11 January 2008

South Africa: Is Supine ICC India's Puppet in World Cricket?


Johannesburg — THE International Cricket Council, one might have expected, sent out a long-winded and self-righteous justification for their action in ejecting West Indian umpire Steve Bucknor from the Test series between Australia and India.

Among several other things, ICC president Ray Mali said: "We recognised from the outset that the umpiring in the second Test was below the very high standard we have come to expect from our Elite Panel and we noted with concern the enormous reaction to it and realised that we could potentially have a serious international diplomatic incident on our hands.

"By standing Steve down for the third Test we have successfully defused the situation, at least for the time being, and so what was a sporting issue has not become a political crisis."

The mind boggles. A diplomatic incident? It was a game! How can bad umpiring deteriorate to the point where a diplomatic incident is feared? Are we to understand, from Mali's words, that Australia and India would have become involved in a full-blown diplomatic war, had Bucknor not been so summarily and cruelly removed?

Or is this just another example of how India is holding the ICC hostage and manipulating the game for its own ends?

There was a very pertinent remark made during the furore in Australia that Australia were the power on the field, and India the power off it.

Is this incident now irrefutable evidence that this is the status quo in world cricket, and the ICC is simply India's puppet?

"We could easily have taken an inflexible stance and gone toe-to-toe with those who were calling for Steve's withdrawal, but instead we chose to adopt a more diplomatic and reasonable approach. And on balance it was the right thing to do, for the game and for the series," said Mali.

I bet there is not an umpire in world cricket who agrees with him. How can the ICC possibly countenance a situation in which a country that is unhappy with umpiring in a Test can have an umpire removed?

West Indian coach John Dyson, a former Australian international player, was bemused by the whole thing.

"We didn't even have neutral umpires when I played, and you never had this kind of thing. The umpires are now neutral and they are still complaining. I think it is a very sad situation."

Very sad indeed. The Indians should have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute by refusing to honour the spirit of the game. But pigs would fly before that happened.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that the Australians were angels in this whole thing. The very act of appealing for a catch that is clearly not a catch can be construed as cheating.

I would never be convinced that they didn't fan the flames of discontent.

But the bottom line is that if the ICC makes an official appointment of umpires for a Test, it should be honour-bound to stick to those umpires, come what may.

This incident has created a terrible precedent for world cricket. How is the ICC going to be able to refuse to take the same action if some other team finds itself on the business end of a spate of bad decisions and demands an umpire be replaced?

Of course, if that team is not India -- a team which represents the country that makes all the money in world cricket -- the ICC will find reason not to comply with such a demand.

India puts the fear of God into the ICC because of its earning potential in the world game, and so they have become the de facto power in the game.

Mali goes on to say that "it is important to point out that no team has the right the object to any umpire appointment and this decision was taken entirely by the ICC for the best interests of cricket". That is a disingenuous spin on the issue.

The ICC made its decision because a team had objected to the umpire, so, clearly, a team does have the right to object to an umpire.

There have been any number of incidents in history where appeasement has led to disastrous consequences -- Neville Chamberlain comes to mind.

I'm not suggesting that denying India their way would cause World War Three. But you would almost think it had, by the histrionics resulting from the second Test in Australia.

Mali finishes off by saying: "The series now has a fresh start and the umpires who stand in the third and fourth Tests can do their jobs without undue attention on them and the world will be able to focus on the thrilling batting, bowling and fielding of these two great cricket sides."

So the crisis has been averted but the long-term damage to cricket has been done.

The spirit of cricket requires that the umpire's decision is final and that it should be accepted by players.

Instead, we have a situation in which not only the players are complaining, but whole nations are objecting to umpires.

Darrell Hair has been removed, Steve Bucknor's future now seems uncertain. Where will it all end?

Smit is sports editor.

Copyright © 2008 Business Day. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.