Thursday, March 16, 2006

from the "Cricket Statistician" Spring 2006

I have every sympathy with Bob Harragan’s cri de cœur in Issue number 132 about the inadequacies of the process by which the status of international matches is currently determined.

Those of us with long memories (and I suppose that that is nearly all of us) will recall the controversy in the 1970s over the status of the 1970 England v “Rest of the World” “Test” matches. In 1971 Norman Preston announced in Wisden that he had never regarded the matches as anything other than “proper Test matches” and regretted that “… a small minority have sought to have these splendid matches omitted from the records”. True to his word Preston required that the matches be included as Tests in the records in the 1971-1979 almanacks, and his records Editor Bill Frindall duly obliged. But in 1980 Wisden finally came in line. “Much against my will,” said Preston announcing that he had had to bow to the ICC’s ruling (made in 1972) that the matches “were not official Tests and should not be included in Test match records”.

The point of recalling this story from the rather distant past is to show that there is nothing new about disputes about Test match status, but also to show that the issue had (or so we thought) been resolved. When the ICC, Wisden and others deliberated about the 1970 series there was no precedent that they could call upon so a principle had to be established. Wisden, and some others, took one view but the ICC ruled against them and whilst it took Wisden a long time to agree eventually they did. What is clear from a review of this history is (a) That there was absolute sincerity on both sides of the argument and (b) That commercial considerations played no part at all.

Rolling forward to the year 2005 we again have a match between a Test nation, Australia, and a scratch side comprised of players from other Test nations (just as in 1970). In Douglas Miller’s note on the subject in edition 130 of the Journal we have his report on the ICC’s invitation to the ACS to “comment on the wisdom of granting recognition” to this “super Test” and the ACS’s subsequent advice that Test status should only apply to a “match between two nations”. But, he says, “Our representations did not win the day”.

The matching of the ACS, honourable guardians of the integrity of cricket records, and the ICC, an organisation which in Nasser Hussain’s words[1] is led by a man, Malcolm Speed, in whom Nasser “never detected an interest in the spirit and future of the game” and for whom “the priority was always money”, was an unequal match. Douglas reports a “pleasant lunch” with the ICC’s Jon Long and welcomes David Kendix’s (ICC consultant) involvement with the ACS and hopes for a “more fruitful working relationship with the ICC in future”. A forlorn hope I’m afraid Douglas! We must face the reality born out by the facts of this debacle. The ICC was going through the motions in its “consultations” with the ACS and it is abundantly clear that they were never going to change their minds about the status they wanted to accord to the “super Test” (and to the ODIs of course). They were selling the match as a Test match to sponsors, players and the public at large from the start. Without that status it was no more than an exhibition, and, therefore, of far lower commercial value.

Douglas Miller’s forecast that it would be a series “where the players will really earn their spurs” and that it would be a “truly competitive series of matches” proved, as we now know, to be far from the mark. But that is not the issue. The issue is that if the body that arbitrates over the status of international matches is the same body that has a vested interest in selling them, then commercial considerations will always prevail. Precedents as clear as the one from 1970 will be ignored and bodies such as the ACS will be patronised. Bob Harragan is right - there must be a separation between commercial matters (on the one hand) and status/records issues (on the other). The ACS must not be trampled over by the ICC whose modus operandi and motives conflict so much with the principles which it is our duty to uphold.

[1] “Playing with Fire” Nasser Hussain, 2004

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