We've become increasingly used to some rather bizarre statements from the ICC recently, usually involving claims that the World Cup was a well organised, well attended and popular tournament with few problems.
But they recently issued two statements that seem to emanate from some sort of parallel universe.
The two statements come from the president, Ray Mali, and chief executive Malcolm Speed.
Ray Mali has recently been on a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe during the South African tour. He came back saying that if the current Zimbabwean team stays together for the next three years, they can reach the top of the ICC's world ODI rankings. That's right, the top.
Zimbabwe's current rating is 17, and they're in 11th place, just ahead of Kenya and behind Ireland. Top team Australia have a rating of 129. So Zimbabwe essentially need to increase their current performance sevenfold. To put into perspective just how bad Zimbabwe's current performance is, their only wins in the period covered by the rankings (the three years since August 2004) have come against Bangladesh, Bermuda, Canada and Kenya. They have also lost twice to Kenya, and tied against Ireland. Only one of the wins has come in the last 12 months.
To be fair to the Zimbabweans, the return of Tatenda Taibu for their recent series against South Africa has seen an improvement in their performance. But this was against a weakened South African side, featuring several players who were not in their World Cup squad, and similar to a side that was hardly convincing in beating Ireland by 42 runs earlier this year.
One comment Mali makes is actually quite sickening when you consider the context. He says, ‘Now looking at the facilities that I saw in Bulawayo and Harare, I was quite amazed by the giant strides that Zimbabwe have taken to have facilities that measure up to world standards in terms of playing cricket.'
Perhaps Zimbabwe does have good facilities. But a big six hit out of their grounds will reach shops where the shelves are empty. Whilst Zimbabwe Cricket (largely run by Robert ‘cricket civilises people' Mugabe's henchmen) is getting large amounts of cash from the ICC, ten times as much as Ireland, who play more than Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwean public is starving. They don't have access to food, to democracy, to basic human rights, but hey, who cares? The cricket facilities are just fantastic! It's less than a month since the South Africa A side were forced to resort to visiting local fast food joints to get their food. For professional sportsmen, that is simply unacceptable.
Back in the 80s, at the height of the South Africa rebel tours, those involved with South African non-white cricket at the time (including Ray Mali and many involved with South African cricket in the 21st century) quite rightly said that you can't have normal sport in an abnormal society. Zimbabwe has clearly become an abnormal society by most people's standards. Can we have normal sport there? The ICC seem to think so.
To expect Zimbabwe to improve so much in three years given the current state of the country is simply ridiculous. The likes of Kenya, Ireland and Scotland have a chance of improving greatly over the next three years, perhaps getting one foot in the Test status door. Zimbabwe can't. The only place they're going in the next three years, unless something radically changes, is straight into the cricketing gutter. There they will, no doubt, find the ICC waiting to comfort and finance them.
But let's not forget Malcolm Speed. He has recently spoken on how good it is that the Twenty20 World Cup is being shown on television in China, saying that it could make the game catch on in the country. The tournament is also being shown on television in Scotland, Ireland and Canada, three of the top non-test nations. So what does China have that makes it such a good thing? Could the ICC be interested in the yuan (the Chinese currency) that China could pump into the game? Surely not!
Speed says: ‘My dream is that before my lifetime I will be able to see India and China playing against each other in Test cricket.' One weird error aside ('before' his lifetime?), he seems to be saying that he is looking ahead to China playing Test cricket within his lifetime. Speed turns 60 next year, and current life expectancy for an Australian man is just under 80 years, so we're talking about a 21-year timespan here.
Why are China only being mentioned? What about the other candidates? Ireland have played 133 first-class matches, Scotland have played 177 and Kenya have played 42, whilst the other five teams that play in the Intercontinental Cup have played more than 50 between them. The Netherlands, the UAE and Scotland have all won the ICC Trophy. The Netherlands, Canada and Kenya have played three World Cups each, and Ireland and Kenya have both made it past the first round of the World Cup.
So to be thought of ahead of those credentials, China must be really experienced! Right? Errr … not quite.
In three years of ICC membership, China have played a grand total of zero internationals. There have been two ACC Trophy tournaments in that time, so it's not as though they haven't had the chance to play. They have played an Under-15 tournament in that time, finishing seventh in Asia's second tier, and also playing a women's tournament, reaching the semi-finals in a tournament featuring similarly inexperienced teams. They opted not to send a team to the Asian Under 19 World Cup qualifiers.
So if playing skill and experience are not what gets you named as a candidate for future Test status by high-ups in the ICC, what is it? It comes down to the ICC's number one love: money. China will bring a lot of money into the game if it takes off there, no doubt about it. But that shouldn't be at the expense of the already well established associate and affiliate nations.
And of course, China brings with it another set of problems. Like Zimbabwe, China is hardly known for its great human rights record. When it comes to sport, there have been rumours that children have been forced to take up sports if they are felt to be ‘physically suited' to the particular sport. Will the ICC take note of this? Well, if the cricket facilities are fantastic …