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Cricket may hope that better days lie ahead

Peter Roebuck

Cricket has endured another turbulent week. From a distance it may seem that everything has gone wrong, with a benefactor exposed as a fraud, a Test match abandoned, ICL and IPL suffering setbacks and the game falling apart like a ragged ball. Closer inspection suggests that a more sanguine view can be held.

History may come to count these last few days as constructive. In times of clover, sages and fools, scoundrels and idealists are easily mistaken.

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, Zimbabwean cricket officials and others can feel the cold wind of comeuppance. Stanford’s outing and the appointment of David Coltart as Minister of Sport in the new Unity Government in Zimbabwe gives the game an opportunity to get back on track.

The sight of past players and modern administrators sucking up to the entrepreneur 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.

Not surprising

Stanford’s fall did not surprise business observers 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 ECB cosied up to him in the most abject manner. Eager to persuade him to start a competition in their country, they let him land his helicopter at Lord’s.

Retired champions have a hard job getting past the gatemen.

If anything the conduct of the WICB was worse. Impressed with Stanford’s wads of cash, they allowed him to build a ground in Antigua and to stage a lucrative winner-take-all match. To him it was pocket money. According to the American investigators he has perpetrated “a fraud of shocking magnitude.”

False promises and fabricated returns were used to attract investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission accuses him of stealing at least US$8 billion.

His investments in cricket were designed to feed his ego and improve his image. He knew nothing about the game.

Man of straw

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 provide a proper ground for a Test match. The new ground was built for the disastrous 2007 World Cup.

It is situated out of town and lacks atmosphere. Yet it’s too early to condemn the strategy of erecting new state-of-the-art grounds.

Luckily the match could be staged at the famous old ground and a superb pitch was provided at short notice.

And it was a thriller with the hosts somehow salvaging a draw on the final day to confirm that West Indian cricket has recovered its poise.

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

Under the agreement recently hammered out, the education and sports portfolio was assigned to his faction of the MDC.

Coltart was duly sworn in. Education will be his highest priority but cricket, will not be neglected.

Coltart will want to see the long suppressed report into the finances of Zimbabwe cricket finances conducted in 2007. He’s been around and knows where the skeletons are hidden.

And so it has not been a bad week at all. Not that officials can take any of the credit. But these events give them a chance to redeem themselves.

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