A few questions arise over the ICC Trophy


THERE are questions arising from the ICC Trophy that need answers. Take your time. There's no hurry. We are talking long term moral judgment here, not convenient replies to suit the needs of the moment.

Did I really heard a television commentator in Colombo say: "These guys are too straight for this game" after a Dutch batsman walked for a stumping? Did other commentators criticise one of Holland's bowlers for failing to appeal for an lbw? Did I hear surprise in the voices because a batsman walked on an lbw?

Is walking an antique custom, a curiosity from another age? Is allowing the umpire to make all the decisions the only way forward? If so no-one can complain about technology encroaching into the decision-making process.

Didn't cricket used to be the most sporting of games? Thanks to the late Hansie Cronje, sundry bookmakers and a philosophy that says walking is all bad, cricket is now beset by moral decay.

Surely if a batsman thinks he is out he has an obligation to leave the crease forthwith whether he is playing for Little Bucket second team or the Australian Test side.

I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the three minor teams in the mini World Cup. Kenya, Bangladesh and Holland are out of their league, unfit to compete at this level and as good as a walk-over for the senior sides.

The Kenyans have talent but drop a catches by the dozen. Holland are blatantly underpowered; Bangladesh's bowlers unable to control the run rate.

Their presence is putting a strain on cricketers who are playing more international matches than ever, and a strain on themselves because they cannot compete well enough to benefit from their new experiences.

And the only advice they receive from their betters is that they must not walk unless all three stumps are lying on the ground. I ask you.

Don't they know that umpires nod more often than Homer, that even with new technology mistakes are made and that if you stand around long enough someone will think that maybe you should stay there?

I fear that the ICC policy of getting as many new countries to Test status quickly has been a failure. Perhaps they should have started by setting up a second division - Bangladesh, Kenya, Holland, and best teams from the World Cup qualifying competition - until the standard improved.

Let's hope ICC reflect on their decision now the tournament is finished; although their agenda will be full for the next several weeks as they investigate that match-fixing once again.

That brings me to another question. Who was the anonymous figure in the secret meeting in Sharjah a couple of years ago? The mystery is brought to me by email. It is a dangerous medium; sometimes an open sesame to great truths, sometimes an electronic gossip monger.

My informant talks of the unknown one being invited to discuss the wages of cricket sin with a bookmaker and questioning the rewards on offer. The bookmaker summoned a world famous star who assured the man with no name that he would be paid huge amounts. When that did not satisfy him a more powerful figure still was brought into the discussions. He too vouched for the probable cash flow.

The names of the two late guests at the party have been revealed to me. But who was The Third Man? Not Orson Wells, star of the film remembered for its sewers, talk of Swiss cuckoo clocks and the insistent zither.

I also hear that a television professional has been censured for releasing privileged information for a relative's profit. The fool.

None of this may be true. Wherever two or three cricket people gather together, talk inevitably turns to the black underbelly of the game, and exaggeration is inevitable.

Lord Condon apparently believes that three stars are still selling information - they will not make much profit from weather forecasting in Sri Lanka with its endless hot, sticky, airless days and nights - and is warning players everywhere to be on their guard.

These tournaments are a natural setting for rumour, cloak and dagger activity and official sleuthing followed by wild rumours. Everyone who is anybody wants to be at the big ICC competitions where deals are struck, questions asked, men signed for new duties both onfield and off, frustrations aired and destinies decided.

I saw the same wheeler-dealing when I covered the world snooker championships at the Crucible in Sheffield and Al Alvarez describes similar debate in that most fascinating of books The Biggest Game in Town, about the world poker championships in Las Vegas.

It is impossible not to be sucked into the hothouse atmosphere, not to over-react to the tales of derring-do or to ignore the wilder stories.

The voice of the devil is never far away. I heard it at Lord's in 1983 when India were bowled out for 183 by the West Indies, triumphantly certain they were headed for a hat-trick of World Cup successes. Who would have thought as Gordon Greenidge and Des Haynes opened their innings that the Windies would collapse so dramatically?

The voice belonged to an Australian journalist. Rick Allan had no doubt about what was going to happen. "What you and I are going to learn by watching West Indies make 184," he asked, rhetorically. We climbed into a taxi and went off to visit a pal on the far side of London.

By the time we arrived West Indies had already lost wickets. The rest of the afternoon was spent in wide-eyed amazement as India stole the trophy and we grew more thankful that the match was - since the two countries were of little interest to our newspapers - none of our business.

Since that day the match has been surveyed, analysed, reviewed and gossiped about repeatedly. At one international series a man who had played in that final said: "Yes, I have heard all the rumours but at the time I just thought it was a fantastic upset and no more."

In the year 2002, post-Cronje, didn't we ought to look with a sharper eye at "fantastic upsets"?

What is needed is a hard-nut news reporter like the one who broke the story of the fixed baseball world series in America, the game thrown by Shoeless Joe Jackson and his pals.

He was determined to get to the bottom of the rumours. So he went to the baseball writer and asked: "Who's the dumbest guy in the team?"

"Why, the catcher."

When the news reporter caught up with the catcher he said: "Right, we've got the whole story and now is your chance to tell your side of this terrible scandal. What have you got to tell us?"

The dumbest guy in the team told them everything.

Eighty years on there is too great a level of sophistication for that technique to work again as Lord Condon and his team look at the Sri Lanka-Pakistan game played in Colombo recently.

Experimentally, Colombo has been a success. The decision to use more technology has thrown up a huge debate as it inevitably would and the case for and against continued use of the electronic decision-making process examined in detail.

Now ICC and their experts can sit down and sift through all the evidence at their leisure while the elite umpires can stand - well, it is what umpires do, isn't it - and consider their verdict and how they will deal with the new situation.

They will have read that their days may be numbered if the new method is adopted. I hope not.

To see them thrown on the garbage pile of history or reduced to counting up to six and acting only as a hat stand for fast bowlers' sunglasses and sweaters is more than I can bear.

That day approaches unless they speak up now. They still have a part to play, as disciplinarians, as interpreters of the laws and as men who want to see the game conducted fairly and squarely.

Men like David Shepherd, Steve Bucknor and Venkat have much to offer. Their role may be changing but it need not vanish. If the game is to regain its reputation for sportsmanship there is ample room for men of honour.

Plenty of room, sadly, for Lord Condon too.