x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Powers that be running cricket to the ground

Even as Pakistan and Sri Lanka have done well on field, their administrators have been incompetent.

There has been spat between the Pakistan Cricket Board and the former captain Shahid Afridi, centre, which resulted in Afridi quitting the international arena.
There has been spat between the Pakistan Cricket Board and the former captain Shahid Afridi, centre, which resulted in Afridi quitting the international arena.

This week certainly has not been sports administration's finest hours. The fiasco that was the Fifa election has left the bitterest taste, and left one to question just what direction the beautiful game will take with such dubious characters steering the ship.

Compared to Fifa, where scandal has followed scandal, cricket's administrators have been more low-key, subject to criticism primarily for their reluctance to rock the boat or take on the might of the Indian cricket board.

In Fifa's case, the scandals relate to the alleged buying of votes for World Cup hosting bids. Cricket hasn't had to deal with similar malpractice, though critics of the International Cricket Council (ICC) point out that the 10 full-member countries are mostly aligned behind India for monetary reasons rather than ethical ones.

The disconnect with the players was revealed in a survey of 45 of them undertaken by the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations. The organisation represents the interests of players across the globe, though those from India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe have never been allowed to be part of it.

When asked if ICC decision-making was unfairly influenced by the Indian cricket board, not one of the respondents said "No". Sixty-nine per cent said "Yes".

The ICC suffers as a governing body because it remains at the mercy of its constituent boards. The recent decision to limit the 2015 World Cup to the full-member countries was simply a case of turkeys voting against Christmas. Had there been an element of fairness involved, there's no way that Zimbabwe or Bangladesh would have been guaranteed automatic berths ahead of improving sides like Ireland and Afghanistan.

Fifa, for all its financial misdeeds, still has the authority to step in and interfere when a national association is out of order. The ICC doesn't appear to have any such mandate and that lack of teeth has seen administrators run amok in countries like Zimbabwe and Pakistan. Sri Lanka has been little better, with successive boards having been put in place by the government and not through an electoral process.

It's enough to make you wonder how much better the teams would be with a competent, without-vested-interests administration in place. In the last five years alone, Sri Lanka have reached two 50-over World Cup finals and been runners-up at the World Twenty 20 in 2009.

In the same time, Pakistan have won one World Twenty20 (2009), reached the final of another (2007) and been denied a third final only by a remarkable innings from Michael Hussey (2010). A couple of months ago, they also reached the semi-finals of the 50-over World Cup and could conceivably have won it had they held their catches. All these achievements have been against a backdrop of permanent chaos. In Sri Lanka, the intrigues didn't so much surround selection or captaincy, but the board's decision to hitch its wagon to India's star.

When I was in Colombo a few years ago, a disgruntled board official showed me a copy of a broadcast deal that Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had signed. It clearly stated that the full amount would be paid only if SLC could guarantee X-number of days play against India. In return for a few dollars more, the board had bartered away its autonomy.

Pakistan's case is even more pitiable. Once, under the wise Shahryar Khan and with Bob Woolmer as coach, there was genuine hope that the country could become a force again. But Shahryar was followed by a succession of chancers, each more inept than the other.

The latest incumbent, Ijaz Butt, consistently makes headlines for the wrong reasons. Last year, in the wake of the spot-fixing scandal that implicated three players, he accused England of throwing a one-day international without so much as a shred of evidence.

Under his watch, captains have come and gone quicker than the change of seasons, and each squad picked has had little resemblance to the one before. As in Sri Lanka, the head of the board is a government appointment, with Pakistan's president, as patron, choosing the man in charge.

With no one to question his high-handedness, Butt's antics have led to the retirement of Shahid Afridi, the figure behind much of the recent limited-overs success.

Butt and his minions have responded by suspending Afridi's central contract, stopping payments and revoking the No Objection Certificates given to him to play for Hampshire and in the new Sri Lanka Premier League.

It is pettiness on a grand scale and could easily be challenged in court as blatant restraint of trade.

Once, Pakistan cricket was Asia's pride.

Now, thanks to the foolishness of small men, it's become a joke without a punchline.