ICC faces test as it hears Lord Woolf's verdict
When the ICC Executive Board meets in Dubai this week cricket's governing body will face one of the biggest challenges in its 103-year history, comparable with the departure of South Africa in 1961 and the four years of ugly disputes which led to the last constitutional shake-up in 1997.
The Council did not emerge from either of those confrontations with a great deal of credit, and pessimists eyeing the current composition of the Board may be forgiven for wondering whether events are likely to take a much more positive course this time.
This week's occasion is, of course, the presentation of Lord Woolf's report on the governance review which he has been conducting, and unless His Lordship has turned a blind eye to the ICC's many deficiencies, the Board will be called upon to consider some pretty radical changes in the way it conducts its business.
It is a positive sign that outgoing chief executive Haroon Lorgat has been successful in persuading the Board that the report needs to be made public in its entirety, and this will ensure that the global cricket community – the stakeholders, in ICC management-speak – will be able to assess not only how Lord Woolf and his advisers have measured up to their task, but how the Board responds to his recommendations.
At the heart of the problem is the imbalance in power between the ICC's ten Full members and the remaining 95, the Associates and Affiliates. The problem is not merely a theoretical one: the events of the past eighteen months have demonstrated all too clearly how, for all the Council's glossy rhetoric about global development, the great majority of its members are treated with contempt when the really big decisions are being made.
This is not to deny the significance of the Global Development and High Performance programmes, or of the efforts made by the ICC's development staff in Dubai and in its five regional offices around the world; there is no doubt that they have achieved a great deal over the past fifteen years.
But the Board's determination to cut the World Cup to ten participants, its disgraceful attempt to confine the 2015 event to Full members only, its grudging reversal of that decision and the vengeful, accompanying reduction in the number of qualifiers for the 2012 and 2014 World Twenty20 tournaments, all illustrate how little interest cricket's masters really have in a coherent development trajectory for the sport they supposedly care for.
Nor is this unhappy tale unique: we have seen, too, how events like Twenty20 qualifiers and the Intercontinental Cup can be manipulated by the ICC to satisfy its obsession with opening up ‘markets' – not to be confused with genuine, grassroots development – or to meet a short-term need to prop up a Full member basket-case like Zimbabwe.
There can be no doubt that Lord Woolf will have been made aware of all this through the consultation exercise which Price Waterhouse Coopers conducted on his behalf; there have certainly been submissions (after all, I wrote one of them) which have diagnosed the problems and offered some potential solutions, and the chief executives of a range of Associate and Affiliate members will have failed in their duty if they have not spelled out the problems in no uncertain terms.
We do not yet know how much of this His Lordship has taken on board, or what his prescription will be for making the ICC into a more transparent organisation in which the self-serving actions of the few are rendered less capable of frustrating the legitimate aspirations of the many.
Players, administrators and cricket-lovers in the 95 Associate and Affiliate countries, and many in the ten Full members as well, will be looking eagerly this week to see what he has come with.
And they will be watching very carefully to see whether the Executive Board is capable of taking decisions which will indeed prove that it is a fit body to preside over the fortunes and the future of one of the greatest sports in the world.