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Shooting from the lip too often

More sinned against than sinning, it’s hard to say, but one thing was clear: Malcolm Speed had it coming. Anand Vasu reports.

cricket Updated: Apr 26, 2008 01:52 IST
Anand Vasu

More sinned against than sinning, it’s hard to say, but one thing was clear: Malcolm Speed had it coming. The office he held did not allow him the privilege of voicing his personal opinions on matters that the ICC administered and yet, time and again, he did not merely over-reach himself, he went out of his way to antagonise the very people he should have been befriending.

The starkest example came at an ICC press conference in Mohali in November 2006. The interaction was called to allow Percy Sonn, then ICC president, to address the media, but Speed turned it into a platform to launch a strident attack on the Board of Control for Cricket in India. “I have read a lot about India’s money power. But we don’t judge sporting organisations on the basis of how much money they have,” Speed said. “The criteria for judging organisations is how their team has performed, how well they look after their stakeholders and how many good cricketers they produce. The last time they won a major title was in 1983.”

The BCCI’s reaction was swift and strong. “It is interesting to note that Speed has been meeting Indian corporates to solicit sponsorships to the ICC, and on the other hand, he is passing disparaging remarks about India’s money power,” Ratnakar Shetty, the chief administrative officer of the BCCI said. “What Speed did by talking about the status of Indian cricket and the performance is nothing but gross interference in the affairs of the Indian Board.” Shetty laid into Speed further, reminding him of the important tournaments India had won, and underlining the role the Indian Board played in world cricket.

That incident was representative of Speed’s attitude towards the BCCI, and though his continued public comments did his case no good, it wasn’t what led to his premature and humiliating ouster. Speed had been in strong disagreement with Ray Mali, the ICC president, over several issues, most notably Zimbabwe. In March, the issue of the ICC’s handling of Zimbabwe came to a head when Speed refused to front the media after the ICC decided to overlook the audit report that pointed out several financial irregularities in the running of Zimbabwe cricket.

Mali, a known Zimbabwe supporter, was incensed with Speed’s cavalier behaviour and began to garner support among ICC members to deal with Speed. Speed’s making some untimely remarks concerning the ICL — implying that the matter had never been discussed by the ICC — ensured that the BCCI and its allies were more than happy to back Mali. “We want to teach Speed a lesson,” a member of the BCCI had recently said.

Sacking Speed outright was not really an option — due process has to be followed and contractually it would not have been worth the ICC’s while - but there was much the member nations could do.

After all, the ICC is ruled by a two-third majority vote of its 10 Test-playing nations. The four sub-continental teams almost invariably vote as one, led by India and the West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe seldom differ. “Some representatives who attend meetings don’t even bother reading the agenda when they show up. They just vote as they’re told to,” an ICC functionary recently told HT. So, when Speed, who held a high-profile post but was not necessarily powerful, decided not to fade quietly into the sunset, and instead stirred the pot, he pushed the members into voting (even informally). Once that was done, only one result was possible.