John Benaud: The ICC are producing a game devoid of charm

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The Independent Online

Cricket is always having crises. Books are written and entitled, inevitably, 'Cricket At The Crossroads'. You'll recall Bodyline, the World Series Cricket breakaway... and in between the occasional tuppenny bunger, like pathetic over-rates, chucking and so on. Generally, there's a good guy and a bad guy, and in the above real-deal controversies Douglas Jardine and Kerry Packer were nasties.

The India captain Anil Kumble's self-indulgent hijacking of "good guy" Australia captain Bill Woodfull's line "only one team is playing cricket", uttered during the 1932-33 Bodyline series, was immediately spotted by us cynics with "ocker" accents as code for: "My team have just lost a Test nobody thought they could and I'd like you all to bag nasty Australia and their captain instead of me, in case back home they think we're the bad guys and torch our houses."

Ponting is tactically dull, abrasive, prone to snap and a sometimes ungracious winner, but of more urgent concern than any character study of him is the bunch of no-hopers who wander/administer aimlessly under the abbreviatedanonymity of "The ICC".

One can only guess how embarrassing it must be to have anyone know you are officially part of the International Cricket Council and your claim to fame is the absolute shambles that passes for world cricket in 2008. Put the chief executive, Malcolm Speed, and his team in the dock and even Rumpole's most junior solicitor could win, his case rested on the evidence of the World Cup last year.

Laws have been changed to accommodate bowlers who throw; the Darrell Hair case remains impossible to fathom, at least for those of us who played and understood the spirit of the game before the ICC lawyers measured out their runs; the crooks of Zimbabwe are rewarded with ongoing recognition; and now a talented umpire who has a bad game can be sent home.

There was a time when the greatest insult to an Australian cricketer was to mention the phrase "no sheep in the top paddock". After the SCG Test the words "monkey" and "bastard" are apparently offensive. Speed and Co have a new challenge: compile a dictionary of words that are offensive to the modern cricketer, or his culture.

Before they make bigger asses of themselves they should recall the Collis King incident, Mount Smart Stadium, New Zealand, 1978. King, a most talented West Indian all-rounder then playing in World Series Cricket, took a terrible blow to the right groin and collapsed. The physio applied the magic "freeze" spray, but to no avail, and the stretcher arrived. This roused King, who looked down at his "magic-sprayed" groin, sat up abruptly and announced: "Jesus, I'm turning white; quick, spray me all over!"

Past players think modern cricket has no sense of humour, subtlety, finesse and characters, and little goodwill; that it lacks a certain class, charm even. Here's proof: in 1961, Australia's Richie Benaud and West Indies' Frank Worrell agreed pre-series to "have some fun".

In 2008, when Ponting and Kumble met before the start of the series, it was to discuss how best to defuse an evolving problem: fielders claiming catches that bounce. Cheating.

The ICC, with a little pressure from the odd cricket board, will surely find a way to legalise that in no time.