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Speed retells the appalling tale of misrule

Peter Roebuck
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Sceptics questioning the case for independent governors at the ICC ought to get hold of Malcolm Speed's riveting account of his stints as CEO of that august body.Sticky Wicketis the most important cricket book published in the last 10 years. Readers are urged to follow the story to the end. The last chapter concerns his removal from office and exposes the nasty, corrupt forces still sitting at the top table.

It is a colourful tale methodically told by a man, without flourish, but with a strong ethical core. Mostly it is a tale of misrule. Not that the ICC has an easy task.

Cricket is an inward looking game played at the top level by a small group of nations with long and painful memories. But the opportunities are immense. No other game covers as wide a range in such a small space.    

If the style inSticky Wicketis as dry as a paper clip, the content is colourful. Speed describes the rumour ridden enquiry into Bob Woolmer's death at the 2003 Cricket World Cup (CWC), an investigation hijacked by a vainglorious detective and a silly coroner.

He talks about the disastrous 2007 CWC, the growth of Indian power, the move from London to Dubai, the advent of T20, the attempt to spread the game beyond the ‘Old Empire' and the sensible changes made to the throwing law.

He focuses on the notorious SCG Test that showed numerous players and the Australia and Indian Boards in poor light, an issue from which only a Kiwi judge emerged with credit.

Manipulations

Speed also outlines the manipulations over John Howard's candidacy for the ICC vice-presidency. He was a poor, but legitimate, choice and worse had been accepted. The Zimbabweans were especially alarmed by the prospect and worked relentlessly behind the scenes to block him.

Afterwards they typically denied opposing him. Speed talks about the Stanford debacle and describes great West Indian players hanging to his coat tails and raging at the ICC's reluctance to accept grandiose proposals. Dignity faltered on the altar of expediency.

Speed reflects upon his disagreements with Darryl Hair and Nasser Hussain. Not for the first time, Hair emerges as a man capable of judging lbws, but not serious issues. Hussain's hot-headed posturing during the 2003 CWC was ill-conceived, throughout England's position on playing in Zimbabwe was inconsistent and self-serving.

Finest hour

Ironically, Zimbabwe proved to be Speed's undoing, and his undoing was his finest hour. His refusal to accept the suppression of documents revealing financial irregularities in Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) led to his sacking.

Our positions differed only in degree. I argued that Zimbabwe ought to be boycotted for the same reason as apartheid South Africa, because it suffered under tyranny. Speed could see no beginning or end in that. However we agreed that ZC was accountable for its money. Speed's account of his sacking is a devastating expose of the game's ruling clique. The way in which unscrupulous elements drove a principled, if prickly, man from office is the crux of the matter.

The rogues conspired to sweep the independent audit into ZC accounts under the carpet and even had the gall to pretend it had uncovered no chicanery. In fact, it indicated that the financial records and supporting documents had been falsified.

Speed refused to attend the ensuing press conference. Inevitably the bandits posing as radicals ganged up on him. Thank goodness cricket is no longer run as an English fiefdom. But there is a lot of money around and people fall in love with it.

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