To describe the behaviour of the World Cup cricket administrators as slimy would be to praise it. When considering their pitiful mishandling, their backstage manipulation of the Zimbabwe/England match in Harare we need for a moment to ignore some factors: the secret security reports, the cowering behind “contractual” obligations, the cover-ups. Consider only one act: Mr Tim Lamb’s cynical decision to withhold from the English cricket team any knowledge of death threats made to them and their families.
What possible excuse can be made by Lamb, CEO of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)? Not only was his subterfuge morally repugnant, it bordered on conspiracy. It could have seriously compromised the players and their families. Lamb had possession of this letter on the 20th of January — that is nearly three weeks before he revealed it. It was only made available to the team after the appeal against the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) first “final decision” the Harare match has been handed down. This is fair play?
It has been argued that both English and South African “security experts” and police believed the threatening letter to be a hoax. That alibi is untenable because in no way does it mitigate the decision by Lamb to keep the information to himself. No matter how cranky the letter, the cricketers had the right to form their own opinions of it, not to have that right secretly denied them. Does Tim Lamb see his role as paternal, that he has to decide on behalf of his children what his children should see or hear?
What this past fortnight has revealed has been depressing to watch. It stands in woeful testimony as to what the cricket administrators represent. The ECB’s and the ICC’s procrastinations, delays, contradictions have been beyond belief: their furtive doctoring of security reports, their posturing, their shifting of blame and their open blackmail in suggesting that the financial penalties of boycotting the Zimbabwe fixture could cause “irreparable” harm to English cricket. The psychological pressure placed on the English team has been unforgivable, a crude violation of the very spirit of the competition.
A watching public would be forgiven for thinking the ICC and the ECB were not so much being managed by sentient adult males as by a clutch of helpless buffoons. A more abject catalogue of “professional” behaviour would be hard to match. The ICC very nearly managed to postpone their decision on whether or not England should play in Harare until the match was safely over. Saddam Hussein is no doubt experiencing schadenfreudal delight, hosing himself as he watches an equally pathetic set of European and American blockheads dither over him.
The debacle of the Zimbabwe affair has seen the credibility of the whole competition so battered as to render any result as lacking significance. It is doubtful that some positive outcome might be in a shake-up of the administrators of international cricket, whose values seem to be as leery as those recently revealed to preside at the British Jockey Club. The Cronje corruption scandal saw them all safely retain their positions. This one’s been small beer.
The whole thing has been a pauper’s circus. It was the ICC that introduced Albie Sachs as a guest clown. His authority as a judge is surely not secular, doesn’t extend outside the umbrella of formal legal structures. Sachs has no more credibility as an arbiter in an international cricket dispute than he would have as a judge in a dog show. No slight of his impartiality is intended but it should have been noted by whoever appointed Sachs that he has very evident political connections and that in the event his decisions would never be free from that colouring.
The commercial gluttony of the World Cup is a sure indication of where lie the hearts of its administrators. From its embarrassing opening ceremony onwards, the competition has been a show of commercial fascism at its worst. A grotesque marketing autocracy has the full and enthusiastic backing of the supremo of South African cricket endeavours, the graceless Ali Bacher.
That he is considering retiring from his long career in the management of South African cricket is one the few encouraging things to come out of the competition so far. In the years of cricketing isolation it was Ali Bacher who helped organise rebel cricket tours to South Africa, but who later, in a move that would baffle the illusionist David Copperfield, transfigured himself overnight into apartheid’s most vehement protestant. Such Tartuffian duplicity deserves at least two of Mr Mbeki’s lower order medals.
It has taken Zimbabwe’s Andy Flower and Henry Olonga to show what moral courage is all about. So what of the teams that will play in Zimbabwe? The Australians in particular have cowered behind England’s struggle. To Ricky Ponting and his team I offer the following: find out where England hired its balls and go and rent a set for yourselves. The new range of super-small ones should fit you cobbers nicely.
Archive: Previous columns by Robert Kirby