The story of how Imtiaz Patel almost became the chief executive and then quietly slipped away will become one of those classics about the bungling of the International Cricket Council in years to come. From announcing Patel’s name to the public prematurely, to being unable to get to him for a week after, the ICC did everything to botch up what would have been a very good deal.
Initially, there were doubts that Patel was concerned over his role, not wanting to be seen as a rubber-stamp CEO with Inderjit Singh Bindra being given such sweeping powers. But the SuperSport boss, it is learnt, was too pragmatic a man to let something like that get in the way.
The thing about Patel is that he seemed hand-built for the job. He was Indian but not Indian at all. He was a professional with a proven track record, and cricket was his sport while television rights, international and local, were his speciality. Malcolm Speed, the current CEO of the ICC, recognised this early on, well before the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in September last year, and chose Patel as his preferred successor and went about courting him.
While Speed convinced Patel to throw his hat in the ring for the big job, it was by no means a done deal when David Morgan, the ICC president-elect, announced in Dubai on March 17: “We have been unanimous in selecting Imtiaz Patel of South Africa as the next chief executive of ICC and we have recommended his name for approval by the executive committee.”
Whether this was a genuine gaffe on the part of the ICC, or a not-so subtle way of putting pressure on Patel, who had not yet signed on the dotted line, is a matter of conjecture.
A couple of days after this announcement Patel made it clear that it was not quite a done deal just yet, although few believed he would turn down the offer. Patel was then whisked away to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for a high-profile meeting of chief executives and other head honchos of SuperSport. In that one week, when he was far from the influence of the ICC and in the company of those he had worked with so loyally for more than eight years, he was won back. Patel’s commitment to his company and the critical role he played were underscored, and the ICC lost out.
If one thing would have tempted Patel to take up the ICC job in Dubai it was his growing concern about living in crime-ridden Johannesburg. More than once Patel has spoken to his confidantes about the unhealthy atmosphere in the city and how his son sometimes woke up in the night with awful dreams.
On Monday, Patel informed Morgan of his decision. “We are obviously disappointed that Imtiaz has chosen to withdraw,” said Morgan, while adding rather contradictorily, “However, the fact that Imtiaz has withdrawn does not mean that, by default, we will be left with a candidate who is, in any way, inferior to him.”