or a kettle anyone?

Sunday Star Times