Nursery Pavilion, Lord’s Cricket Ground, Tuesday 26th June 2012 ….. Courtesy of ESPN cricinfo
Mr President, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to give the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. I consider it an honour to acknowledge Colin and to have the opportunity to share with you some of my experiences as well as some thoughts on the game we all love. I noticed that both Martin Crowe and Adam Gilchrist paid tribute to their families at the start of their speeches so I trust you will indulge me if I do the same. I should like to thank my wife Vivian for her patience and help in putting this lecture together. I should also like to thank my children, Beau and Tom, who are here with me tonight, and Samantha and Mark, who are embracing the spirit of cricket by listening to this lecture the way we used to listen to the Tests sixty years ago in the early hours of the morning. Without their love, support and understanding of the demands cricket makes on family time, I would not have been able to enjoy all that cricket has given me.
When I received my invitation I immediately wrote down 10 topics I wanted to address. However, after a month’s reflection, I thought I shouldn’t indulge myself and that it was more appropriate to confine my speech to the spirit of cricket. However, since arriving in England, I have been told repeatedly by a wide range of people that before speaking about the spirit of cricket, I must explain my reasons for sacrificing the most coveted role in world cricket, the England captaincy, to become involved with an Australian television tycoon. A quote from the transcript of my meeting with Kerry Packer, five days after the Centenary Test on 22 March 1977, gives the best insight into how I felt at the time: “Kerry, money is not my major concern. I’m nearly 31-years-old. I’m probably two or three Test failures from being dropped from the England team. Ian Botham is going to be a great player and there won’t be room in the England Test side for both of us. England captains such as Tony Lewis, Brian Close, Colin Cowdrey, Ray Illingworth and Mike Denness all lost the captaincy long before they expected. I won’t be any different. I don’t want to finish up in a mundane job when they drop me. I’m not trained to do anything. I went straight from school to playing for Sussex. I am at the stage in my life where my family’s future is more important than anything else. If you guarantee me a job for life working for your organisation I will sign.“
The previous season’s cricket with Waverley in the Sydney grade competition created a great thirst to work in Australia. I was not only paid £50,000 for five months work but more excitingly, I mixed work-wise and socially with a number of Australia’s leading businessmen. This opened my eyes to a world that I didn’t know existed.
Obviously, there were also key issues with the England administrators that disturbed me, which I felt would never be resolved. I couldn’t understand why we were only paid £210 a Test when we were playing in front of packed houses. The psyche of the administrators, the vast majority of whom I regarded as good friends, was that the honour of playing for England was enough – money shouldn’t be a consideration. Consequently, I couldn’t see an end to the game under-selling itself and there appeared to be no hope of expanding the revenue base for Test and county players alike, unless there was a revolution, or at least a big upheaval. Having to make changes to innocuous sentences in my books and newspaper articles at the behest of the TCCB was a source of irritation. And having to get permission to take wives on tour and paying more for friends’ tickets to the Centenary Test than I was paid for playing in it, also didn’t help.
I have never had any doubt that I did the right thing by my family and by cricket. I have worked for Kerry Packer’s organisation for 35 years and my family’s future has been secured. After the initial nastiness and internal feuding, cricket and cricketers also did quite well out of World Series Cricket (WSC):
- WSC ensured cricket reinvented itself to survive the changing world;
- WSC was the jolt the administrators needed, and it flagged the messag e that they were substantially under-selling the sport to the television stations;
- Players immediately received substantially more money at both Test and first class level, which increased the longevity of their careers;
- Companies saw value in using cricket as a marketing tool;
- TV coverage improved significantly, which increased interest in the sport;
- Night cricket created a new audience, both television-wise and at the ground, and generated significantly more income;
- WSC revolutionised cricket pitch preparation through the drop-in pitches;
- Cricket’s success inspired other sports to imitate cricket with things such as TV coverage and sponsorships.
I only have two regrets about World Series Cricket. E W Swanton was very good to me throughout my career and I am saddened that despite numerous attempts by me, I never had a chance to make peace with him after World Series Cricket. Second, I had a wonderful relationship with the chairman of selectors, Alec Bedser, which continued through and beyond World Series Cricket. I know Alec understood why, but I dearly would like to have told him of my plans before they became public. However, I promised Kerry I wouldn’t.
I have some great WSC anecdotes and I’m happy to share them with you, as well as address any other WSC issues in question time, if you so wish.
I played with and against Colin. In so many ways he embodied all that is good about cricket. There could be no better person after whom to name this lecture. As a batsman he was calmness and gracefulness themselves. On and off the field, I don’t think you could find a more courteous person than Colin. Who else would have called Jeff Thomson, Mr Thomson?
In the 1990s, Colin and another hero of mine, former Sussex and England captain Ted Dexter, were so concerned about the decline in sportsmanship in cricket, they campaigned successfully to have a description of the spirit of cricket included in the preamble to the laws of the game. We are indebted to both of them for their work.
When you talk about the spirit of cricket you are talking about not just the game, but a way to live your life; you are talking about embracing the traditions of the game and sharing your experiences with friends and cricket lovers alike; you are talking about caring for people less fortunate than us. This has been done for years through organisations such as the MCC, the Lord’s Taverners and the Primary Club, and more recently through foundations and organisations set up by many players.
The spirit of cricket is not just about adhering to the laws of the game. It’s about something far more enduring, adhering to a set of values that can elevate you above the hum drum, above the cynicism that can drag you down if you let it. It not only covers uniting the various peoples in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and the countries of the West Indies, but it also brings light into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in those countries as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh. In particular, the spirit of cricket is also about putting the game’s interests before yours or your country’s interests.
Many people have romanticised our game because it does lend itself to that. Which other sport can generate substantial newspaper column inches over the equivalent of the suspense created by five successive maidens? Cricket is also a partnership, and like all partnerships, there is give and take. Sometimes cricket can feel like it has given you everything, the moment when you score a Test 100 or score the winning run on the village green when you were batting at number eleven. At other times, it gives you nothing. A string of ducks or a dropped catch. But as with all great loves, you never walk away. You accept the bad times, the sacrifices that you make to participate in this wonderful game, the one the poets call the summer game. Give your hand to cricket and it will take you on the most fantastic journey, a lifetime journey both on and off the field. That is what it has done for me and I suspect for most of you.
People around the world love sport, but none, in my experience, in the same profound way that people love cricket and what it stands for. I love cricket because apart from the skill required to succeed, it is a great leveller. It is also a wonderful test of temperament and a test of courage. I love it for the people it has introduced me to – lifelong friendships with people from across the globe. I particularly love it for the opportunities it provides for old folk like us to get together as we have done today. I love it for the wonderful spectacle it continues to be in a world that is changing so fast. In the world of Facebook, the web, twitter, text messages and tattoos, you still can’t see anything to match the rhythms of a Test match. Cricket moves to charm, and even in the 21st century, it still has the grace of timelessness.
Yehudi Menuhin once said of one of Beethoven’s greatest works, The Pastoral, that Beethoven wrote it, but God approved it. Whether it’s a game of cricket on an English green, an Indian maidan, a Caribbean beach, an Australian park, or right here at Lord’s with the ancient pavilions looking on, I believe that is so true of cricket. We humans created cricket, but God approved it.
It has its scandals, it has its challenges fitting into a 21st century world where a lot of me-first values of different generations clash with the distinctive beauty of cricket. But people still play and follow cricket in remarkable numbers because their relationship to it is different from any other game.
We have in our audience people of greatness in their chosen fields, music, the arts, business, science, and politics. Offer them the chance to play a village green match tomorrow and they will invent any excuse to get out of the office. You can play and love cricket with the same deep-rooted attachment at any level.
And here’s another thing that makes our game unique. One of the first things scientific researchers do when they start a project is to ‘read the literature’, to find out what is already known. When it comes to ‘the literature’ no other sport, not even the Americans with Red Smith and Roger Kahn, has ever produced anything as magnificent as cricket’s great writers. Heading them up, the incomparable Cardus and the poet Arlott.
I preface the following comments by saying I have only considered our game from the narrow perspective of the 10 Full Members of the ICC. Lord Woolf in his recent report to the ICC looked at the global picture and took into account the views of the 95 associate and affiliated members of the ICC and consequently has a more negative view than I.
I believe our game is in reasonably good shape. More people play it than ever before. Run rates are often substantially higher than in the ‘golden years’ of cricket. More women are involved as both players and spectators. Television audiences are up substantially. We have expanded our product range – Tests, ODIs and Twenty/20s – to cater for the different needs of players and spectators alike. Global revenue has gone through the roof. Substantially more players make a decent living – crikey, the England players even have food tasters and someone to tuck them into bed at night. In the old days people used to say the sun never set on the British Empire. Today, cricket has grown so much that it is probably watched on television somewhere in the world 24 hours a day. Sure there are issues that need attention, some even urgent attention, but this has always been the case. This is part of the evolution of any game.
At the risk of over simplifying things, the major problems facing cricket at the moment are: the decline in the image of cricket; ICC’s control; the international calendar and the mix of different types of cricket; gambling; the Decision Review System; governance; unequal resources; and the possibility of India cherrypicking the Woolf Report to increase its power.
Fortunately, I think most of the problems can generally be addressed if India invokes and adheres to the spirit of cricket. Mahatma Gandhi said “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” As cricket certainly resides in the hearts and souls of Indian people I am optimistic India will lead cricket by acting in the best interests of all countries rather than just for India. If there is proof of the leadership India can provide it is the recent announcement of a one-time benefit payment of $13 million to former national and domestic players for their services to Indian cricket. This certainly exemplifies acting in the spirit of cricket and rewards those players who played before 2003 for little financial reward. That people like Chandrasekhar, Prasanna, Borde and Nadkarni will have this sort of financial support as they cope with the onset of the years is a powerful sign that India can not only generate great wealth for the game, but use it wisely for the benefit of cricket and cricketers.
Almost since its inception cricket has been synonymous with fair play. “It’s not cricket” – another way of saying “it’s not right” – was an expression used throughout the English speaking world – not just in cricket playing countries. It was a gentleman’s game. More than any other sport, the people who played, and the people, who followed cricket, knew they were special. Along the way my generation decided that the game would be more exciting and more testing if we turned the heat up on the funny quips and used them to intimidate the opposition. History suggests most players of mine and subsequent generations also embraced the new gladiatorial environment. On reflection, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But I have to acknowledge that we not only breached the spirit of cricket but it was probably a selfish attitude.
As a result of sledging, I don’t think following generations inherited a game that was as special in the community’s eyes that my generation inherited. Sadly, these days, captains don’t earn or receive the same adulation that Richie Benaud and Sir Frank Worrall rightly received in their day. Players also no longer have the same relationships with each other that say Keith Miller and Denis Compton had. Crikey, at times when I watched Ricky Ponting and Duncan Fletcher, who was sitting in the stand, and Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh on the field, I thought I was back in the 1960s and 1970s watching Billy Bremner and Nobby Stiles chopping down opponents.
I suspect who runs cricket and how well it has been run have been contentious issues since the beginning of time. Irrespective of the existence of the ICC or its forerunners, for about the first hundred years cricket was run by England and Australia. Both countries, proud advocates of democracy, ironically even had a veto on the ICC or its equivalent. Unfortunately, on many occasions self-interest was more important than the spirit of cricket and countries such as India and New Zealand were undoubtedly discriminated against.
Before examining the specific issues, we must acknowledge and praise India for embracing the spirit of cricket through the financial opportunities it provides, which has enabled a number of Test playing countries to survive, and some to thrive. World cricket would be in a sorry state if it weren’t for the money shared with other countries from India’s television deals. You can imagine the indebtedness to India of those cricket boards, which are able to negotiate a tour with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to their country. It generates a spike in the host country’s revenue that they will not see until India chooses to come again.
World cricket would also struggle if India didn’t have such sophisticated administrators as it does. More recently, India has found a way to involve its wealthiest entrepreneurs and Bollywood stars through the ownership of its IPL teams.
Today, many people level the problems of the game with the ICC. Technically, they are correct but in practice most members of the ICC have little control over many of the important issues of the game. Currently, there are 10 full members of the ICC and the constitution requires the approval of 70%, or seven members, to advance any motion, which means 40%, or four members, can block any motion. Much of the game is controlled by the BCCI because it controls enough votes to block any proposal put forward at the ICC board meetings. The reason for this is some countries would not survive without the financial opportunities India provides. What is just as disturbing is through the Champions League, South Africa and Australia have a partnership with India and are unlikely to risk offending India. The current Champions League 10-year contract generates just under a billion dollars and is 50% owned by India with Australia and South African sharing the rest.
As a result of the dependence on India the process adopted by the ICC is simply not working. The ICC cricket committee for example is made up of a group of top class current and former players and umpires. They go to great lengths to make recommendations that they consider in the best interests of the game. These recommendations are then submitted to the CEO’s committee for approval, which normally happens as a formality. The recommendations are then raised at the ICC board meeting and if India doesn’t like them, they are, at best, modified or thrown out. It’s a sorry state of affairs and very frustrating for those who give so much time to getting things right.
India’s apparent indifference towards Test cricket and its response towards some of the key issues – the international calendar and the mix of the different types of cr icket; its attitude to the earlier ICC corruption inquiries; its indifference to the urgency to introduce anti-doping rules; the rumoured corruption hanging over the IPL; its attitude to the Decision Review System; and its role in the lack of due process in stopping former Australian Prime Minister John Howard being appointed vice president of the ICC – are all examples of disappointing decisions. But many of the problems with the ICC could be resolved if India invoked the spirit of cricket and didn’t try and influence its allies in how to vote.
In my view, every international team should be required to play at least three Tests, three ODIs and three Twenty/20 matches against all the other teams in a given home and away cycle. The Future Tours Programme is managed by the ICC and it provides guidelines to its members. The ICC tries to impose ‘minimums’. However, the various ‘big guns’ didn’t like the idea of being tied to these ‘minimums’ so they agreed to the minimums but introduced an “unless otherwise agreed clause”, which in effect allows all full members to do as they please.
In a perfect world no consideration should be given to any domestic tournaments – that is IPL, Big Bash, Champions League etc – before the international calendar is set in stone. No domestic competitions should take precedence over international matches. Unfortunately, India is pre-occupied with money and Twenty/20 cricket, and sees its IPL and Champions League as more important than a proper international calendar. To compound the problems, India has not only sold part of the game to private interests but some of her administrators are seen to have a conflict of interest, which makes it more difficult for it to act in the spirit of the game.
Twenty/20 has played a crucial role in creating interest in cricket to a new audience. The funds it generates at both international and domestic levels also helps under-write all other cricket. The IPL has produced a wonderful opportunity for players from all cricketing countries to mix in a way that Martin Luther King would never have dreamed. But the IPL is too long in its current form; many players are paid ridiculous sums of money; young players are brought from other countries when they should be learning their craft in their domestic competitions; and the Indian board is more beholden to the private franchise owners than it is to fellow ICC members.
The net result of this is Test cricket is suffering; some players appear not to have the same feeling for Test matches as their predecessors; there are more and more meaningless ODI matches; governing bodies have lost some control of their players; and some players are abandoning their responsibilities to their home countries.
We can huff and puff as much as we like and have all sorts of external reports but this situation can only be resolved by India accepting that the spirit of cricket is more important than generating billions of dollars; it’s more important than turning out multi-millionaire players; and it’s more important than getting square with Australia and England for their bully-boy tactics towards India over the years. It’s ironic that the world, including India, rightly worships at the Nelson Mandela altar because of his conciliatory attitude but then India eschews his approach by indulging in a little pay back.
Although the current Test ranking system is working well, I think a play-off for the Test crown is essential. Test cricket is still paramount in England, South Africa and Australia but disappointingly it is no longer as important in India as it once was. Sadly, Pakistan can’t play Tests at home and the West Indies has big problems, which have diminished the standing of their Tests. The euphoria in India after it won the ODI World Cup was amazing. That euphoria was not duplicated when India became number one in the Test rankings. Cricket will only have its priorities right when Pakistan and the West Indies are given a helping hand and their Tests become more meaningful, and when Indian players and people celebrate success at Test level as much as it did when it won the ODI World Cup. That can probably only happen by having a playoff for Test supremacy, say once every four years. The ICC’s internal executive was bitterly disappointed that India was responsible for canning the scheduled 2013 Test championship. Unless India embraces the spirit of cricket I wouldn’t hold my breath about the scheduled 2017 Test championship being played.
I was involved in the embryonic stages when Channel Nine developed tools to aid the viewer in judging umpiring decisions, and have been a passionate supporter of the Decision Review System (DRS). I do, however, accept that it is hard to argue against people such as Rodney Cavalier, current Chairman of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, who, in opposing the DRS, said: “Cricket is fantasy. It is the intersection of Heaven and Earth, it cannot ever be the slave of certainty. The essence of cricket is honour and accepting the umpire’s decision.”
Having acknowledged that, I would still argue that it is just as important to get the decisions correct. It can’t be good for the game when the media devotes so many words and so much ink to bad decisions, which ultimately undermines the integrity of some results. The DRS is not perfect, but it does err in favour of the umpires’ decisions and according to the ICC, fewer mistakes are made with its use. And furthermore, there is less conflict on the ground.
India has two reasons for opposing it: One, because its superstars had such an embarrassing experience with it in the early days. Two, the BCCI argues that the DRS is too inexact. Ironically, the spirit of cricket is batting on both sides in this one. The Cavalier approach says DRS is not in the spirit of cricket, but on the other hand, the Indian superstars should act in the spirit of cricket and accept the majority viewpoint.
These days you can’t talk about cricket without dwelling on the on-going damage match fixing or game manipulation has caused the sport. I share the world’s view that it is repugnant and the cricket administrators should adopt a zero-tolerance policy.
Currently, all ICC Member player contracts contain clauses prohibiting match fixing, etc and all contracted players are required to sign-off on the education program provided by the ICC, prior to taking part in any international match. The Boards have also spelt out exactly what a player’s obligations are if any approach is made by anyone in relation to corruption. For example, there is an ICC Anti-Corruption and Security representative at every international match. Players are encouraged to go to either their management, or alternatively, go directly to the ICC Anti-Corruption & Security representative. Sadly, this hasn’t been sufficient to eliminate corruption.
Short of all players agreeing to take lie detector tests, I don’t know how corruption can be eliminated completely. I think all players should agree to take lie detector tests and all should agree that if they failed the tests, they would give the officials access to their bank account records and phone records. My expectation is that only a handful of players might fail the test and therefore it would not be an onerous commitment by 99.9% of the players.
Some players embrace the bookies or their representatives for financial gain or because of threats to their family or because a young naïve player feels beholden to a captain he idolizes. Ironically, I think taking lie detector tests would be in the interests of the vulnerable players because it would lessen the chances of approaches from bookies and captains. Knowing that they would be caught through the lie detector tests would lessen the chances of the players trying to either make a quick dollar or capitulating to the bookmakers’ threats. Obviously, agreeing to take lie detector tests would be a huge invasion of privacy – but no more so than accepting strangers knocking on your door at 5.00am asking you to provide a urine sample. It’s a huge sacrifice but I think it would be in the spirit of cricket for the players to agree to it.
I should like to express my dismay at not only the proliferation of external reports telling us what changes need to be made, but also governments throughout the cricket world telling us how to run the game. I don’t know whether current administrators lack the knowledge and courage to make decisions for the sport. Perhaps it’s both or more likely they are being sneaky in pushing responsibility for unpopular decisions to an external source.
In recent times Cricket Australia, the ECB and the ICC all commissioned external reports. The ICC investigation was undertaken by Lord Woolf, and his key recommendations were never going to be accepted. Basically, Lord Woolf was recommending the equivalent of the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France giving up their vetoes in the Security Council, or the House of Lords voting itself out of existence. Believe it or not, the reason for outside independent ‘expert’ reports is that anything put forward by say the ICC executive is perceived to be agenda driven by someone. What a sorry state of affairs. What a cop out. I want cricket people running cricket in the best interests of cricket, not outsiders reading from a text book.
Over the years cricket has been severely damaged by government interference in South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and India. England has been subjected to government interference and recently the Australian Government urged Cricket Australia to improve its governance. Obviously, all cricketing boards need to comply with the laws of the land, re corruption etc, and all need to improve their governance, but the governance should be done at their own initiative and members behest, and not with governments holding a gun at their heads.
There is obviously a substantial difference in available resources between the haves – India, England, Australia and South Africa – and the have-nots – West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. This creates many problems. The have-nots’ youngsters are less likely to be attracted to cricket; it is far more difficult for those countries to develop the players; and perhaps more importantly, players from the have-not countries are more likely to be attracted to the big money in Twenty/20 competitions than in playing Tests for their own countries. Once again, this problem could be addressed if all countries invoked the spirit of cricket and made some sacrifices. The following comments provide a solution to my earlier observations about the International Calendar and the IPL, and, paradoxically, the IPL might just provide a solution.
One, India should agree to reduce the length of the IPL in its current form as a trade-off for the other countries not scheduling Internationals in opposition to it. That is, unless it adopts my Asian League proposal which I shall discuss in a minute.
Two, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, New Zealand and the West Indies agree not to schedule any Internationals in opposition to the IPL. These countries will never be able to generate enough income to make Internationals in the long term more attractive to their players than the IPL money.
Three, India should agree to expand the IPL to say an Asian League and include extra teams from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The cricket boards of these countries should be given a financial interest in the competition, which would enable them to under-write most of their cricket. Those funds would compensate the boards for not running domestic Twenty/20 competitions of their own as they are planning to do now. This expanded league would enable players from the have-not countries to earn good money and still be available for Internationals.
Four, England should set up its equivalent of the IPL and include teams from the West Indies and one team from Ireland, which would have a financial interest in the competition. Similar arrangements should be made by South Africa for Zimbabwe and Kenya. And Australia’s Big Bash should include New Zealand teams.
Five, World cricket should do everything possible to not only help the West Indies become a dominant Test force again but to ensure Pakistan cricket survives the extraordinary situation it finds itself.
As I have expressed a number of times throughout this speech, I believe most of the existing problems can be solved by India if it embraces the spirit of cricket and leads for world cricket, not just for India. However, there is a potential problem, which would diminish my optimism. Lord Woolf recommended that the President of the ICC become a ceremonial role and that a new position of an independent Chairman be created. He recommended that the Chairman serve for three years and that the position be remunerated. This person would be the most powerful person in world cricket. Although India has rejected the Woolf Report, I am concerned that it will cherry-pick and support this recommendation, or a watered-down version, in a motion to change the existing constitution. India has enough clout to control the position.
I should like to conclude by saying that cricket, a 19th century game, has survived and thrived into the 21st century because the spirit of cricket has been just as special to cricket playing countries as democracy and Shakespeare have been to the world. Cricket as we know and love it has plenty of problems. Most of those problems can best be solved if the ICC members put the game’s interests before their own interests; if India accepts the survival of Test cricket is non-negotiable; if India accepts its responsibility as leader of the cricket world; if it embraces Nelson Mandela’s philosophy of not seeking retribution; and if it embraces the spirit of cricket and governs in the best interests of world cricket, not just for India and its business partners.
All those things need to be addressed so that cricket’s own great journey can continue – the one that began on the Wealds of Kent and the Downs of Hampshire, and of course found its way north, so that that canny Yorkshireman, Captain James Cook, could set it off towards Australia and New Zealand. And it has found its way to the East and West Indies and my native South Africa and they’re beginning to play it in all sorts of other exotic locations.
What we have is a game with its roots deep in the 19th century, but like a magnificent English oak, continues to spread its luxuriant branches in the 21st century. If we want our children’s children’s children to be able to climb on that tree, share in what we are lucky enough to share in, in this room today, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the tree can live. To do that, no matter where we come from in the world, no matter what our religion or our hue, we must be guided by the paramount and enlightening thing that Colin Cowdrey knew and cherished so well: The Spirit of Cricket.