Richard Bevan: 'I fear for where the game will be in eight years' time'

Players' champion heads for football but not before a parting shot at ICC
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The Independent Online

The man who transformed the lot of English cricketers will leave the game next week fearing for its future in the world. In Dubai, headquarters of the International Cricket Council, they will pretend to have heard it all before and then some.

As Richard Bevan doubtless sees it, they will shake their heads (presumably after clapping their hands) and conclude that they expected no less before putting them back in the sand, of which there is, at least, a plentiful supply in those parts.

Bevan, the departing chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association and deputy head of the internationalplayers' federation, has been a consistent and informed critic of the ICC. He is not quite always right but he is invariably passionate and he could hardly resist an unappreciative parting volley.

"I fear for where the game will be in eight years' time," he said in Sri Lanka this week, making his final official trip to see the England players. "My prediction is that if it stays on its current course there will be four or five powerful countries playing each other more often, and ultimatelythat will undermine the value of the world game."

Bevan was offered a considerable sum to dish some dirt on the administrators running cricket or, as he put it, "to write some crap about some people" but instead decided to issue a 10-page briefing paper outlining his views on the game in England and the rest of the world. He is optimistic about the former, gloomy about the latter.

For most of the past decade, Bevan has doubted the ICC's efficiency and power, and with the vast amounts of money now swilling round in the game his scepticism has not lessened. "The ICC are reviewing the Future Tours Programme and it is recognised there must be a maximum and a minimum. They're now looking at a four-year FTP, meaning the bigger will get bigger and the smaller will get smaller. And the crazy thing is the ICC are not in control of the game."

There is evidence to support Bevan's contention in his dossier that the ICC "is not a governing body, it is merely a facilitator of events". There is a topical example. Anybody who has seen the rebuilt ground at Galle would know that it is far from ready to stage a Test match, but the ICC are powerless to intervene because they view it as a matter for the cricket boards in the countries concerned. Of course, the ICC are only as powerful as their members allow, but Bevan thinks they should have been far more persistent. "They don't give them any teeth or ability to police, but people at the ICC should have been fighting the cause."

The future of Tests, which are watched by declining audiences everywhere but in England, also exercises him. "In the course of the next eight years, the ICC will bring in between $1.4 and $1.8 billion [690-890m]," he said. "How much of that will be spent on marketing Test cricket? How much are they looking at spending on examining a Test championship that has the top four going into a play-off every other year? If you had the top two playing somewhere with appropriate weather for a winner-take-all purse of $5m you'd generate an event with huge appeal. They are not thinking like that because they're driven by the one-day game and one-day monies."

Bevan, like the ICC, recognisesthe influence of Twenty20 and has urged them to cordon off a month every year for major international club championships or watch outside entrepreneurs establish pirate tournaments.

There are two significant, big-money Twenty20 tournaments scheduled for next year, both in India: the Premier League, with eight franchised sides and all the world's top players in April; and the Champions' League in October, for the best two club sides from four nations. Bevan doubts the latter will take place since there is no real gap in the schedules. The idea is growing that India, having signed the leading players for the Premier League, will not be too fussy about it.

"The ICC need a proper pyramid structure, otherwise many more organisations and rich individuals will come out of the woodwork and organise tournaments," he said. "I have heard of a guy wanting to put up a prize of $3m for a double-wicket competition. There is a danger of a player earning big money for a few days' work and not wanting to play many Tests after that."

Bevan becomes the head of football's League Managers' Association next month. Cricketers never better off talk with huge fondness about him and will miss him. The ICC's view is unlikely to border on affection, but they would do well not to burrow too deeply in the Dubai desert on hearing his words.