The essence of Speed - a straight bat to the bent arms

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The Independent Online

In no particular order, the issues that world cricket is trying to resolve at present include throwing, bat size and composition, changes in the rules to cheer up one-day internationals, the use of technology by umpires, convincing everybody else that the Johnnie Walker Super Series between Australia and the Rest of the World is a jolly good thing, the venue of the 2006 Champions Trophy, who plays in it wherever it takes place, and the next lot of television rights. That is an exhausting but probably not exhaustive list.

In no particular order, the issues that world cricket is trying to resolve at present include throwing, bat size and composition, changes in the rules to cheer up one-day internationals, the use of technology by umpires, convincing everybody else that the Johnnie Walker Super Series between Australia and the Rest of the World is a jolly good thing, the venue of the 2006 Champions Trophy, who plays in it wherever it takes place, and the next lot of television rights. That is an exhausting but probably not exhaustive list.

"It's inevitable in sport that there will always be an issue of the moment," said Malcolm Speed. "Part of the art of dealing with it is to see it coming, and if you can't solve it before it arrives, try to fix it as effectively as possible. A lot is made of the supposed clash between the International Cricket Council and their members, but if every day we got out of bed and found that all our members agreed with us on everything we were doing we'd be getting it wrong."

Speed is the chief executive of the ICC, dry as the Dubai desert whence he and his organisation will soon move. He is a lawyer by trade and inclination, and weighs up his answers and his options as though he had a scale of justice in either hand. Given that the ICC are only as strong as their members allow, he has not been afraid to stand up for what he believes to be right, and he was courting unpopularity again last week.

Throwing remains the most contentious subject in the game, and the ICC are unwittingly but fittingly in an arm-lock over it. The decision to permit bowlers a 15-degree limit of elbow extension unavoidably risked accusations of a chucker's charter despite, or perhaps because of, its scientific basis. On the one hand, cricket wishes to retain the human element in decisions, on the other it is impossible when somebody is being charged with the game's most heinous crime.

Harbhajan Singh, the Indian off-spinner, is again under scrutiny, and is now being assessed by an Australian chap billed as one of the world's leading biomechanists, Marc Pothas. Harbhajan was reported for his doosra on 20 March, and only on Thursday was the next biomechanical stage agreed. It was obvious the Indian board were pretty unhappy about Harbhajan being reported again, and Speed's diplomacy has been essential. India have no imminent international commitments, but so much for the new throwing regulations meaning "the introduction of a shorter, independent review process".

The cases of both Harbhajan and Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan off-spinner, illustrate the harsh truth that once an action is branded suspect it is always suspect. Pakistan recognised this when, on being told that Shoaib's action had considerably improved, their cricket board asked for him to be allowed to bowl "without inhibition" in future.

The ICC's reply came from the cricket general manager, David Richardson, but it had Speed-speak all over it and was tantamount to saying: "You're 'avin a larf ain't yer." That is, allowing someone to bowl without limitation "would obviously not make sense, as a bowler could then simply revert to old habits".

Speed has rarely shown any sign of being worn down by the cares of office, and apparently remained unmoved when Nasser Hussain was rude to him in South Africa during England's World Cup shenanigans over Zimbabwe. Doubtless he treats throwing as a continuing saga.

More pressing business is likely to involve the whereabouts and style of next year's Champions Trophy. This biennial tournament is fighting for its reputation, if not its life, and may well influence the next round of television rights. That and what the ICC decide to stage in the other year between World Cups, given that a Super Series may not always be possible. The present $550m (£300m), seven-year deal runs out in 2007. The Champions Trophy is in trouble because in 2002 it failed to produce a champion when rain washed out the final on successive days, and in 2004 it was plain dreadful until rescued by a thrilling final.

Next year the Trophy is due to be held in India, but the ICC are awaiting confirmation that the Indian government will grant tax concessions on their revenue during the tournament. If not, the event will move to Pakistan, where safety factors would be involved.

There are plans in hand to revamp the tournament, the favoured option being to reduce it to eight teams on a round-robin basis so that all matches are meaningful. This makes it sound uncannily like a perfect World Cup.

"I think it would complement the World Cup," said Speed. "The issue is how we get the eight teams." Sounds like tough luck for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, but with the competition being held somewhere in the subcontinent he was not about to say so.

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