Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2008

Notes by the Editor

A dying format? The County Championship is at another crossroads © Getty Images

Baxter's Road leads out of Bridgetown past Kensington Oval. Buses throatily engage second gear; an old man sitting on the wooden veranda of his shack nods appreciatively at the sea breeze; a young man walking along the pavement offers "weed" for sale, unthreateningly. In Barbados the weave of traditional society has not unravelled.

During the last World Cup a sports bar on Baxter's Road contained about a dozen customers and three televisions. One was showing the game between West Indies and Bangladesh a few hundred yards away at the renovated, half-empty Oval. But none of the customers was watching the cricket. None was watching the second television either: a recorded football match between Liverpool and PSV Eindhoven. Or the American football game on the third screen. All male, and young to middle-aged, the customers sat at tables and talked or chatted up the waitresses.

Then a wicket fell and the bar burst into life, even animation. Everybody turned as if on a string and watched the replays, switching on to the cricket. West Indies were going to defeat Bangladesh in the Super Eights, if no one else. Cricket, after all, was their game. Liverpool scored, and a hulking quarterback threw an oval ball, without gaining their attention. Conversation gradually slowed; the tropical afternoon took over. The bar filled with languor, and the waftings of an okra stew brought by a waitress for a late luncher, and the sounds of the street and buses bound for Speightstown.

Shorter, shorter everywhere

Twenty-over cricket in India is shifting the tectonic plates of the professional game as never before. In the late 1970s Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, while reshaping the international scene, left the domestic game untouched. Until now, the best cricketers have earned most of their money by representing their country, whether in an official eleven or a rebel team in World Series or apartheid South Africa. This period in the game's history, of primarily representing countries, seems to be ending, suddenly.

Leading cricketers can now earn more by representing an Indian city, whether in Zee TV's Indian Cricket League or the officially sanctioned Indian Premier League. City-based cricket has arrived and will surely spread, annulling the player's traditional relationship with his county, state or province. The day has lurched closer when England's best cricketers, in addition to representing England, will play for an English region in a first-class tournament at the start of each season; for an English city in the 20-over competition in mid-summer; and for an Indian city. County cricket will then become a relic at amateur level, like the county championship of English rugby.

Cricket administrators in Test-playing countries around the world should be prepared to ride this Indian tiger, to keep the 20-over game in proportion and not let it swamp all other forms. I am not convinced they are ready, because the standard of administrators is not high enough. For a start, they took ages to understand what baseball discovered in the United States several generations ago: that the majority of people want to watch their sport in a package of about three hours. Twenty20 cricket is making up for a lot of lost time.

The ninth World Cup should have been last year's highlight. But it was made joyless and long-winded to the point of tedium, sanitised and stripped of any local flavour or carnival atmosphere by the imposition of western corporate culture. West Indians were alienated by ticket prices - in effect "tourists only need apply" - long before the tournament began. (I felt alienated when I stood in a stand without a single spectator, and a security man ordered me to sit down.) The organisers had said an aim of the World Cup was to revive cricket in the West Indies, and manifestly it did not. Then, after a build-up all too long, the World Cup final was all too brief, and rendered farcical by the incompetence of various umpires and the referee. The consequence was that the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa later in the year caught the public imagination, precisely because the 50-over World Cup had not. The game in its longer versions laid itself open to a takeover by the shortest format.

I am not against Twenty20 cricket. Some matches in South Africa, notably the semi-final between Australia and India, had most of the ingredients that any cricket match with a time limit could offer. (Australia had no spin bowler worthy of the name, and they lost because of it.) The ICC has stacked its tournaments with one-sided matches; the IPL has realised that drama depends on competitive games and has shared out the stars. But, in the course of time, what 20-over cricket lacks - if only a change of tempo - will become ever more apparent, by comparison with Test cricket.

Hail Fellows, well hit

The tournament also spawned a game within a game: to see which batsman could hit the ball furthest. It was amusing that the biggest hitter, Yuvraj Singh, could manage only 119 metres. Why are today's batsmen so puny? In 1856, at the Christ Church ground in Oxford, off the bowling of a man called Rogers, Walter Fellows drove a ball 175 yards, or 160 metres, "from hit to pitch", which Wisden has listed for years as the world record (see page 464). In our obituary of Fellows (Wisden 1903), we reported that the "length of the drive [was] carefully measured by E. Martin, the ground-keeper". One may question the measurement of the hit, or wonder if it was wind-assisted, but amateur batsmen of that period like Fellows - described as "a hard slashing hitter, and a tremendous fast round-armed bowler" - played more sports involving wrist-work than today's players. Or maybe it is the modern bat that is puny because the wrong wood is being used. Many bats were made out of red willow until the 1930s when, for purely cosmetic reasons, white willow or salix alba became universally preferred.

No feeling for the game?

Cricketers in most countries do not have administrators they can respect and trust. Take Sri Lanka, where a recent board president and chairman have both been dragged through the courts, yet their senior players are admirable not only as cricketers but as human beings. To my mind, Muttiah Muralitharan deserves even more respect for his humanitarian work than for setting a new world record of Test wickets in Kandy last December.

Cricket in most countries is run by businessmen, along with politicians in Asia. The argument for the former (the latter are unavoidable) is that cricket is just like any other business. Cricket, however, is a sport above all else. Suppose the best French businessman was headhunted to run the England and Wales Cricket Board or the International Cricket Council. Assuming he knew nothing about cricket, his appointment would clearly be unacceptable. A knowledge of the game, and a feeling for it, are essential. But from my perspective, as a cricket correspondent who has toured with England for 30 years, too few administrators know and feel. When the television camera has picked out the hospitality box containing administrators, never yet have I seen one of them watching the game through binoculars. As a whole, they are interested not in how the game is played but in how much money can be made. I am not for one moment suggesting the game be run by former cricketers alone, because they will not have the worldly, business skills; but there must be some mixture of the two.

Read the indictment

With the deadline approaching, it is an appropriate moment to ask whether the ECB is living up to its mission statement target "for England teams to come first or second in the ICC Test Championship, the ICC One Day Championship and in the World Cup or Champions Trophy by 2009". Points for consideration:

  • Other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, England are the only Test-playing country never to have won a global one-day tournament.
  • Far more domestic one-day cricket has been staged in England than any other country (over 8,000 competitive county matches since 1963). England's failure to win a global tournament proves the domestic structure is unfit for the national purpose.
  • England have never hosted an A international. Therefore their A-team seldom play the best A-teams abroad, and never Australia A. Therefore English one-day cricketers find it even harder to bridge the gap between domestic and international level.
  • England have lost nine of their last ten Ashes series, winning nine Tests to Australia's 34, the most one-sided period since the 1880s.
  • When the next Ashes series starts in July 2009, England are unlikely to peak. They will have been actively engaged in 40 of the 41 previous months. Australia had four months off after winning the last World Cup.
  • England ended 2007 in fifth place in the ICC Test rankings and seventh in the one-day rankings.
  • Two key recommendations in the Schofield Review have not been implemented and show no sign of being: that players at England level, and at county level, should play less.
  • England's experience in the first Twenty20 tournament in South Africa was the same as in the World Cups. They went into it with far more domestic experience than any other country (five seasons of it) but lost four matches, beating only Zimbabwe.
  • The number of people watching live Test cricket on television has declined from an average of 1.2 million per day in the Channel 4 era to Sky's 246,000 in 2006 and 286,000 in 2007, according to the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. (Various caveats have to be built in: principally, this is their figure for in-home viewing and does not include audiences in bars and clubs, in either case. It is also shown that Sky have a higher percentage of young viewers.) Although the ECB's own figures show increased participation in grassroots cricket, both male and female, and increased funding in a five-year plan, the diminishing profile of role models on live television can only be damaging.
  • Finally, of the several England cricketers who have shown signs of greatness (Michael Vaughan in 2002-03, Steve Harmison in 2004, Andrew Flintoff in 2005, Kevin Pietersen then and since), none has gone on to achieve it on a consistent basis. Something appears to be holding our best cricketers back and dragging the England team down.

The ICC has no money, and little power.

It was created weak by the countries which control it, much as the ECB was created weak by the first-class counties which control it. As someone who has known the system on the inside for a long time concludes: "Most decisions taken at the highest level seem to be based on what is 'achievable' or what would be acceptable to the strongest parties. This nearly always leads to pragmatic compromises, which fail to achieve what the proposed changes set out to achieve."

The ICC has no moral authority either; but this is something it could rectify


Perverse priorities

A new book compares the structure of cricket in England and Australia. It is called Pommies: England cricket through an Australian lens, by William Buckland, an English management consultant. His essential point is that the ECB is killing the goose that lays the golden egg by making the England team play almost all of the time. They have to stay on the road in order to generate 80% of the English game's revenues. The 18 first-class counties, put together, generate only 20%. Yet they take more than half of the England team's profits. (The counties might argue that they produce the players who generate most of the money; but if that is a fair principle, why do they not share their money with league clubs who do as much to produce England cricketers?)

"The purpose of a national sports team is to win and to please the entire country, man, woman and child," Buckland writes, rationally. "But the business strategy of the ECB is effectively to deny access to the England cricket team to most fans in order to raise the price paid by richer ones. They now cough up excessive sums for ground and television access that the ECB then gives to county cricket to pay overseas players to play in front of pitiful crowds at county grounds. Apart from its patent economic absurdity, this strategy is a perversion of the ethic of a national sports team."

Buckland makes some other startling points which, in the aggregate, go a long way towards accounting for England's decline since the Ashes victory of 2005. He identifies the ECB's priorities as being: 1. Sustaining county cricket; 2. Achieving England success; 3. Funding grassroots; 4. Providing affordable access to the England team for fans. In Australia, however, he believes the priorities are: 1. Achieving Australian success; 2= Providing affordable access to the Australian team for fans; 2= Funding grassroots. Given that the ECB distributes £30m a year to the first-class counties, the board cannot be accused of failing to achieve its main priority. The question is whether it is the appropriate one.

Another point: in how many Tests did England field Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Angus Fraser? The answer is never. A bowling attack which could have rivalled any in the 1990s never played together. They were overbowled and injured. Buckland asks whether the ECB learned from this mistake and changed its strategy in order to pursue quality instead of quantity. In the 24 months after winning the Ashes in 2005, England played 25 Tests, 54 one-day internationals, five Twenty20 internationals and 24 days of tour matches, then popped off to South Africa for the World Twenty20. In 2007 alone, England played more Tests than any other country and more one-day internationals than they ever had before. No wonder almost all of the Ashes heroes have suffered mental burn-out or physical injury, or a combination of both.

If anybody should think Buckland is on a personal hobbyhorse, he quotes the views of some recent England captains, in order of seniority.

Tony Greig: "The cornerstone of Australia's success is the partnership Cricket Australia has with free-to-air television. At the expense of a few extra bucks for the counties, the ECB should ensure that free-to-air have live coverage of Tests and one-day internationals."

Sir Ian Botham: "The biggest problem is that they [the ECB] think the game is for members. It's not. It's for the whole country."

Bob Willis: "English cricket is like a sandwich. The English team is on top and the recreational game... is at the bottom, disenfranchised. In the middle, the soft filling, are the counties, like Northants, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, employing 450 full-time professionals and hiring all the Kolpaks and EU players they want."

Mike Gatting: "The ECB has a responsibility, and a duty, to keep the game on mainstream television, otherwise children are going to grow up without adopting Freddie Flintoff, Steve Harmison or Michael Vaughan as role models."

Mike Atherton: "County cricket in its present form fulfils no useful purpose whatsoever. Very few people turn up to watch, it doesn't prepare people for a higher level of cricket and it doesn't attract television deals or sponsorship."

Alec Stewart: "It'll be a big mistake if the ECB restrict terrestrial coverage."

Nasser Hussain: "The whole system is about the preservation of the status quo, and that's why there is so much negativity in our county set-up. In Australia everything is geared towards aiding the national team."

Michael Vaughan: "Unless we change our domestic structure the England team will go on as it has for years. We win some games and from time to time we nudge up a notch in the rankings but there will be no clear upward curve, which is what we need."

Perhaps Buckland's most damning point is that watching the England team, whether at a ground or on subscription television, is becoming an elite pastime for the affluent, like opera. To watch the whole Test match at Lord's against South Africa this summer will cost a member of the public at least £300. Even a day of the New Zealand Test at Lord's will cost £60, while the best ticket for a one-day international at The Oval has exceeded £100. A family day out at an England cricket match is now for millionaires only. But if the ECB were to build a ground of their own of Australian size, many more England supporters could see their team, and at an affordable price.

Less would be more

Graham Thorpe: 'That lack of intensity [in county cricket] is by far the biggest issue facing the English game and the root cause of our Ashes and World Cup failures' © Getty Images

By year's end it was as if the 2005 triumph had never been. England, without some of their best players through mental burn-out and physical injury, failed to retain the Ashes in Australia and lost 5-0. After beating West Indies, who like so many touring teams were given far too little warm-up time, England lost their six-year unbeaten Test series run at home to India. They were taken by surprise by India's left-armers swinging the ball conventionally from round the wicket. It made one wonder how much county cricket has evolved: George Hirst of Yorkshire was doing exactly the same 100 years ago and more.

The sequel to the Ashes defeat was a masterpiece - not of administration, but of politics. A review was announced: an independent review, of course, and far-reaching, in the finest traditions of Yes Minister. We know cricket does not always mirror life: the easiest place to field is mid-on, and the worst is short leg, but not in hospital if your wife is giving birth, when it is wiser to be behind the wicket. Yet in this case the game did mirror life. As in the civil service, the effect was to deflect public and media wrath: to be seen to do something without doing much at all. "The composition of the Review Team is fully independent of the ECB Board and the Team England Management structure," the ECB's statement said. Yet one of the six members of Ken Schofield's panel was Hugh Morris, then deputy chief executive of the ECB, and, following the review and some internal shuffling, the first managing director of England cricket. Another member was employed by the counties, and two others by BSkyB.

The Schofield Review (see page 1519) was excellent in its analysis, as far as it went. Graham Thorpe, a player of 100 Tests, briefly an England captain, now a coach and commentator, remarked: "It's all non-controversial common sense: hire a fielding coach, make sure contracted players get the correct medical expertise and so on. But I'm disappointed with what it left out. Most obviously, it seems to be lacking any input on how to prepare players for Test cricket by making the county game more competitive and intense. That lack of intensity is by far the biggest issue facing the English game and the root cause of our Ashes and World Cup failures."

Schofield did address the root cause, albeit briefly, but the ECB chose not to heed. It implemented 17 of the 19 recommendations and shelved far and away the two most important. "The present England International and First Class Counties' competitive programmes are congested and prevent peak performance. It appears impossible to implement the Prepare-Play- Recover and Analyse system favoured by the great majority of the coaches and players interviewed as part of this Review. It consequently places England at a disadvantage and does not allow the best way to realise the stated ECB goals of regaining the Ashes in 2009 and winning the World Cup in 2011." The problem of English cricket could hardly have been spelled out more plainly: England play too much, and the counties play too much, ever to achieve sustained excellence.

Schofield specifically recommended the abolition of the 40-over competition. The ECB had the opportunity to do so, and to concentrate on 20-over, 50-over and first-class cricket (the three formats of the international game) starting in 2008. The cost would have been a few hundred thousand pounds in compensation, no more, to the sponsors of the 40-over tournament. Duncan Fletcher, in his final press conference, stated that English cricketers play too much; and left his job perplexed that he, a coach who specialised in the one-day game, should have had far more success with England's Test team. But English one-day cricket proves that if you don't learn in your teens how to play intensely (to make one-day hundreds, use your feet to spinners, and throw down the stumps with direct hits), you never will. In his report Schofield set down the rationale for reducing three county limited-overs competitions to two. Thorpe anticipated the victory of common sense: "Players have to have as much experience of the 50-over format as possible to have a chance of succeeding in international cricket. Simple as that." But he had assumed that the ECB's priority was England and excellence. It is not. Its mission statement has been revised. When Lord MacLaurin was chairman, the target was to be No. 1. Now the aim is to be No. 1 or 2. And we all know what happens in this competitive world if you do not aim to be the best.

If the ECB's priority really had been to win the next World Cup, this season (if not a previous one) would have seen an intense 50-over competition, and no 40-over stuff. In a ballot by the Professional Cricketers' Association, 80% of their members voted against 40-over cricket. About ten 50-over matches would seem to be the ideal number per county per season. Two divisions of North and South would produce eight league matches: quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final would make 11 matches for the winners. Eighteen counties is not the ideal number, nor 16 Championship matches, but this is where we have to start: and if the number of counties cannot be reduced, the season can be increased in length to the very end of September, as the English climate becomes milder, to allow more time for "Prepare- Play-Recover and Analyse".

Leaner and fitter

It might have been better if the ECB had accepted the lower of the two bids for the four-year broadcasting deal which began in 2006: the one which would have kept some England matches on free-to-air TV but would ostensibly have taken £20m a year out of the professional game. If the annual distribution to the counties had been reduced from £30m to £10m, they would not have been able to afford overseas players, except perhaps for their Twenty20 competition. They would have been forced to rely on smaller staffs of local players, topping up their sides with league cricketers on match fees. Kolpak cricketers would have played where they are needed: such as Jacques Rudolph in South Africa, Pedro Collins and Omari Banks in the West Indies, Grant Flower and Anthony Ireland in Zimbabwe (where they are certainly needed, if not wanted by their administrators). County cricket, although the standard would have initially dropped, would have become leaner, younger, healthier in the long term, and more strongly placed to withstand the challenge of 20-over city cricket in India. And so much the better if the counties had looked at their mostly empty grounds and sent their players out to connect with the communities they nominally represent, to talk and coach in clubs and state schools.

We all know from the glorious summer of 2005 that nothing makes the sport grow in every way so much as the success of the national team. Patches of ground which had never had cricket played on them before were used for bat and ball by people who had never played cricket before. Many more people watched and played than the usual white, male, middle-class constituency. To be the best has to be the primary objective of the game's governing body. Nothing less.

Hood's law

To paraphrase Lincoln, government by the counties for the counties must perish from this earth. The primary roles of a board are to ensure that the organisation has clear goals (England success, in this case), a sound strategy to meet its goals, the resources to execute that strategy, and a system to monitor the progress of the organisation, making adjustments as circumstances require. When the ICC held a business forum at Lord's a few years ago, it put up a speaker on the game's governance: Dr John Hood, vicechancellor of Oxford University, a New Zealander who had played some cricket for Oxford. "Even-handedness is the primary qualification for an administrator," Hood said, "(s)he must have no vested interests." Hood drew up a new constitution for New Zealand cricket a dozen years ago: their board has seven members (not 12, like the ECB), and one must be a former Test cricketer, another a woman. If his model were transposed to England and Wales, the county chairmen would not elect their own kind but vote from a list of great and good drawn up by a nominations committee. Although New Zealand have been seriously weakened by the loss of senior players to 20-over cricket in India, they did punch above their weight for a decade, reaching two World Cup semi-finals and the Twenty20 semi-final, while England did not.

The threat of violence

One of many flashpoints on the field of play in 2007 © Getty Images

I fear the day is approaching when a high-profile, televised cricket match will see an outbreak of physical violence on the field - and nothing could be more injurious to all concerned. The amount of money coming into the game seems unending, but growth would be halted and reversed if leading cricketers were seen to be fighting; fewer parents would want their children to have anything to do with such a sport. Since 1744, when the laws banned a localised practice of pushing fielders when they tried to catch the ball, cricket has been a non-contact sport. Preventing physical violence on the pitch - as more and more matches are played for more and more money - will require vision and leadership.

A flashpoint occurred in the Trent Bridge Test when Zaheer Khan was incensed by the jelly beans which had been placed in his batting crease by an England fielder, and he pointed his bat at Pietersen, whom he erroneously suspected of this breach of manners. Another flashpoint came at Sydney in the New Year, when the Second Test between Australia and India was so filled with umpiring mistakes, player misbehaviour and hatred (most overtly between Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh) that the game stared briefly into the abyss. For a week or two - while India threatened to call off the tour if Harbhajan was not acquitted of racism, in a complete violation of the judicial process, and while the world's most experienced Test umpire Steve Bucknor was forced to stand down from the Perth Test and the authority of umpires was eroded - "Bollyline" was as serious as Bodyline.

Last year saw an alarming increase in the amount of physical contact between batsman and bowler. James Anderson was fined 50% of his match fee for "inappropriate and deliberate physical contact" with Runako Morton in the Edgbaston international. Paul Hoffmann of Scotland barged into Canada's opening batsman Abdool Samad so forcefully that Samad needed four minutes of treatment on the field before continuing; Hoffmann too was fined 50%. The worst example came in the Kanpur international when Gautam Gambhir ran straight down the pitch and straight into Shahid Afridi. As the bowler, Afridi was allowed to stay where he was at the end of his follow-through; it was up to the batsman to swerve and avoid him. Gambhir looked to be the chief culprit and, even though it was his first offence, should have been penalised more harshly than Afridi, whatever his verbal provocations. As it was, Gambhir was fined 65%, Afridi 95%.

It is up to the ICC to police international cricket, as it appoints the umpires and referees, pays and trains them. Ably directed by the senior referee Ranjan Madugalle, it has taken a lot of the heat out of the game - Sydney being a reminder of how often accusations of racism used to be levelled before neutral umpires. It has also done well to stamp out the contemptible practice, pioneered by Australian fielders, of throwing the ball in at the striker instead of to the wicketkeeper. Now the ICC must be no less effective in preventing physical violence. For once this taboo is broken, it could rapidly spread, just as sledging - sustained personal abuse - has spread from international teams downwards.

To prevent batsman and bowler barging into each other, the likeliest casus belli, I suggest the ICC should experiment with trial games in which the groundsman cuts two extra strips, each one a couple of metres away from the match pitch. The non-striker has to run up and down his strip, like the lane of a motorway, and has the right of way there - ahead of bowler or fielder - but nowhere else. Perhaps the striker, to have right of way, has to run up and down the other strip. In any event, the rights of way should be defined more clearly than they are. Also, impeding a fielder's throw by deliberately getting in the way of the ball should be re-assessed for what it is: obstructing the field, and therefore "out".

National boards, as well as the ICC, should have reminded their captains of their responsibilities. Had boards possessed more feeling for the game, they would have done more to curb sledging at every level. If by some remote chance an administrator or player has not done so, let him or her read Mary Russell Mitford's description of a cricket match in Our Village, in the chapter that begins: "I doubt if there be any scene in the world more animating or delightful than a cricket-match." Although published in 1832, it contains an eternal verity. To organise a cricket match is a creative act. You make a fixture; you play with the opposition as well as against them. We live in a world of chaos, and a cricket match is one of our attempts to impose human organisation upon nature, order upon chaos. It takes much to create and, when angry emotions take over, it is so easy to destroy.

Constitutional paralysis

'Again, the ICC showed how little feeling it had for the game when the chief executive Malcolm Speed announced halfway through the World Cup that its length was right, although nobody else on the planet seemed to think so' © Getty Images

Overlooking a vast "luxury" housing estate on land reclaimed from the Gulf, where the Beckhams own a villa, is the tower-block where the ICC inhabits a single floor. The staff are mainly young and enthusiastic, as Dubai is the place where expatriates without children work hard for a few years and save tax-free. They do good work, not only targeting racism but raising awareness of AIDS and reducing its stigma when cricketers wear the red ribbon. Some criticise the ICC for wasting time and money on staging matches between Canada and Bermuda, Scotland and Namibia, etc. But the Intercontinental Cup, a two-year programme of 29 first-class matches, is run on a budget of $400,000 - and another Tendulkar might be unearthed.

Only in the literal sense, however, does the ICC look down on the Beckhams. The ICC says it has no money of its own but is a financial distribution centre: 75% of the income is currently passed on to Full Members, 25% to Associate Members. The ICC holds reserves of more than $20m but they are for the members in emergency, for example if ESPN-Star were to pull out of their current eight-year deal. Soccer's governing body, FIFA, has money and power. The ICC has no money, and little power.

It was created weak by the countries which control it, much as the ECB was created weak by the first-class counties which control it. As someone who has known the system on the inside for a long time concludes: "Most decisions taken at the highest level seem to be based on what is 'achievable' or what would be acceptable to the strongest parties. This nearly always leads to pragmatic compromises, which fail to achieve what the proposed changes set out to achieve."

The ICC has no moral authority either; but this is something it could rectify. Since Sir Clyde Walcott stood down in 1997, no ICC leader - president or chief executive - has played the game to first-class level, let alone Test cricket. The new "post-colonial" ICC showed how much feeling it had for the game when, in the last days of Jagmohan Dalmiya's presidency, it promoted Bangladesh to Test status for what many saw as blatantly political reasons - so India could have their vote - and set them off on the wrong foot, where they remain. In their three Test series after the World Cup (in one-day internationals they are becoming a spasmodic force), Bangladesh scored 18 runs per wicket, their opponents 63. In other words, in three innings they would have been unable to score as many runs as their opponents in one. Never has Test cricket known such a prolonged period of disparity as in the case of Bangladesh. Thus have administrators devalued the sport and its history.

Again, the ICC showed how little feeling it had for the game when the chief executive Malcolm Speed announced halfway through the World Cup that its length was right, although nobody else on the planet seemed to think so; and when the current president Ray Mali said Zimbabwe would be "at the top" of the one-day rankings within three years. So when the ICC called on players after the Sydney Test to look at their behaviour, it was just another press release. If, on the other hand, some former cricketers of repute were involved (and not just the general manager of cricket operations, Dave Richardson), people would listen - even, maybe, national boards. The last World Cup brought in revenue of $239m, of which $100m went to West Indies as hosts. Even though some of the stadiums were built for free by foreign governments, mainly China, they managed to spend $90m in staging the tournament. To each Full Member went $13m, a sum to be spread over four years until the next World Cup: small for Australia, England and India, for the rest substantial. Similarly, the last Champions Trophy in India brought in $1.7m for each Full Member, to cover two years until the next Trophy this autumn.

If all the money going into the game was being well spent, the cricket-playing world would be filled with well-maintained grounds, turf and artificial pitches in public spaces, nets in abundance, bats of all sizes and materials, balls and bowling machines. But this money, as a bowler would say, has clearly not gone into "the right areas".

Towards the end of last year the boards of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who are staging the next World Cup, demanded their cheque for $100m - and, I understand, refused to allow anyone from the ICC to attend their meeting which discussed how the money would be spent. The last three countries, who staged the 1996 World Cup, have yet to submit their accounts for it, let alone the profits as they said they would.

Sound administration is the difference between people switching on to cricket - or off. A representative of the ICC should attend every country's annual board meeting to find out how the money will be spent and that country's future plans. As the game's governing body now stands, the head does not know what the legs and arms are doing. Good governance would introduce a chairman of the ICC - not just a consultant, who would have no clout in Asia - and preferably with some cricket as well as business experience to lend moral authority too. Then the ICC presidency can be rotated among the committee men of national boards on the basis of Buggins's or Bhagwat's turn, as an honorary role, without damage to the sport.

Playing the leading role

More former cricketers need to administer if people are going to switch on to cricket, and not just the 20-over game - and maybe the day will arrive when it is not only cricket that they will administer. It is too quickly forgotten that a Test-playing country has been at war for 25 years, since the civil war began in Sri Lanka in 1983. Environments shape us all; and the combination of man-made disaster (over 70,000 people have been killed, apart from all the missing) and the tsunami of 2004 has had its effect. Sri Lanka's Test cricketers have, collectively, a moral fibre I have not observed in any other national sporting team.

Sir Ian Botham earned his knighthood for all the whole-hearted work he has done in raising public awareness of, and money for, leukaemia: like Dr Johnson, the most avowedly patriotic of Englishmen has been most un- English in his lifestyle, all or nothing, never a shade of grey. Sri Lanka's senior cricketers have gone even further. Muralitharan was funding the Foundation of Goodness, to assist several villages on the south-west coast, long before the tsunami struck. When it did, he and other senior players drove relief lorries to all parts, including the war-torn east, their moral authority allowing them safe passage.

As leading Sri Lankans in other walks of life have emigrated to avoid the civil war and the all-pervasive corruption which comes with it, only their cricketers remain as a group which represents, and is respected by, all of the country's communities. It would be the greatest achievement yet of any cricketers, by far, if they were able to play a part in the resolution of Sri Lanka's civil war and the establishment of peace.

© Wisden Cricketer's Almanack