Cricket Australia chairman succumbs to China fever
Evidence is accumulating that a dangerous new virus is spreading through cricket's administrative corridors, its latest victim apparently being the chairman of Cricket Australia, Jack Clarke.
Apparently a mutated strain of the condition known as Dalmiya's Disease, the virus leads to a feverish preoccupation with the sport's commercial potential, causing a rapid loss of other considerations such as its underlying health. In extreme cases, sufferers become delusional, convinced that huge profits are to be made by investing in improbable areas.
Symptoms include an inability to think clearly and a tendency to spout rubbish; an early instance was former ICC CEO Malcolm Speed's prediction some time ago that China would be playing Test cricket ‘before my lifetime'.
The immediate cause of concern that Mr Clarke has succumbed to this virus is a speech he made to the Australian Cricket Society on Friday, in which he reportedly predicted that ‘cricket had to push to new frontiers in China and the US, rather than prop up smaller countries with crude infrastructure and limited horizons'.
It is likely that he contracted the disease at a recent meeting of the ICC Board, of which he is a member. That meeting was addressed by the ICC's ‘special consultant', IS Bindra, who called for the Full members to play competitive matches in China and the USA.
But Mr Clarke has also just returned from a visit to India, where he watched part of the ODI series involving Australia, so that may have contributed to his condition.
‘It's unfair to force countries to play Test cricket if they don't want to,' he is reported as saying, supporting the idea that the ICC membership categories should be modified and citing Ireland as an example of a country which is ‘highly competitive in the game's shorter forms, but without Test prospects'.
Nor do his pronouncements stop at the stadium gates. ‘China has a vision that India and China will be the two most powerful countries in the world,' he is quoted as saying, ‘and cricket will be the bridge.'
Many outside the fever ward that the ICC Board is apparently in danger of becoming would share the hope that cricket will continue to develop in China and the USA, though not at the expense of its development elsewhere.
But that Mr Clarke or anyone else should hold up the USCA as an infrastructural model, after it has twice been suspended in recent years for procedural irregularities, simply beggars belief. It can scarcely be suggested, moreover, that ‘crude infrastructures' are confined to the so-called minnows, as the example of Zimbabwe, so carefully protected by the ICC, clearly demonstrates.
By the same token, it cannot be stated often enough that, impressive as China's investment in cricket undoubtedly is, it is still very early days in that country's cricketing history: development only really began in 2005, and as minnows go the CCA is still in the hatchling category.
There are bound to be suspicions that the ICC Board is half-hearted in its commitment to global development when, as we have lamented before, world rankings are ignored in order to parachute the USA into a World Twenty20 qualifier, on purely commercial grounds. A similar way of thinking lies behind the elevation of China to the twelve-nation Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 Cup.
To be fair to Cricket Australia, it is making a contribution to the development of cricket among its immediate neighbours, notably Papua New Guinea. Mr Clarke's belief that money spent on the smaller and new outposts of the sport is ‘wasted' is, however, also a symptom of a much older ailment in Australian cricket: extraordinary arrogance.
We should never forget that the Australian Board of Cricket Control (the previous incarnation of Cricket Australia) refused to play a single Test match against New Zealand between 1946 and 1973.
If the ACC, with its grossly disproportionate allocation of development money, chooses to invest heavily in the Chinese ‘market', that's fine as long as the interests of its 17 other Associate and Affiliate members aren't adversely affected.
And if the ICC wishes to pour additional money into the USA that is no doubt its own business, although one would hope that it would be additional to the existing development budget rather than a levy upon it.
Because the 94 Associate and Affiliate countries need every dollar of the funding the ICC makes available to them, and to suggest that that money is wasted is, to put it mildly, downright irresponsible.
Perhaps Mr Clarke would benefit from a period of convalescence: he could do a lot worse than visit a selection of those countries he believes to be suffering from ‘crude infrastructure and limited horizons' and see for himself just how much the Global Development Program is achieving, every day, in season and out.