CALL him what you like, there is no doubt in anyone's mind now that the Indian cricket board chairman Jagmohan Dalmiya has won a minor victory over the ICC. If nothing else, he told the international body that it could not set deadlines for him, got the ICC to commit itself to a review of refereeing procedures and also made it very clear that he was prepared to use India's clout in international cricket in order to get his point across.
This means that the panel carrying out the review may have to admit that Mike Denness got it wrong in Centurion. It could mean embarrassment for Denness and, thus, for the ICC as well. In short, Dalmiya has given the ICC some breathing space. He has also proved that the ICC has no leg to stand on when it comes to India - it has to keep making compromises to avoid a showdown. He took things to the brink and then he pulled back - not the ICC. This is what politics in sport is all about.
I don't think much of Dalmiya as a cricket administrator but there is no doubt that he has done well for cricket financially. And I also think it is time that the ICC was given a kick up the snout. Sometimes you need to administer a shock to the system. Dalmiya has done the maximum that could be done and for that one must doff one's hat to him.
The crisis need not have come to this at all. The ICC could well have acted sensibly and not tried to be a bull in a china shop - this attitude of "we-have-taken-a-decision-and-you-will-damn -well-abide-by-it" really doesn't work in this day and age and it is time that people like Malcolm Gray, another of those leaders whose vision of tomorrow is yesterday, realise it. Malcolm Speed has the cunning of a lawyer and so he was able to tiptoe around and cajole Dalmiya into backing down and not elevating this into a full-blown controversy.
Speed has a reason: within a few months, he will be the one who has to go down to India and negotiate terms for India to host the World Cup in 2007. And Dalmiya will be facing Speed across the table. No matter what its standing in international cricket, one thing is sure about India - hold a World Cup in the country, and the money bags will be full to overflowing. Nobody needs brains to figure that one out.
So, we have cricket back to its normal state again but a point has been made. There is every likelihood that the matter of the third Test between South Africa and India is not over yet - there may well be pressure to make it official belatedly. Dalmiya now has a good bargaining position and he has made sure that Speed knows it. And there has been a subtle message to Gray - leave the talking to the diplomat Speed, you are not capable of handling a situation like this. A petty point, no doubt, but remember that Gray and Dalmiya are not exactly the best of friends. Small men in big positions like to score every petty point they can.
But Dalmiya is a cunning man as well. He has not openly humiliated anyone. He knows how to play his cards. The ICC is now, in a way, grateful to him for not opting for open confrontation. He has an excuse to offer for the whole thing - you pushed me into a corner. Thus he has come out of this crisis much better than Gray has - and that, I think, is all that he was aiming for.