Zimbabwe crisis rumbles on
The resolution of the Zimbabwe cricket crisis, keeping Zimbabwe out of the World Twenty20 in England, comes as no surprise.
This was exactly the fudge I anticipated last Friday in my blog.
I did not think Zimbabwe would be thrown out of the International Cricket Council but a solution would be found to keep them out of the World Twenty20.
As I said there were never enough votes on throwing Zimbabwe out, more so as India, the richest and most important cricket playing country, was supporting Zimbabwe.
Until Thursday evening even such a fudge looked difficult.
But then late into the night - and this week has been full of late-night meetings in the corridors of Dubai hotels - England got together with South Africa and India and this led to the Indian Board president Sharad Pawar persuading Zimbabwe to withdraw from the competition.
This is the first time in a year that a decision against Zimbabwe has been reached by the ICC. In Zimbabwe's case you could say it has a story of three strikes and finally out. The two previous strikes have concerned the financial shenanigans of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC).
Readers of my blog will recall that just about a year ago I revealed the damning findings of an ICC internal investigation into Zimbabwe's accounts.
This report said: "It is clear that the accounts of ZC have been deliberately falsified to mask various transactions from the auditors and from the government of Zimbabwe."
The report also went onto say: "It may be difficult to establish the correct financial position of ZC as it may not be possible to rely on the authenticity of its balance sheet."
Despite the findings of the report being on my blog for a year, that report remains confidential.
The ICC appointed KPMG South Africa to carry out a forensic audit, a report which was also critical of Zimbabwean accounts. As I reported at the time, when the ICC met in March in Dubai, after much debate and no amount of disagreement, no action was taken against Zimbabwe. That report was also not made public.
By then Zimbabwe had taken such a toll of the ICC that the then chief executive Malcolm Speed was not talking to Ray Mali, the South African head of the ICC. I am told they did not speak to each other for months. Indeed Zimbabwe was one reason why Speed left his job some months before he was due to retire. This led to the curious situation that the Dubai annual meeting, which has just ended, saw David Richards perform as acting chief executive before a new one takes over.
So what has changed now? The answer is: South Africa.
Crucial to both previous decisions was the support of South Africa.
But South African cricket's decision to abandon Zimbabwe cricket, prompted by Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela's condemnation of the Mugabe regime, meant the power structure within ICC changed.
So much so that during Thursday's meeting in Dubai of the ICC executive board there was a stand-up row between Peter Chingoka, head of Zimbabwean cricket, and Norman Arendse, head of South African Cricket.
They had been on the same side in March when ICC discussed Zimbabwean accounts.
Now Arendse asked Chingoka how many Movement for Democratic Change members are on the Zimbabwean Cricket Board? Answer? None, proving how it is a Robert Mugabe regime operation.
South Africa's decision to cut its cricket links with Zimbabwe also meant Mugabe's cricket team no longer had the solid support of seven members: the four Asian countries led by India, South Africa, West Indies and its own vote.
The figure seven is crucial because according to ICC rules seven of the 10 Test paying countries must agree for a decision to be made.
Once South Africa had seen the light England could play what may be called its nuclear option against Zimbabwe.
This was that even if the ICC did nothing against Zimbabwe that country could still be kept out of England for the World Twenty20.
All English cricket had to do was tell the ICC that British government would not be giving visas to Zimbabwean cricketers and its officials.
In theory the ICC could retaliate by taking the World Twenty20 away from England. But to do that seven members would have to agree. With South Africa supporting England, and they would also have the support of Australia, New Zealand and West Indies, Zimbabwe could never get the necessary seven votes.
In the late-night discussions in Dubai this new ICC arithmetic was made very clear to Zimbabwe.
It is significant that in its withdrawal statement Zimbabwe's reason was it was not getting visas to Britain.
Remember this year's annual meeting is not being held at Lord's as it has always been but in Dubai because the British government made it clear it would give Chingoka a visa. It had asked the ICC for the damming audit reports and had not got them. The ICC retaliated by moving the conference from Lord's to Dubai.
But then South Africa was with Zimbabwe. Not so now.
That means the British government can refuse visas and the World Twenty20 is safe.
This decision confirms what we have long known about the ICC.
The ICC for its posturing is not a world governing body in the way Fifa and IOC are. It is more a gathering of national cricket bodies.
Historically England ruled the ICC. Indeed for much of its existence the ICC was the international department of the MCC. England's allies were Australia and then white South Africa and it was run like a cosy white man's club. It record on white South African cricket was appalling compared to the robust stand Fifa and IOC took.
Now India is the biggest beast in the ICC jungle and its record on Zimbabwe is no better.
It occasionally gives in to government pressure as it has done now but seldom shows a capacity for making independent decisions as governing bodies are meant to.