The 2007 ICC annual report and consolidated accounts are, predictably, an extremely glossy production.

The report is, in the manner of these things, full of sharp-focus photography and rather softer-focus language. There's plenty of talk about ‘stakeholders', a ‘successful commercial programme', ‘sponsor servicing and support', and the ICC's success in ‘delivering cricket's major events'.

There are, to be sure, occasional hints of self-criticism: the late Percy Sonn refers in his President's report to ‘several issues with' the 2007 World Cup, Malcolm Speed talks about ‘many lessons to be learned from the event', and that phrase returns in the section on the tournament itself.

But you search in vain for any specifics, such as the absence of the crowds, the absurd length of the tournament (not unrelated, of course, to that successful commercial programme), or the control freakery which led to the banning of musical instruments and liquid refreshments not bought on the ground, and the confiscation of journalists' pens.

The world of cricket looks pretty idyllic when viewed from the tower blocks of Dubai.

That is to be expected, perhaps, in the context of an annual report, which tends to stress the positives.

But the Consolidated Financial Statements of ICC Development (International) Ltd make for rather more interesting reading if you're prepared to take the time.

Consider this: out of a surplus for the year of $39.4m., $28.6m. were allocated, the remainder, very sensibly, being transferred to the reserves. Of that sum, $13m. was paid to the ICC's Members, the same amount was allocated to the Global Cricket Development Programme, and $2.6 went to the special development fund of the Asian Cricket Council.

There's no break-down of how the first $13m. was distributed among the membership and the published accounts of the ten Full Members are remarkably reticent on the subject, but it seems like a fair bet that they received at the very least the lion's share.

The statement gives a bit more detail about the distribution of the Global Cricket Development Programme funding among the ICC's five constituent regions. Of the $13m. allocated, only $8.026m. was actually utilised, 887k. (11% ) of it for central costs and the High Performance Programme.

That left $7.139m., which was shared out in a very unequal manner. The following table compares the distribution with the actual number of ICC Associate and Affiliate members in each region for the year in question:

          
Associates Affiliates Total Allocation
No. % No. % No. % Amount %
Asia 7 21.9 11 18.6 18 19.8 4619 64.7
Europe 10 31.2 17 28.8 27 29.7 864 12.1
Americas 5 15.6 12 20.3 17 18.7 565 7.9
Africa 7 21.9 12 20.3 19 20.9 664 9.3
East Asia-Pacific 3 9.4 7 11.9 10 10.9 427 6.0

And these figures, remember, do not include the further $2.6m. which the Asian Cricket Council received in respect of the 2002 Champions Trophy!

In other words, the Asian Cricket Council, with around 20% of the ICC's Associate and Affiliate members, received nearly two-thirds of the money allocated to the Global Development Programme, while Europe, with nearly 30% of the members, got 12% of the funding. I know those figures are right, because I was so gob-smacked that I worked them out three times to make sure.

So not only is the cake itself too small - although $13m., or even $7.1m., isn't to be sneezed at - but the slicing of the cake is so inequitable that it beggars belief.

It's hard to see how such a pattern of distribution can be justified. It can't be based on the numbers of players in the Associate and Affiliate countries, because on the latest figures I have seen Asia ranked fourth on that criterion, after Africa, Europe and America.

The ICC would no doubt say that the vast revenues which it obtains through the fanatical support which cricket has across the Sub-continent and its diaspora justifies such a vast weighting in favour of the Asian region.

That might make sense to the marketing men, but it makes nonsense of the ICC claim to be committed to the development of cricket as a worldwide sport.

Perhaps they would argue that the imbalance is partly corrected by the High Performance Program, but participation in that is earned through performances on the field, and it cannot be right that a region should be penalised for the excellence of its leading countries. And it is also true that the HPP itself is something of a poisoned chalice, with much of the money ear-marked for specific, ICC-dictated purposes, never reaching the countries themselves.

It's not a coincidence that most of the leading Associates, and especially those in Europe, have serious financial problems because their income simply isn't enough to cover the demands being made of them.

A cynic, on the other hand, might wonder whether the imbalance in funding has something to do with the dominance of the Asian Full Members and their allies on the ICC Board, which enables them to do pretty much as they want, whenever they want.

The result, in any case, is that the Asian region had enough money last year to run a five-team three-day competition on a home-and-away basis, something that is beyond the wildest dreams of ICC-Europe. The fact that most of the teams involved were too weak to compete with the eight countries, three of them European, who play in the Intercontinental Cup, was obviously irrelevant.

This year the European tournament programme involves ten tournaments, with 56 teams participating, representing 20 different countries. That's more countries that in the whole Asian region. And it has to be done, relatively speaking, on a shoestring.

The allocations of the Global Development Programme are a scandal, which in any other world than that of cricket would before now have given rise to vigorous public debate. The vision, as expressed in the ICC's Strategic Plans and Annual Reports, is a laudable one, and there are people who work hard to put it into effect.

But that vision is betrayed by a system of favoritism and patronage which must change if the whole strategy is to succeed. To leave it as it is would be one more crime against the ICC's much-touted Spirit of Cricket.