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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 13:03 GMT
Traditional powers isolated
ICC cheif executive Malcolm Speed and Indian board president Jagmohan Dalmiya
Speed and Dalmiya are at loggerheads
BBC Sport Online's Martin Gough looks at the power struggle going on behind the scenes of the debate over Test match referees.

Their teams took the field in the first ever Test match, and they remain strongholds of the game.

But now Australia and England find themselves standing out from the cricketing crowd as the debate over match referees continues to bubble.

And the fight for the power base of international cricket looks set to take place at the executive board meeting of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in Cape Town on 15 March.


This is a matter that required immediate resolution at the [executive] board, rather than further debate
ICC president
Malcolm Gray
The ICC was on Tuesday forced to postpone its commission looking into the issues surrounding match referees, and examining the controversial actions of Mike Denness last November.

India objected to the make-up of the panel, and rallied four other members of the executive board (made up off all 10 Test-playing nations) to force the game's governing body to back down.

There is more to this, though, than the actions of former England captain Denness, who punished six Indian players during their Test series in South Africa and caused street protests on the streets of Delhi.

The Asian Cricket Council (ACC) adopted a resolution at its meeting last weekend, stating that the "region's sentiments are not being respected" by the ICC and the Denness affair is seen as an example of that.

England and Australia are strongly associated with the running of the game's governing body.

Currently two Australians - president Malcolm Gray and chief executive Malcolm Speed - hold sway over day-to-day issues under the clock tower at Lord's.

Dissenters

Even with Asia taking an opposing stance, the game's traditional powers would have expected support from several of their traditional allies.

But, on Tuesday, South Africa joined the ACC members against the planned referees commission, and the ACC was reportedly confident that only New Zealand, Australia and England would oppose their stand.

A street protest against Denness in Delhi
Angry Indians burnt effigies of Denness
South Africa may to some extent have been forced to take sides on the issue of referees, as they were responsible for replacing Denness for the final Test against India at Centurion Park, against ICC rules.

That decision was motivated by financial considerations - India had threatened to return home immediately if Denness stood and there were ticket sales and television rights to consider.

But the United Cricket Board of South Africa was also placed under pressure by their government, which enjoys friendly trading ties with India.

And the Indian board were a great ally as South Africa emerged from sporting isolation, supporting their return to international cricket and hosting their first tour.

Of the remaining nations, Zimbabwe have likewise been favoured by India of late, with regular reciprocal tours between the countries helping out the cash-strapped Zimbabwe Cricket Union.

And they would not want to jeopardise that relationship by siding with countries that have so far been reluctant to play Test series in Zimbabwe, or to support their campaign for Test status 10 years ago.

The West Indies are in a similarly precarious position, and are about to host a lucrative five-Test series against India.

Asian axis

Key to the setting up of this opposition, though, is the often-stormy relationship between Asian super-powers India and Pakistan.

While the sides are currently unable to meet each other on the playing field, the Indian board, headed by Jagmohan Dalmiya, has defended its position as being a result of government policy rather then its own feelings.


Pakistan continues to regard and respect the ICC as the supreme body but we also feel that it needs to be more neutral like FIFA
PCB chairman
Tauqir Zia
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) shares India's views that the ICC is biased towards its more senior members.

And chairman Tauqir Zia said in November that it should take a more neutral stand, similar to world football's governing body FIFA.

But the relationship between the two countries has been cemented because both have individual beefs against the ICC.

While India grumble about Denness, Pakistan have been hit financially by the refusal of several teams to tour in the wake of the military action in neighbouring Afghanistan, and the tensions with India over the Kashmir conflict.

And they are still campaigning to have the action of fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar cleared once and for all, while the ICC contend that he cannot be treated as a special case.

Having traded support on these issues, the two countries make a formidable opponent.

But talks of a breakaway from the ICC can only materialise if India are allowed to play Pakistan at senior level again.

Toothless

It is ironic that India's main bone of contention with the ICC is its shifting of day-to-day decisions away from the member nations and into the hands of its full-time officials.

The ICC had been criticised in the past for being toothless, discussing major issues but leaving individual boards to make their own decisions in their own interests.

ICC president Malcolm Gray
Gray is frustrated by the increasing impasse
And it was Dalmiya, during his time as president, and with Australian David Richards alongside him as chief executive, who first adopted an autocratic style of management, imposing decisions on the Test world.

But he now seems intent on having each decision discussed at executive board level, to ensure Asian voices are heard.

ICC president Gray voiced his frustration at the backward step on Tuesday, as moves to streamline match-refereeing were put on hold.

"With the new five man panel taking up its duties in April this is a matter that required immediate resolution at the [executive] board, rather than further debate about the composition of the commission," he said.

If a truce, however uneasy, is to return, it will be up to Gray and Speed to ensure efficient management that does not result in alienation.

Otherwise there could be a return to the individually-motivated anarchy of the past.

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