The column this week is not really about cricket, but then neither is the tournament – the Twenty20 World Cup Qualifier – that CricketEurope is covering.
Certainly, it has not been scheduled with any regard to cricket. If you are holding a tournament in Ireland and Scotland, would it not be a good idea to have reserve days in case of rain? I would have thought so, but the ICC did not.
And what if you are holding a tournament in Belfast in the second week of July? Is there anything going on that might clash with the cricket? Obviously not, so Ireland are playing the USA on 12 July, while two matches are being held in east Belfast on the actual day for marching. Two of the three gates into Stormont are closed.
Then, on a Northern Irish public holiday on 14 July, when people conceivably could be interested in watching some cricket, there are no matches at all. It defies belief.
Worse than the scheduling, however, is the incomprehensible labyrinth of rules and regulations that govern the tournament. The ICC Tournament Handbook, for instance, comes across as the joint literary venture of Yes, Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby and The Great Dictator’s Herr Garbitsch and some its details are illuminating.
Did you know, for instance, that even though most matches in Dublin are being played in Malahide, the teams will be staying in Castleknock? That the toss must take place 28 minutes before the start of play? It is also one of the longest documents ever compiled, running to 102 pages. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for something shorter.
Consequently, you get the feeling that the ICC could not care less if every match was washed out, or if the weaker teams qualified instead of the stronger, or if nobody came to watch the matches, so long as everything proceeded according to the rules and regulations.
And what rules and regulations they are. Everyone is beholden to them and to the ICC in general. John Mooney and the Irish team were ordered to abandon their plan to wear black armbands – in memory of the death of Associates cricket – because this would constitute a political statement. In what way is this political? It’s a purely cricketing matter.
What if the players had decided to celebrate the decision to restrict the next World Cup to ten teams? If they had instead held a minute’s applause before taking the field, would the ICC have condemned such actions as ‘political’? Of course not. The ICC would have put them on the front page of their website, stamped with a gold star and a smiley face.
The media have been hamstrung by every possible restriction, including Clause 6.1 of our Accreditation Terms of Conditions, which states that:
Accredited Parties agree to conduct themselves in a way that will not bring the Event, the ICC, IBC, the Host, any of the Commercial Partners or the game of cricket into disrepute or ridicule.
Thankfully, we cannot possibly breach this clause: there is no further degree of ridicule that we can bring upon the ICC that the ICC has not already brought upon itself.
Spectators, too, are bound by the terms and conditions to which they are referred, indirectly, in the small print on the back of their tickets. They are, however, kindly reminded at the start of every innings that neither spectators nor any other unaccredited persons should encroach upon the field of play, lest they be struck down by the wrath of a vengeful ICC.
Thus, when a golden retriever bounded across the outfield as Ireland played Namibia, I was worried that the dog – forbidden to enter the ground under clause 11.3 of the Terms and Conditions – would be captured, cited, and summarily put down.
Thankfully the ICC agreed that he was a young pup, that he was new to the game, and that he would only be fined 15% of his daily supply of Pedigree Chum.
You may have noticed that CricketEurope is now devoting part of its resources to the matches in Edinburgh already being televised. Even the ICC – although they refused to put this in writing – have conceded that we are allowed to cover cricket that is already in the public domain.
So today I sat on my sofa, coffee in hand, watching the Dutch play the Scots, but this was no more pleasurable than getting soaked at Stormont. This was because of the punditry of Dominic Cork, Mark Butcher, Jonty Rhodes, and especially Pommie Mbangwa. They may be covering the cricket, but only with a sanitized blanket of inanity.
The direction by Sunset & Vine is no better. There are moody, slo-mo shots of the players disembarking their transport and stalking to the changing rooms. Really? I can tolerate this overly dramatized nonsense when it’s Pirlo, Buffon, Messi, and Xavi arriving at the Olympiastadion, but a grey morning at Raeburn Place?
It gets worse: because so few people at the ground know anything much about cricket beyond the Test world, the airtime is filled by odious and simple-minded bantering, or by interviews with ‘very special guests’. The first such guest was lined up for the match between the Netherlands and Scotland. I got excited. Who could it be?
Sean Connery on a rare trip back to the fatherland? Robin van Persie, perhaps, flying to Istanbul via Edinburgh to lend support to his compatriots? Maybe the ICC had employed a spiritual medium and Pommie Mbwanga had gone down to the Waverley Steps to hold a conversation with the ghost of Sir Walter Scott.
No, it was the Dutch coach, Anton Roux. I’m sorry, but when the Dutch cricket team are playing, an interview with the Dutch coach is not so special.
The crassness continued throughout the broadcast. On several occasions, at key points in the match, the commentators ignored the play in order to impress their viewers with the wonders of The Official ICC App, which offers such ground-breaking services as telling you the score.
But why were these commentators – otherwise respected as players – plugging the omnipotent benevolence of the ICC? Well not only are they paid by the ICC, but Cork and Mbangwa are also part of the ICC Event Technical Committee. So much for the independence of the media.
The whole charade is underscored by page 42 of the Tournament Handbook, which states that: ‘ICC works closely with the rights holders who have invested significantly in the event to create coverage that is balanced, fair and positive towards the brand of cricket and the event’.
Coverage that is balanced, fair and positive?
It still rankles that the ICC has commoditized the rights to live coverage of the tournament and thereby banned other media outlets from providing free services to their readers. (Freedom of the press, anyone?)
I’m still not quite sure how this came to be. You can only imagine that the conversation with the ICC bore an uncanny resemblance to the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark:
CricketEurope: Where is the quality live coverage of this tournament?
ICC: I thought we had settled that. The coverage of this tournament is in very safe hands.
CricketEurope: This tournament is a matter of unspeakable importance for Associates cricket and it has to be covered live!
ICC: And it will be, we assure you. We have top men working on it right now.
Those ‘top men’, of course, are the quasi-hacks and robots of OPTA, whose anodyne ball-by-ball statements – they do not deserve to be called ‘descriptions’ – have quickly become the laughing stock of the tournament.
OPTA’s output is the journalistic equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest, a Jeffrey Archer novel, or an ICC-produced cricketing telecast: only those who have been recently lobotomized could derive any kind of pleasure from it.
We became even less enamoured with OPTA when their representative at Stormont told a senior member of CricketEurope – who has just the 15 caps for Ireland – to pipe down because he ‘out-ranked’ him. The servant has learned from the master.
The next column will deal with the actual cricket being played at the tournament, supposing that the rain relents.