The absurdly irrelevant Champions Trophy, which is scheduled to start on Thursday in Colombo, has degenerated from farce into scandal. This competition was the brainchild of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the business mogul from Calcutta, towards the end of his somewhat questionable reign as chairman of the International Cricket Council, and his chief executive, David Richards, although his supporters are doing their best to muddy the waters. It is being put about that it was spawned by his successor, Malcolm Gray, of Australia.
Last week the new chief executive of the ICC, Malcolm Speed, another Australian, brokered a deal with the Indian players who have been justifiably outraged by the way in which the sponsorship arrangements for this competition have cut across their own private commercial arrangements.
The Indian Board agreed the financial terms for the tournament in the middle of last year, but did not let its players see their contracts until the Lord's Test this summer which hardly constitutes open government.
LG Electronics, a main sponsor of the ICC Trophy, is in the same line of business as Samsung, which has private deals with at least six of the present Indian side. The terms of the ICC's contract with LG has surrendered these players' image rights for a period of 30 days on either side of the competition, thus neutralising their own arrangements with Samsung, which would cost them a lot of money.
Speed had a long meeting with the Indians the day before the Oval Test began and apparently came to a compromise which was to everyone's satisfaction. All seemed settled until the Indian Board of Control, chaired by Dalmiya, refused to ratify the deal.
One of the suggested amendments was that the players agreed not to endorse rival products for 16 rather than 30 days after the Trophy. Dalmiya has argued that he was worried the tournament sponsors, unhappy with this change, would sue his board. He is said to have chosen an Indian Second XI if the main players continue to refuse to sign. This would surely cause outrage within India and turn Dalmiya into a public enemy. Maybe he is being too autocratic for his own good.
It is no secret that for a long time Dalmiya's end game has been to try to remove the headquarters of cricket from England and set it up in the subcontinent, preferably in Calcutta. He has been a constant thorn in the side of the ICC. One needs to look back no further than last winter when he orchestrated the extraordinary Indian reaction when the match referee, Mike Denness, suspended Virender Sehwag for outrageous behaviour during India's series in South Africa. As a result, England's series in India last November and December came within a measurable distance of being cancelled.
This was followed by the twisting of England's arm to make them play an extra one-day international, at Cuttack, because India were playing four and not three Tests in England this summer. This was an agreement put in place by India's previous Board and which Dalmiya was unwilling to stand by.
In view of his record, one can only wonder what Dalmiya's real reasons are for refusing to agree to this latest compromise. It would be interesting to see the terms of the original agreements between the ICC and the companies sponsoring the ICC Trophy. The small print, in particular, might make fascinating reading and it might be that there are one or two things which did not even make the small print. Powerful magnifying glasses would be needed.
It is indeed sad that one man seems hell-bent on pulling down cricket's long-established house. He was elected for a three-year spell as chairman of the ICC, a position of great trust, and now appears to be doing the best he can to embarrass the organisation he once led. One can only wonder what is the driving force behind the man and why he is now trying to bring down a tournament he helped create.
FRUSTRATED GESTURES to the press box seem to have become a fashion this summer, which shows how avidly the present England players scan the papers each morning. Nasser Hussain set the tone when he waved three fingers at that grinning, gaping press contraption at Lord's when he scored a one-day international hundred batting at No 3, a position for which he alone considers himself to be best fitted.
On Friday it was Dominic Cork's turn to behave like a petulant schoolboy and raise seven fingers to The Oval press box when he had completed his third fifty for England in 37 Test matches. While he may feel this innings was an admirable justification for his continued presence in the England side at No 7, I hardly think it will have changed even a single mind in that august chamber. Cork is as manifestly unsuited to bat at No 7 for England as he is to belong to a Trappist monastery. Frantic gestures at and to press boxes almost invariably tell of tortured souls.
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