Dalmiya's focus should be to prop India up


I REALISE this is an unpopular viewpoint, but I am one of the few people in the world who appreciates why Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya has kicked up such a fuss in the last few months.

All the same, the President of the BCCI must understand that it is important that ICC's initiative in setting up the Referees Commission, which will meet in South Africa from February 23, should be supported. I hope that when their findings are announced he will give them his backing.

That is not to say that he should not argue India's case with all the considerable force at his command; for he knows Aesop's dictum: "The gods help those who help themselves." Mr. Dalmiya clearly intends to help himself to plenty. And rightly so.

The truth, even to those of us with white faces from another country, is that India has had far too little sway in the great cricketing councils in the last few years.

The country is, after all, one of the six Test-playing nations from before the Second World War. It has by far the most money and the most cricketers at all levels of the ten countries in the Test championship.

Besides there is a fervour for the game in India that is almost religious.

(It is impossible to compare the devotion with which different nations approach cricket. In England it is poetic, nostalgic, pastoral and quiet; but none the less deeper than we would admit. Australians offer positive exuberance as they do to everything they undertake. New Zealanders - apart from the vulgar men who inhabit the terraces during one-day internationals at Auckland - manage to combine the two. In South Africa winning seems far too important; in Pakistan there is a joy in cricket that seems to be lacking in an arid life; and in Sri Lanka there is a passion that surprises us all.)

So at home Mr. Dalmiya has a strong support for his attempt to raise the level of involvement that India attains at the ICC conference table. But he is an impatient man, determined to solve problems in an instant. This life force has made him unpopular with other nations and with some people inside the BCCI.

At the moment his influence is diminished by the failures of India's Test team. It is there that he will have to turn his attention before he can make the Indian voice heard with respect. Australia have attained sovereignty primarily because their administrators are riding on the crest of the wave created by their team; England have lost authority because ever since the Nasser Hussain era began the Test side win only 32 per cent of their matches.

In the last 15 years - and since the 1986-7 triumphs in Australia England's cricketers have been unworthy of a great tradition - the figure drops to 24 per cent. It is hardly the stuff that rules the world.

Losing comprehensively in South Africa and beating England scratchily on home soil fails to back up India's brilliance against Australia. Mr. Dalmiya will have to turn his attention to the leadership as a first move forward. Then he will achieve more regard in the council chamber and India will have a leading place among the game's controllers.

Mr. Dalmiya cannot be happy that he appears to have lost battles over both the third Test in South Africa and the composition of the three-man panel which will look into the happenings in what is inevitably known as The Mike Denness Judgement.

As Dalmiya acknowledged in a letter to ICC, the men who make up the panel are "extremely respectable and brilliant in their own walks of life" and cannot be faulted in knowledge, for bias or for lack of commitment to portray cricket in the best possible light.

The Commission will be led by Justice Albie Sachs of South Africa with Majid Khan from Pakistan and Andrew Hilditch of Australia in support. "There is a growing urgency for this Commission to meet to discuss the detailed and complex issues involved and to produce its report in time for the ICC Executive Board meeting in mid-March," says the ICC President Malcolm Gray. "We retain every confidence in the ability of this panel to complete its task in a thoroughly professional fashion."

Gray, a careful lawyer and long-term cricket administrator, believes that the issue should be viewed in the wider context of the international game, rather than as a point of contention between the world governing body and the BCCI. "While the events of Port Elizabeth were prompted by the reaction of the BCCI, the issue of match referees is relevant to all member Boards. The ICC is close to appointing a full-time panel of five referees and the Commission's report will be of direct interest to those selected for that elite group and may well influence the way in which it operates in future," he has explained.

"It is very important that the Commission has the respect of all ICC members and we hope the BCCI will recognise its calibre and integrity and support it in the wider and best interests of the game," concluded the ICC President. Precisely.

The Referees Commission has an extended agenda. It must decide if there should be a right of appeal against a match referee's decision; the best way to structure the system of appeals so that it is not used to obtain an unfair advantage; if there should be a Code of Conduct for match referees; how consistency with penalties can best be achieved; if ICC referees should explain their decisions in public.

Its most important function in the near future is to decide if Denness did his job properly but the other questions will have a deeper effect.

These points deserve prolonged and open debate and the game will be regarded with greater respect if the three wise men come to decisions that foster cricket's development. Particularly if, once decided, their rulings are given the approval of all the Test-playing countries.

ICC may still be regarded only as the best Parliament cricket can cobble together but it is improving rapidly under the administration offered by Gray and his busy chief executive Malcolm Speed.

When they first came together my reaction was that a man called Gray exactly reflected the image of ICC and to wonder how anyone with such a bustling surname as Speed could possibly associate himself with this organisation. At the time it was best known for delay and for burying its head so deeply in the sand that ostriches sneered.

Instead of continuing on that circuitous road the new ICC men have galloped down the major highways. The results by their corruption team have been almost as impressive as those put together by The Untouchables of American crime fame.

ICC were at their most decisive when it seemed that because of the events in South Africa the first Test between England and India might be cancelled and the tour ruined.

The news that the one-day games in India this month will be broadcast on the Internet, the interest created by the world championship, and the general expansion of the game show that they have a dominion worth governing.

But whenever they sign a cheque, or grumble about the way Mr. Dalmiya is behaving, or wonder if they can enhance the game in Outer Mongolia they should give a thought to the man whose financial acumen filled their coffers.

It was the same man, Jagmohan Dalmiya, who in his days as president of ICC, persuaded the television programmers that cricket was a crowd puller and could provide them with, in many cases, day-long viewing for enough people to make it an attraction for sponsors and advertisers. He was right, the money has poured in and as a result ICC is more powerful and better placed to govern the game than ever.

It may be an irony that he seems intent on rocking the boat he built but I have a suspicion that sometime in the future ICC will thank him for providing such robust opposition and that the game will be the better for his forceful interventions.