/ 24 May 2012

Swinger’s clout may surprise his bosses

Dave Richardson has a long history of honesty and being his own man.
Dave Richardson has a long history of honesty and being his own man.

Dave Richardson, in the months following his retirement from playing the game, almost inevitably found himself in the commentary box. Articulate and informed cricketers are much sought-after by broadcasters and the long-serving national ­wicketkeeper was rushed into a set of headphones and sat behind a microphone with only just decent haste.

It was a quiet Test match in which little happened – the kind of match that did not swathe Richardson (affectionately known as “Swinger” during his career) in blankets of nostalgia or regret. In fact, his hips and knees had adapted comfortably to the padded seats upstairs.

One bright spark who had been around the block a few times decided to test the “debutant’s” resolve under pressure: “The pitch isn’t doing anything, the ball isn’t swinging and they still haven’t invented mouse-flavoured cat food. Why is that, Swinger?” asked the lead commentator.

“That isn’t the question we should be asking,” replied Richardson after the briefest of pauses, looking straight ahead at the field of play, unblinking. “The question we should be asking is: When you play golf and slice your ball way into the bush and then you fight your way in there and manage to find it, why is there always one shoe lying there? Where are all the ‘second shoes’ in the world?”

For a man with an often unfair reputation for overt “sensibleness”, if not seriousness, it was priceless. The truth is, he always had – and still has – a mischievous, sometimes even dark, sense of humour. But as a lawyer in a changing room full of cricketers, he was bound by a sense of duty: “Someone had to behave and be sensible.”

Meteoric rise
His rise to the top job in world cricket will be confirmed next month when the International Cricket Council officially announces his position as chief executive in place of countryman Haroon Lorgat. It has been a meteoric rise.

Having quickly made the decision that broadcasting was better left to a different category of former cricketer, he chose not to return to full-time law but decided to use his knowledge and skills in player management with the Octagon group.

It was not long before that turned into full-time administration with a hands-on role running the international body’s cricket and playing affairs department.

But there is a great deal more that Richardson has to come to grips with. After years away from home and having attended hundreds of meetings around the world and dealt with even more queries and people from all the games, participating nations, Richardson was seriously considering returning home from Dubai and applying for a job with Cricket South Africa. His view, perhaps, was that Lorgat’s successor would have to be politically well connected with an agenda to suit the big players: India, England and Australia, very much in that order. Richardson is not a political animal. The idea would have appalled him.

Yet there he was, initially named on a shortlist of four, which was quickly whittled down to one – him. It should tell him one of two things: either that quality counts more than connections, or that he is seen by the big guns as somebody who can be easily controlled – perhaps even manipulated – to suit their own purposes.

Front up
Richardson plays it straight for longer than most. He politely declined to say anything this week until his appointment was confirmed. He trusts only those he has known longest and even then he rarely gives them a chance to let him down. He is selective and frugal in sharing his opinion but unafraid to “front up” to anyone, as his dealings with broadcasters and commentators proved when selling the umpire decision review system to them several years ago.

But if he is let down by colleagues, he is usually unequivocal and unrepentant. Gary Kirsten remembers feeling “quite pleased” with his first half-centuries in the national team, only to have Richardson tell him that his contributions were “a poor effort which put the team under pressure”.

Perhaps the best thing for world cricket would be for Swinger to feel that he was the easy option.

The image of his characteristically, wide-eyed and unblinking reaction to something disagreeable is a happy antidote to the International Cricket Council board’s arrogant self-gratification. Will he thump the table and declare war? Will he yell and swear? No.

Richardson is a conservative with a ruthless streak. He will play the politicians at their own game, on their terms, and probably still win. He also knows when to back down on issues with immediate but no long-term effect. He has the ability to convince people that they are receiving more than they hoped for and giving away less than they wanted.

He is a solid, secure and reliable safety belt. But as many ­drivers know, belts can produce serious whiplash when the drivers make mistakes. And everyone knows that the council’s board drives the game, not the chief executive.