Speed must be of the essence

The challenges for cricket are myriad. Stephen Brenkley meets the man facing them
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The Independent Online

The new boss of world cricket has moved continents. Malcolm Speed's next task is to move mountains. As the chief executive of the International Cricket Council he is overseeing a sport which appears to be permanently accompanied by turbulence.

In the past year, it has been beset by umpiring controversies, player misbehaviour, arguments about the use of television technology, debate about the stagnation of the one-day game and above all by a corruption scandal which threatened to destroy its bedrock. Throughout, the ICC, a ruling body in everything but power, influence and authority, have stood accused of inaction, of doing too little much too late (if they were doing anything) and of never doing today what they could defer until the year after next. If at all possible, they often also tried to say nothing about it. It was and is a mess, partly caused by the ICC's uncertainty of their role. They have only ever been as effective as their member countries allowed.

Speed is the man charged with changing all that, of making the organisation fit to govern soundly and properly in the 21st century. He is four weeks into the job and is at present available for interviews to advance the ICC's cause. Only Steve Coogan, promoting The Parole Officer, can lately have voluntarily put himself forward to answer more damn fool questions from journalists.

Speed's willingness to answer perhaps embodies the way he intends to run the ICC and the manner in which he knows the body must change. He is positive but careful not to issue rash predictions, optimistic though guarded about the ways in which progress can be made.

"I think there's a realisation that we're trustees for the public. It's not like a normal business, we have stakeholders not shareholders, we don't have a share price out there that drives us and as trustees for the public they're entitled to know what's going on in the business. It's important that people round the world know how we're running the business. That's not to say we tell them all our commercial transactions but wherever possible it's imperative on sports administrators to be transparent and accessible."

It is astonishing that Speed has come this far this soon. He played club cricket for 20 years but his professional involvement as an administrator began only in 1997 when he was headhunted from his sports management consultancy to take over as chief executive of the Australian Cricket Board. Before that he had been a solicitor for 11 years, a barrister for 12, had been chairman of Basketball Australia and attempted to establish a professional basketball league in Asia. It is refreshing that he was not immediately enamoured with the ACB job.

"I wasn't greatly interested because I didn't believe cricket would go outside cricket. I'd always seen it as fairly insular, somewhat of an old boy network. I wasn't part of that so I thought the headhunters were just padding their list." So his appointment laid to rest his own – and many others' – suppositions.

Speed has a list – it matters not whether real or figurative – of things that need doing, of gum trees from which the ICC needs extricating and roads down which they might freely travel once that procedure is complete. His first public pronouncement was urging match referees not to shilly-shally in punishing misdemeanours. It worked: no sooner had he said it than a miscreant was banned.

The most obvious and pressing concern is corruption, especially match-fixing. He is busy even now working on the implementation of the 24 recommendations contained in the preliminary report of Lord Condon, head of the Anti-Corruption Unit which was set up when the ICC at last ran out of sand to bury their collective heads in.

"With hindsight we could all have done more but I'm not terribly interested in looking back. If we relax it's folly, the same amounts of money are being bet on cricket, the same people are involved whether bookmakers or gamblers. They're unscrupulous to an extent that they will come in and corrupt cricketers. It's been proved comprehensively that if we relax they will be there again." Speed is meeting Condon twice more this month.

Part of the reason that the ICC may come to have teeth – apart from their members' realisation that there is no alternative – is that they now have real money. Most of this comes from TV income, a seven-year deal worth a minimum $550m which was signed last year. If the organisation's accountancy arrangements are complex – they have auditors in the British Virgin Islands and an office in Monaco for tax reasons – the bottom line, according to their first-ever published accounts, is simple. In the year ending March 2000, they had a revenue of £636,413 and in the year ending March 2001, one of £21,120,579.

The distribution of the cash to help meet the declared aim of globalising the game is another of the conundrums facing Speed, though the players cannot expect to have bundles of it thrust their way. By his estimation, rewards have increased two- or three-fold in five years. "The players still complain about it but I'm comfortable with the way payments have gone. The game can only pay what it can afford and there are other things we must do with the money."

Nor is Speed very sympathetic to players' observations that they play too much. He remembers that they gave a winter off to Australia's players a while back and many of them promptly took up offers of employment from English counties. "I lost a little sympathy."

The subjects of umpiring and technology are connected. Speed does not want to lose traditional umpiring virtues but he knows that the technology barbarians are at the gate. If television has a foolproof system and it can help umpires, it should be used. But umpiring standards themselves would rise when the new ICC elite panel was appointed. A total of 74 umpires stood in internationals last year and that was too many.

Eventually, Speed would like to see a system where it did not matter if an umpire came from the country where he was standing, that he was seen as being of the ICC, not of England, Australia or the West Indies. This may be a pipedream.

Speed and his wife are househunting in London at present. What of the Ashes? "It's important for cricket that England are strong, like it's important West Indies are strong." He smiled. "I've had England as my adopted country for two Tests and they've been disappointing."