The perfect man for ICC hot seat

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Controversies, issues and off-field happenings have become such a norm with cricket, it's almost threatening to blow the bindings of the game on a daily basis.

Given such a scenario, it would be no exaggeration to say the job of a head of state appears almost cushy compared to the CEO of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the world governing body of the game.

As cricket lurched from one crisis to another, the ICC lost its reigning CEO Malcolm Speed. Speed was asked to go on paid leave until the end of his term on July 4 after "a fundamental breakdown in relationship" with board members, including President Ray Mali. Its first choice for the position post-Speed, Imtiaz Patel, declined his candidature.

It may be one of the hottest seats in the world, but the ICC can heave a sigh of relief. In Haroon Lorgat, the new CEO who takes over after the Annual Conference in Dubai this summer, they have got someone tried and tested in handling the toughest of issues.

The 47-year-old South African will step into his new role facing many challenges and with the knowledge that his predecessor was suspended from his duties.

"It is a very difficult scenario to walk into and ideally, I would have been happier if he [Speed] had signed off on a good note, but such are the circumstances," says Lorgat, who is in Dubai this weekend to make arrangements for his imminent move here.

"I am sure everyone will be disappointed that after such a long period in charge, he has had such an unfortunate ending. "But fortunately, I have not been involved in any of those discussions and I think it would have been inappropriate if I was. So, hopefully I come in with a clean background and a clean slate."

Lorgat was formerly the convenor of selectors for the South African team, arguably one of the toughest jobs in world cricket. In a country with a turbulent history of apartheid, a much criticised quota system in sport selection and notorious political battles between board members – Lorgat juggled it all to build a well-balanced Proteas side that is already the No1 ranked team in one day internationals.

And it is this experience, coupled with the fact that he heads an extremely successful financial investment company Kapela Investments back home, that Lorgat says will help him in his new role.

He explains: "Just to manage on a professional level in a transforming society like South Africa is an experience.

"We were trying to transform a team and to make it representative of the society while at the same time, we were also trying to get all the different communities to support the side. A lot of that involved helping people understand the need to transform and making them buy into it. I think that experience will definitely help me now."

Lorgat comes from a strong cricket background, but he explains it was his academic knowledge that led him into privileged positions among the game's boards.

"My family has strong roots in cricket. My elder brother played at a senior level, he was president of Eastern Province as it was then called and he was also involved in the South African National Cricket Board," says Lorgat. "I also played cricket from an early age and represented the province.

"Then, somewhere in the mid-1990s when I was living in Cape Town and had come to the end of my playing days, I quickly became involved in the administration side of the game by the virtue of the fact that I was a qualified accountant."

That was the beginning of a fruitful endeavour for Lorgat, who also held on to a career as an accountant. Starting as chairman for the local club he had previously captained in Cape Town, he soon progressed to Executive Committee member for the Western Province Cricket Association in 1998 and then Treasurer. He was also a Finance Committee Member for the successful 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup in South Africa and Treasurer for both the United Cricket Board and Cricket South Africa.

This financial experience makes Lorgat capable of overseeing and handling issues such as sponsorship negotiations, which form a large part of the ICC's revenue.

In 2001, he was appointed as national selector. Three years later, he was promoted to convenor of selectors and implemented a long-term strategy to build a team capable of becoming the world's best. It brings him great joy when he watches the Proteas reaping the rewards of his master plan.

"Almost all of the players in the current team were selected in my leadership. We built a philosophy into the team and it has a lot to do with the success that we are enjoying now," explains the South African.

"The team is capable of maintaining their form for a 10-year span as there is a very good blend of experience and youth. It is a well balanced team, so I am particularly satisfied and proud when I look back at the way we managed to change things when I took over, bearing in mind I inherited a side that had just lost 5-0 to Sri Lanka in a one day series.

"Now, they are the No1 side in ODIs and are in a strong position to challenge for the second and even No1 spot on the Test table. I think I played my part in achieving that."

Even so, the invitation for the chief executive officer position came unexpectedly. Lorgat had only last year pulled out of the race to stand for re-election as national convenor at the last minute, feeling he needed a change of environment.

He moved away from the game to start Kapela Investments, and was working hard at establishing it when the call came.

"It was completely out of the blue when I got a call shortly before Christmas from a headhunting agency based in London," says Lorgat. "It came at a time when I had just established my private equity business and wasn't thinking of anything like that. It was certainly not something I would have looked at applying [for] on my own.

"But cricket is very much in my system, in my blood, and so, after a few calls, it progressed to a point where I actually got excited and thought maybe it's something I would like to do – and so here I am."

Everyone in the cricket fraternity will be curious as to what new proposals Lorgat plans to implement, but in living up to the name of his company, which means "walks with you", he says that he will set about working together with the ICC to address already existing challenges.

"I'd like to continue the vision the ICC have and would like to talk and co-develop it with the president as well as the key management team based here. Ideally, I would rather co-develop a vision than adopt a stance saying: it's my vision.

"There will be several other challenges that need to be addressed. There is an issue with the image of the ICC and recently I was reading about the Players Association criticising the manner of which the ICC handles things.

"The mere fact that the ICC is a global organisation leading a sport that is so passionately followed by people in all quarters of the world – that in itself creates a challenge as everybody has ideas on how things can be done and not done.

"Also, the fact that people are talking so much about Twenty20 cricket, that will create problems in terms of balancing all the formats of the game and on player workload and I think it will take up my time and be a focus of the ICC.

"It's also in the mind of every cricket person on whether there should be a window-period for the Indian Premier League. We will have to discuss that."

So is Lorgat looking forward to his move? "Both my wife and myself, and the children [a daughter and son], enjoy the place and we have been here a few times. I don't think it will be a difficult place to fit in. So yes, I'm a really looking forward to a few years in Dubai."

 

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