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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ali Martin

‘Deserved respect not ridicule’: Wisden speaks out over cricket’s ICEC report

The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket is led by the chair, Cindy Butts (front), and produced the report in 2023.
The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket is led by the chair, Cindy Butts (front), and produced the report in 2023. Photograph: Josimar Senior/PA

Wisden has given a hefty endorsement of last year’s report by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, with the 161st edition of the sport’s fabled annual insisting the panel’s findings and recommendations “deserved respect, not ridicule”.

Commissioned by the England & Wales Cricket Board in 2021, and published during last summer’s dual Ashes series, the ICEC report found that 50% of its 4,000 respondents had experienced discrimination in the previous five years – a figure which rises significantly among people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Despite the ECB saying the ­findings of the panel chaired by Cindy Butts had “raised serious issues of ­public concern”, including ­disparity in ­representation on the field and in leadership roles, there has been ­criticism in some quarters. Ian Botham, the Durham chair, said he threw his copy on the floor after reading a “complete and utter waste of money”.

Wisden, published this week and long considered a touchstone for the sport, has endorsed the ICEC report in its editorial, however, as well as publishing an explanatory essay by one of its authors, the UCL ­professor Michael Collins. Collins claims Botham “was asked more than once to offer his views but, for whatever reason, declined”.

“[The ICEC report] was a sober, and sobering, piece of work,” writes Lawrence Booth, in the editor’s notes of the 2024 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. “[Its] 317 pages, based on interviews with over 4,000 people, deserved respect, not ridicule.

“The report did not take a ­wrecking-ball to cricket. It offered a constructive vision of how to make it more accessible to more youngsters from more backgrounds, and who could object to that? The real ­question is whether English cricket is willing to change.”

Elsewhere, Wisden has analysed the renewed split of revenues from the International Cricket Council, with India’s rise from 25% to 38.5% – around US$230m (£184.5m) a year – and the 11 other full members receiving between 6.89% (England) to 2.80% (Afghanistan) viewed as having been calculated “using factors that entrenched the inequality”.

“There’s plenty of [cash] in cricket’s central pot,” writes Booth. “Is it really beyond the wit of the administrators to distribute it according to need, not greed?”

Test cricket is the primary concern here, albeit this year’s Wisden is a celebration of it also. As well as a full review of the enthralling 2023 Ashes series, and all five of its cricketers of the year – Harry Brook, Ashley Gardner, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc and Mark Wood – were selected for performances in the longest format.

A 2-2 draw in the men’s Ashes is reflected by the four winners it produced, even if Brook’s overall summer with the bat – after an eye-catching first winter of Test cricket – sees him win the award that can only be won once in a career. Wood was the opposite, just three Ashes Tests played in the entire season but shock and awe with the ball when he did.

For Khawaja, it follows top scoring with 496 runs in the Ashes from 1,263 balls – the series in microcosm, given the contrasting aggression of England – while Starc displayed his mastery of the wobble-seam to finish the leading wicket-taker with 23 victims. Gardner, the third Australian on the list, claimed 12 wickets in her side’s Test victory at Trent Bridge, a central contribution in their women’s side similarly ­retaining the Ashes with a drawn series.

It is a 1-1 draw between Australia and England in terms of Wisden’s leading cricketer in the world. Pat Cummins claims the men’s title after captaining his country to glory in the World Test Championship and the 50-over World Cup (as well as individual excellence with the ball). Nat Sciver-Brunt is the leading women’s cricketer in the world, with three ODI centuries in five innings amid an overall year of dominance with the bat.

Wisden’s leading T20 cricketer in the world – an award now in its seventh year – has its first female winner, with Hayley Matthews of West Indies recognised for her unprecedented eight consecutive player of the match awards in T20s (the previous record was four) – a streak that saw her average 88 with the bat and 12 with the ball.

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