Cricket: England bid sacrificed to avert chaos

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The Independent Online
WHILE England's decision to withdraw their bid to stage the 1995 World Cup has cost the domestic game a potential windfall, it emerged yesterday that the sacrifice was a worthy one. But for the national talent for diplomacy, international cricket could well have descended into chaos.

A statement announcing the English withdrawal, and the success of the rival bid mounted jointly by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was released from Lord's shortly before midnight on Tuesday. A few moments beforehand, a meeting of the International Cricket Council had broken up after more than 13 hours, an unofficial record. Up to that point, claimed AC Smith, the chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board, 'there seemed a grave danger of the ICC totally disintegrating'.

'We endured a fractious and unpleasant meeting,' continued an unusually forthright Smith. 'It was beset by procedural wrangling and there was no talk of anything like cricket.' It was, he added, 'by a long way the worst meeting I have ever attended. If no one had been prepared to compromise it would have broken up in disarray.'

The trade-off demanded by the English delegation has led to the appointment of the first ICC chief executive, David Richards, who formerly filled the same role at the Australian Cricket Board. His most pressing brief is to ensure a formal constitution is drawn up. 'If we can get away from the wrangling and shambling of yesterday,' Smith said, 'then something will have been achieved by this.'

The other English demands - 'important concessions,' Smith called them - were met as well. A World Cup rota has been established, confirming England as the venue for the 1998 tournament and, political progress permitting, South Africa as hosts three years later. 'We wanted the 1995 World Cup,' asserted Smith, 'but in view of the situation we had to take a longer-term view, provided important conditions were accepted by the other countries.'

Lal Wickrematunge, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan board, hailed the English withdrawal as 'a tremendous gesture'. The ICC secretary, Colonel John Stephenson, banged the drum, dubbing it 'the most magnanimous, decent and wonderful gesture'.

It was also an eminently sensible one. As ICC founder members, England were empowered to use their veto, as were Australia, but the other full members of the ICC have long been seeking equality. To have wielded it now might well have lit the fuse.

Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies helped England win a secret ballot of the nine full members, but the final count of 5-4 was one short of the two-thirds majority required. Had England not bowed out, the 19 associate members would have come to the crease, in which case the sweeteners offered to the likes of Argentina, Bermuda and Gibraltar by the subcontinental trio ( pounds 100,000 rather than England's pounds 65,000) would have swung the balance.

'The fact that England and Australia did not use the veto,' Wickrematunge said, 'showed that they had the game at heart and have done their best for international cricket.'

Self-preservation may also have had something to do with it.

THE International Cricket Council yesterday refused to ratify the 109 that Graham Gooch scored for a rebel England XI against South Africa in Johannesburg in March, 1982, leaving the England captain still on 99 centuries. 'These tours were not authorised by any member country of the ICC,' the ICC secretary, Colonel John Stephenson, said in defence of the decision.