Good riddance all round

2009-02-20 00:00

Cricket has endured another turbulent week. From a distance it may seem that everything has gone wrong, with a benefactor exposed as a fraudster, a Test match abandoned, ICL in turmoil and the game falling apart at the seams like a ragged ball. Closer inspection yields a more sanguine view.

History may come to count these last few days as constructive. In times of clover, sages and fools are easily mistaken. Not until hard times return can the true and false be separated.

A fortnight ago the game remained in the hands of plausible rogues. Governance had fallen into decay. Now cricket may legitimately hope that better days lie ahead. Allen Stanford has been exposed as a crook and Zimbabwean cricket officials can feel the cold wind of comeuppance.

As Warren Buffet once said, a rising tide lifts all-comers, but receding waters reveal the naked.

Already numerous frauds have been exposed. Now it is cricket’s turn to examine its books.

Already improvements are under way. Stanford’s outing and the appointment of David Coltart as minister of Sport in the new unity government in Zimbabwe give the game an opportunity to get back on track.

The sight of past players and modern administrators sucking up to the Texas billionaire was enough to turn stomachs. It was almost as bad as the backing cricket has given to those responsible for turning Zimbabwe into a starving, sick nation.

Stanford’s fall did not surprise business observers long convinced that his empire was all smoke and mirrors. Some investigated the finances of his private companies only to be fobbed off.

Evidently cricket bodies did not bother with such niceties as due diligence. Instead, the England and Wales Cricket Board cosied up to him in the most abject manner. They wanted him to start a competition in their country. They allowed him to land his helicopter at Lord’s where even retired champions have a hard job getting past the gatemen.

The conduct of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) was worse. Impressed with Stanford’s wads of cash and absurd self-importance, they allowed him to build a ground in Antigua and to stage a winner- take-all match for tens of millions of dollars. To him it was pocket money. According to the American investigators, he has perpetrated “ a fraud of shocking magnitude” on his 30 000 customers. False promises and fabricated returns were used to attract investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission accuses him of stealing at least $8 billion. Presumably his investments in cricket were designed to feed his ego and improve his image. After all, he knows nothing about the game.

Inevitably retired West Indian players swanned around him. They could hardly wait to get their hands on the $100 000. None found the time to go to inspect conditions at the Sir Vivian Richards Ground, least of all the great man himself.

Unfortunately he turned out to be a man of straw. Board members are expected to investigate matters of that sort before rolling out the red carpet. But, then the WICB could not even provide a proper ground for a Test match. Between them the colossal embarrassment of the abandoned Test and the Stanford debacle require the resignation of the entire board.

Luckily the match could be staged at the old ground, the scene of so many mighty performances, and a superb pitch was provided at two days’ notice. The new ground was built for the disastrous 2007 World Cup. It is situated out of town and lacks atmosphere. Yet it is too early to condemn the strategy of erecting new, state-of-the-art grounds.

Obviously this was a botched job, but similar stadiums have been constructed in India, especially in Nagpur. At present they are white elephants. Customs may change, though, and the wisdom of the policy will not be known for 20 years.

A founder member of the opposition in Zimbabwe (in other countries it’d be called “the duly elected government”), Coltart is a keen cricketer, a principled lawyer and a man of integrity.

Under the agreement recently hammered out, the Education, Sport and Culture portfolio was assigned to the Mutambara faction of the MDC. Coltart was chosen for this vital position and has been sworn in. Education will be his highest priority, but sport, and especially cricket, will not be neglected.

No wonder officials are trying to soften their image. But it’s a bit late for that. Despite all their denials, they have prospered from tyranny.

Coltart will want to see the long- suppressed report into the finances of Zimbabwe cricket finances conducted by a reputable firm in 2007. Meanwhile, Tatenda Taibu has refused to buckle, arguing that the assault case against him is intended to stop him revealing anything about ZC’s financial activities. He has demanded that the accounts be produced in court and the magistrate has agreed.

No wonder the South Africans are starting to shift their position. Writing in the Mail & Guardian, Norman Ardense, recently departed chairman of Cricket South Africa (CSA) and once a firebrand supporter of the incumbency, argued that CSA ought to stand apart from its cousin across the Limpopo until matters have been fully investigated.

And so it has not been a bad week at all. Not that cricket officials can take any of the credit. But the world has given them a chance to get their snouts out of the trough and to start providing the leadership the game needs and deserves.

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