Cricket: International players threaten strike action

By Stephen Brenkley

International cricketers are threatening to strike unless there is dramatic change to the running of their sport.

After a sequence of embarrassing cock-ups by the International Cricket Council, the players' patience appears finally to have snapped during the farrago that doubled for a World Cup jamboree in the West Indies.

Their alarm was signalled last week in the results of a survey following the tournament, and they seem prepared to act.

Some 56 percent of those polled said they lacked confidence in the ICC and their ability to deliver prestigious events.

The upshot is that if the ICC fail to provide, within the next three months, a detailed plan of how they can change the way cricket is run with an independent board, they can expect serious consequences.

The grievances are many, but high on the list are the amount of cricket being played, the lack of former cricketers involved in making key decisions affecting the game, the distribution of money to ensure the wellbeing of the game in its traditional areas and the quality of management.

Much of the inefficiency that the players perceive could be embodied by the First Test match at Lord's, where a woefully under-prepared West Indies team, hotfoot from the World Cup and given no time for practice, were expected to perform at the highest standard and, hardly surprisingly, have failed abysmally.

The West Indies board might have accepted the crazy scheduling but might suppose they had little option.

"The big problem is that if you keep making mistakes you undermine the whole game," said Richard Bevan (left), one of the players' leading spokesmen.

"What happened at the World Cup can do damage round the world both to cricket's credibility and its commercial viability.

What the players are saying is that they have had enough.

"Look at what's happened in the last three years.

"There has been the issuing of a Future Tours Programme which doesn't control the maximum being played, only the minimum, so it's pretty weak. There has been the delay over an anti-doping programme, which resulted in a lack of player education until last July; the Zimbabwe issue; the Darrell Hair issue; the Super Series; the World Cup; you could go on.

"If you were a major plc making those sorts of mistakes you would have a major clear-out of management.

"We need to look and we need some answers, and if we don't get them in the near future we need to review the whole process of what events players appear in. That would have a major impact on the ICC business, sponsors and revenue."

If there is an element of taking their bats home in the players' threat, it is patently clear that they have a point and are willing fully to make it.

The ICC, always unsure of their status as a ruling body, have not only become more impotent but have plainly lost trust.

Their response to the players' questionnaire last week was dangerously blase.

They said that since the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (Fica) comprised only players from five countries, this was unrepresentative.

They might have known this was also poppy-cock.

The reason that four countries are not represented is that their board do not allow them to have formal player associations.

But Fica are regularly in touch with all teams, albeit unofficially.

Bevan, who is chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association in this country and Fica's treasurer, was almost certainly not underestimating the issue when he said that 99 per cent of players have had enough.

A crossroads is undoubtedly approaching.

The players appear to understand with more clarity than the ICC that the game cannot continue as it is.

There is sympathy for the fact that the ICC are only as effective as their members allow them to be, but equally the players and their representatives feel that the ICC have been too acquiescent.

They wonder, for instance, why Zimbabwe is still allowed a place at the high table.

Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, is expected to retire next year after six years of pragmatism.

At the heart of the matter are tournament schedules and the way money is distributed.

The players' organisations believe that the ICC have got themselves into a mess with the number of tournaments they run purely to please television rights-holders.

Of course, reduce the number of international tournaments and you reduce the money correspondingly, but it is indubitable that the past three Champions Trophies have been tantamount to disastrous and the past two World Cups have been lacklustre at best.

The players are sincere in their belief that this will eventually affect the sport's status, if it has not already done so.

They are also anxious that the ICC invest heavily in existing full members rather than spend more on spreading the word to minor associate nations.

There is a huge fear that countries such as West Indies and South Africa - which is suffering from a player exodus - will become uncompetitive.

The sport cannot afford a structure where three or four countries dominate.

The initial response from the ICC was not promising.

They expressed disappointment that the players had gone public and clearly doubted their strength of purpose.

The players do not want to run the game themselves, they have no wish to strike, they merely want affairs run better on their behalf.

Bevan may be unafraid of shooting from the lip but he invariably does it after careful research, with player support and facts at the root of his utter-ances.

The ICC would be wise not to underestimate the threat.


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