June 14, 2021
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In the line of fire

'Anti Indian' Speed?

Section of the Indian media have labelled the ICC chief 'anti-Indian' In Australia, the country of his birth, he is being viewed as being blackmailed into subjection by India based on his decision to remove Steve Bucknor. What gives?

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'Anti Indian' Speed?

Heading a governing body for a world sport is always a difficult task. It becomes more so if one member country is successful in establishing a financial monopoly of sorts. With India contributing more than half the revenue generated from cricket, there’s little doubt that the ICC will for eternity be under threat from a possible Indian invasion. And the man always in the firing line is the Chief Executive, who, irrespective of what his personal beliefs are, is always subjected to scathing criticism.

Malcolm Speed is no different. Despite running the game in its best interests and with considerably efficiency for years now, Speed has been labeled ‘anti-Indian’ by some of the Indian media and is currently one of the most disliked men in the country. In Australia too, he is being looked upon as one capable of being blackmailed into subjection by India based on his decision to remove Steve Bucknor from officiating in the third Test starting at Perth on 16 January 2008.

Having come to know Speed from fairly close quarters over the last year or so, there’s no doubt in my mind that the labeling is unfair. Speed, a man of firm character, has always acted in the best interests of the game. When he addressed the media at the MCG on 8 January 2008, he was well aware that his statements were capable of dividing the cricket world. He was also aware that the continuation of the current series was largely dependant on his decisions. And there’s little doubt he did the best possible under the circumstances. Had he not removed Bucknor from officiating in the third Test, the Indians may have cancelled the tour. At the same time he was at pains to emphasize that the ICC, which alone has the right to arbitrate in such matters, took the decision in the best interests of the game and the series.

Despite his efforts, the removal has been touted as a victory of the BCCI by the Australian media. Many have gone on to castigate the ICC as a toothless body. In reality, however, the decision taken is the only sensible one under the circumstances. Had Speed been adamant and allowed Bucknor to continue, he ran the risk of dividing the world game, which as an administrator he could ill afford. At the same time he made sure that there was little departure from procedure, thus protecting the sanctity of the ICC.

His decision to summon Ranjan Madugalle too speaks of his prudence as an administrator. Knowing full well that the building tension needs to be dissipated, he has summoned Madugalle, a man the Indians are fond of and have faith in. At the same time by allowing Mike Procter to continue with his job, he has given him the support a parent body needs to offer its employee. Finally, by pulling up Brad Hogg for alleged abuse, the ICC under Speed has ensured that there are no double standards in its manner of working.

Yet he continues to receive flak for having negated Indian interests. Let us be clear: It is simply not possible for Speed to unilaterally revoke the Harbhajan ban. The ban has been imposed by a ICC appointed match referee in the presence of a legal arbitrator and as ICC’s Chief Executive it is Speed’s duty to uphold the decision. At the same time, by granting India the right to appeal, he has shown that he is one who goes strictly by the book and isn’t biased in favour of his country of birth. If the appeals commissioner does uphold the appeal, there’s no doubt that Speed and the ICC will come forward and declare Harbhajan free to play.

Speed, who is currently serving the last few months of his tenure, is doing his best to make plans for a splendid ICC centenary in 2009 of which he will not be a part. "Once I hand over the reins to my successor I feel I should simply watch things from a distance." He is keen to let India and all the member countries have their say in matters of the centenary and is doing much to ensure that the planning is democratic. Little more can be asked of an administrator.

When I communicated to him the growing sentiment in India, he seemed depressed. In response to my queries he sent a short email that says it all. "Of course I am not anti-India. I treat India like any other country and am acting in the best interests of the game." Rational analyses of his actions prove there’s little reason to disbelieve him.

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