SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Balancing India’s commercial power with the interests of other cricket-playing nations is one of the main challenges facing the game over the next few years, according to former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed.
“Sticky Wicket”, the Australian’s memoir will be released on Friday and details his 11 years in cricket, first as chief executive of the Australian Cricket Board and then at the International Cricket Council (ICC) from 2001 to 2008.
His spell at the top of cricket coincided with India’s emergence as the game’s superpower and the book details the impact of that as well as corruptions scandals, chucking controversies and the emergence of Twenty20 cricket.
Speed lays out starkly how the value of Indian television rights have changed the dynamic of international cricket with an Indian tour of Australia now generating five or six times that of the next biggest draw, England.
That clearly gives India huge clout when it comes to negotiations on the international stage, with other countries wary of falling out with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for fear of losing a tour.
“Finding the right balance between India’s commercial power and the interests of the other countries is a big test for the game,” Speed told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“Most other sports would be happy to have the world’s second biggest country so passionate about cricket, so if it’s managed properly, I think it’s a positive.
“It’s something where there will have to be an accommodation between India and the other countries, there’s not much point India playing itself, so it needs to keep the other countries strong.
“From time to time, they will need to stand up to India.”
Speed certainly feels he did that while at the ICC and ultimately, he says in his book, it forced his early departure after he offended the BCCI over the issue of Zimbabwe Cricket’s finances.
The 63-year-old’s clashes with Indian officials led to him being burned in effigy on the subcontinent and routinely branded a racist.
“The effigy burning was part of the job,” he recalled. “There was usually some sort of misunderstanding or exaggeration of the position and I think that’s a great example of the passion for the game in India.
“It’s a traditional way of expressing dissatisfaction with people in positions of power and it was my turn a few times. I look back on with a sense of amusement.”
The racism accusations were less amusing.
“I’m not a racist and I was never happy to be called a racist,” he said. “Sometimes I had to make decisions that upset one country or another and it was an easy accusation to make.”
The success of Twenty20, while welcome, has led to another big challenge for cricket as it tries to find a balance with the one-day and test forms of the game, Speed said.
“I think it’s possible,” he said, adding that the “workload issue” would result “very few” players playing all three forms.
“Some of them will play one form, some will play two forms. I think that’s an inevitable outcome of the third form.”
Would most not be tempted to forsake test cricket, given the high rewards and lighter workload offered by the 20-over game?
“I think there’ll be very few players who go down that path,” he said. “Players measure themselves by their records in test cricket.
“There is a risk that 50-over cricket will lose its popularity, but the current World Cup has shown that the good matches will achieve good ratings.”
Since his 2008 departure from the ICC, Speed has kept himself busy with lecturing and consultancy, most recently a report for Australia’s professional sports on the danger of betting-related corruption.
The fight against corruption remains a “significant” challenge for cricket, particularly in India, and the recent Pakistan spot-fixing scandal was a timely reminder, Speed thought.
“The message that every involved in cricket has had since the late 1990s is ‘we need to do as much as possible, we can’t relax, if we relax the corruptors will come back in’,” he added.
“The recent Pakistan issue in many ways is a positive, perhaps every decade needs to have a serious wake-up call.”
Reading the details of the rows, personal attacks and pressure of his job, it is hard to believe that his time in cricket gave Speed great pleasure.
“It was a fascinating job,” he counters. “I dealt with interesting people and difficult people and there was a good deal of stress, but for a sports administrator, it was a great challenge and a thoroughly enjoyable time.”
Speed, who counts Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar as his favourite players of the modern era, said he would like to be remembered as a “person who made decisions without fear or favour” and even in retrospect would change none of them.
“I’d make fewer enemies, that would have solved a few problems.”