Many people may not be familiar with Project Snow, or how close world cricket came to a serious split. This summary of Project Snow is written based upon the information provided in Graham Halbish’s book, Run Out. As such, the information must be considered in light of any potential biases as there is no ‘other side’ to the story.
In 1996, there was potentially a major schism in the world of cricket. The ICC was starting to show major cracks in its supposed united front, with the entire structure under review. The sub-continental teams had been making a significant, and to be fair, overdue, claim for the England/Australia dominated council to be more equitable. However, as with any process of change, there were egos and powerplays on both sides that were preventing a suitable compromise to be reached. The running of the World Cups and the lucrative sponsorship and television rights made for some very interesting politics.
In 1996, the ICC chairman was Sir Clyde Walcott. He expressed his frustration with the role, feeling that it had become non-cricket related and focused primarily upon legal arguments from the various individual countries who were all more interested in feathering their own nest than the good of the game. Walcott’s term was up, and the voting process to replace him became a farce. It was this election, and the associated political games, that prompted Australia, West Indies, England and New Zealand to devise a plan that was eventually called ‘Project Snow’.
Interestingly, Australia did not see the sub-continent as having caused the problem, but rather South Africa. India put forward Jagmohan Dalmiya their nomination for chairman, whilst Australia nominated Malcolm Gray. As expected, the sub-continent supported the nomination of Dalmiya, whilst England, West Indies and New Zealand support Gray. South Africa initially indicated they supported Australia’s nomination. However, Ali Bacher, who was the managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA), then started playing both sides off against each other. After many years in the wilderness, South Africa were starting to try and flex their political muscles. The Australian camp were not upset with the Indian nomination of Dalmiya, or the support from Pakistan and Sri Lanka. That was expected. However, South Africa’s games had thrown the whole process into turmoil. The Indians didn’t know if they could rely on South Africa, and neither did Australia. In the end, South Africa abstained and the vote was tied at 4-4. This failure to arrive at a clear decision was a disaster, with legal challenges and complaints being thrown by both sides.
Australia, England, West Indies and New Zealand now realized that South Africa could easily jump into bed completely with the sub-continent. The cricketing boards of the four countries were particularly dismayed at the way South Africa were acting, and they agreed to examine their options. The job was given to Australian Cricket Board CEO Graham Halbish to draw up a plan of series involving Australia, West Indies, England and New Zealand. It was recognized that there was significant money in India, however, without the big drawcards of Australia, England and West Indies (who were not yet on the slippery slope to oblivion they are now), it was felt unlikely that the sub-continent could survive on their own for long. At that time, the biggest tours for Australia were England and West Indies, and the proposed program saw them each touring Australia once every three years.
This plan, code named Project Snow, was presented to the CEOs of the England, West Indies and New Zealand boards. Incidentally, the name Project Snow came from ICC CEO David Richards, even though he knew nothing about it. Information was sought from Richards about an issue, and he advised them that he was snowed into his house, and nothing was as important as his ‘Project Snow’ of shoveling tons of the white stuff off his driveway. They then decided to use this innocent comment as the code-name for their plan. Thankfully, common sense eventually prevailed and Sir John Anderson, the New Zealand representative, was able to come up with a solution to the issue of chairmanship of the ICC that prevented the plan going any further.
It is a bit scary to consider how close the cricketing world came to a disastrous split, and we hope that the ICC can start showing some leadership and less partisanship in order to ensure that all countries and people are equally represented.
(Stuart Wark is a trained psychologist based in New South Wales, Australia. He is currently working as Deputy CEO of a medium sized charity that assists people with intellectual disabilities in country NSW. His only grudge with the PhD he is also working on is that it gets in the road of the serious stuff of playing, watching and writing about cricket.)