Lord's Diary: Speed buries hatchet with Wisden as they try to become good hosts

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The Independent Online

In line with their exemplary intention to look and act like a sleek, modern organisation, the International Cricket Council have redesigned their website. Jolly thorough and informative it is too.

To ensure sleekness and modernity, the ICC - still based at Lord's before deciding on their future location later this year - have astonishingly hired Wisden Cricinfo to host and design the site. Wisden Cricinfo run the biggest cricket (and actually biggest sports) website in the world. It is a merger of Cricinfo, the original and the best, and Wisden, smugly knowledgeable johnny-come-latelies.

Apart from the website, Wisden also run the Wisden Cricketer magazine, itself a merger and launched as a new title last year, and a little thing called the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, now in its 141st annual edition.

Wisden and the ICC have joined forces for an initial three years. That they are together at all represents a wonderful rapprochement that was impossible to imagine a year ago. At the ICC Business Forum in June 2003, the ICC's chief executive, Malcolm Speed, was positively waspish about that year's edition of Wisden, whose editor had dished out some bewilderingly strident criticism. Rather than ignore this as publicity-seeking ramblings, Speed expressed bemusement at the "angst-ridden prose" now that the ICC were capturing the true value of the sport.

"The irony of this criticism being made at a time when Wisden are seeking to boost their profits by snapping up magazines and websites was not lost on most inside the sport," Speed said. "It is hard not to concur with Peter Roebuck [the cricket journalist and former Somerset captain] when he wrote in Australia, 'The time has come to stop taking this little book seriously'."

Well, whether the ICC have started treating the book seriously or not, they have certainly decided after all to help Wisden boost their profits.

Tiers before bedtime

The MCC's annual Spirit of Cricket lecture delivered at Lord's the other night was both robust and pertinent. Clive Lloyd, the great former West Indies captain, touched on several controversial issues, which deserve not only to be spoken about but to be acted upon.

Lloyd is obviously not afraid to ruffle feathers back home. In calling for a two- tier system of Test cricket it could easily be inferred that he was effectively calling for West Indies' relegation. He said that for a start the ICC should oversee a more equitable distribution of funds from TV revenue and sponsorship between developed and under-developed countries. West Indies have virtually no TV income of their own.

"World cricket must decide whether it is to consist of occasional riveting battles between three or four super-cricket nations - Australia, England and South Africa obviously [and India, he might have added] - and one-sided, poorly attended intervening series between the poor and the weak, or whether it is prepared to do what is necessary to build up the number of competitive Test-playing countries," he said.

"One way is by spreading the money within the game... the other is to create a sensible second tier of international cricket, perhaps built around regional competitions, so that they can slowly, but hopefully steadily, move up to senior status." Lloyd must know in which tier West Indies would currently fall.

Verse and worse

Oh my Holding and Richards of long ago, Lloyd might have added, had he wished his speech to make the next edition of the MCC's anthology of cricket verse. The first edition is just out under the title A Breathless Hush. Its editor, the prolific David Rayvern Allen, helped by Hubert Doggart, seems to have trawled through every poem ever written about cricket, not to mention every piece of doggerel. He also includes a grace given by Roger Knight at a Lord's anniversary dinner seven summers ago, in which Knight said: "We give thanks for our guests from Australia, and the pleasure their visit affords. As there's no Ashes tour that's a failure, we look forward to matches at Lord's." Presumably, there can be no link between this verse's inclusion and Roger's position as MCC chief executive.

Spirit willing, Middlesex weak

Amid an unfortunate cacophony of silence, the latest MCC's Spirit of Cricket league was issued last week. This rewards counties for playing the game in the proper fashion. Glamorgan are top and, surprisingly, the distant rear is being brought up by the team who actually play their home matches at Lord's and must feel the spirit of cricket every day. Middlesex are obviously endeavouring to rectify this by their recruitment of Glenn McGrath.

Strauss makes his cases

Andrew Strauss enjoyed a wine tasting three nights before the start of the First Test (close observers confirm that he was careful to spit out most of the product). His host, Christopher Carson, head of Hardy's in Europe, promised him five cases of the premier Australian wine Jack Mann if Strauss made another Test hundred.

He must have thought the booty was safe - surely Strauss could not score yet another Lord's century. Thirty bottles at £50 a time are now winging their way into the Strauss cellar.