Life, death and cricket

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” The gospel according to Bill Shankly, the late, legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club.

Now these words might have been delivered with a straight face some 30 years ago, but in the wake of this week’s despicable terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, in which six policemen and two civilians were killed, sport has quite literally become a matter of life and death. And death and terror emerged the undisputed winners on Tuesday, with the cancellation of the Test Match, the series and the prospect of no international cricket being played in Pakistan in the foreseeable future.

The recriminations in Pakistan have already begun with fingers being pointed at the Pakistan Cricket Board, the security forces and the Pakistan government. Even without the benefit of all the facts, it is now being mooted that the International Cricket Council (ICC) may have to certify countries and specific venues for play according to strict security standards rather than leaving matters to individual boards. 

The tragic events in Lahore come at an already difficult time for the ICC and cricket governance at the global, regional and national levels.

Just last week, in response to the fiasco of the abandoned Second Test Match between the West Indies and England, at North Sound, Antigua, the ICC Chief Executives’ Committee, meeting in Johannesburg, “reconfirmed that the responsibility for ensuring the delivery of a venue fit for the purpose of international cricket rested with the host Member board.”  It was clear that in their eyes the blame lay squarely with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), even though the condition of the outfield at North Sound is currently the subject of the ICC’s ongoing pitch and outfield monitoring process.

The first stage of this process was the submission of the ICC Match Referee’s report to the ICC, which has been done. The ICC has forwarded the report to the WICB, asking for “a written report of its own on the condition of the surface including any extenuating circumstances which may have existed.” According to the official ICC press release, once the WICB’s report is received then the ICC’s general manager and chief match referee will consider all the evidence, including video footage, before passing judgment.

It does not appear as if the WICB, which has announced a one-man inquiry into the North Sound debacle, has as yet submitted its formal report. Indeed, the terms of reference of this inquiry are shrouded in mystery, as there has been no further information forthcoming from the WICB.

Meanwhile, in Antigua, the blame game is being played out in full between the President of the Antigua Cricket Association, the committee appointed by the Antigua and Barbuda government to manage the facility at North Sound and the government itself.

It really does not matter who blames whom. The WICB, as the overarching home board, was ultimately responsible for the “delivery of a venue fit for the purpose of international cricket” and it failed miserably in this regard.

Michael Holding, as we pointed out in our editorial of two weeks ago, has been scathing about the culture of buck-passing and the lack of responsibility and accountability in West Indies cricket. In an interview immediately after the abandonment of the Second Test, he said that he did not expect resignations. More pessimistically, he stated, “It will hit home for the next two weeks. But after two weeks, everyone will move on. That is the way things operate around here when people have no repercussions, when people don’t suffer for their mistakes. Or their incompetence. If you don’t suffer for your incompetence, everything moves on. Whenever anything goes wrong, no one suffers.”

That is as sad an indictment of our political and governance culture as anything uttered by serious political commentators and academics. The great fast bowler and respected commentator has hit the middle stump with unerring accuracy. Our memories are too short and we are too accepting of the failures of those who are meant to exercise leadership.

Well, two weeks have passed and we shall not let the matter rest. We shall continue to remind people of the disgrace heaped upon the West Indian people by the WICB, though the board itself is perhaps quite capable of doing so with yet more bungling to come. Nor should we allow the WICB to bask in the reflected glory of the current heroics of the West Indies team. The team’s uplifting performances should not distract us from the WICB’s awful record over the years.

The ICC is moving to reaffirm certain principles and deal with new challenges. It is time for a change in the way the WICB conducts business. We therefore reiterate our call for resignations and reform, beginning with the departure of the WICB President, Julian Hunte, and the Chief Executive Officer, Donald Peters.

Cricket has often been called a metaphor for life, but no one could have imagined that death and terror could have impinged on its idyllic image as in Lahore this week. Our problems of cricket governance must seem quite trivial when compared to the stark juxtaposition of life, death and cricket witnessed on Tuesday. But in the face of terror, life and the game must go on.

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