Monday, January 12, 2009

Brearley’s time has come

Cometh the hour cometh the man and of England cricket could there be any doubt that the hour is nigh and that there is a desperate need for capable and moral leadership at the top? Under the malignant Chairmanship of Giles Clarke the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has plumbed new depths – as the events of the past few months in respect of the England captaincy have shown beyond doubt. I use the timeframe “Months” not “Weeks” because it stretches back to the day in early August when Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood stood down as captains of the England Test and One Day sides respectively. To stand down in the middle of a series is not unprecedented but for men of Vaughan and Colly’s status and integrity to feel that they had no alternative but to fall on their swords says clearly that all was not right in the England set up.

Where were the man-management skills in the England playing set up when we needed them? Surely if the relationship between Hugh Morris, Peter Moores, Vaughan and Collingwood had been as it should have been then any need for change in the captaincy would have been anticipated and handled in a less panicky way. Vaughan’s stress and disappointment was for all to see in his tearful press conference – he didn’t (quite) lose his dignity but there is no way that he should have felt obliged to walk the plank so publicly in the way that he did. The Test series was already lost – surely Vaughan could have been given support by the ECB hierarchy for one more Test match - and then any issues over the captaincy could have been dealt with in a calmer environment at the end of the series. And Collingwood was treated an a pretty cavalier way as well – he was clearly pushed, he didn’t jump, when the ECB decided that they wanted one captain in future and that he was not that man.

Whilst Hugh Morris as Managing Director of England Cricket was the man with the monkey on his shoulder above him was the highly paid CEO of the ECB, David Collier and the controversial Chairman of the board Giles Clarke. What role did they play in the whole affair – and more recently what role have they all played in the extraordinary events of the past couple of weeks with Kevin Pietersen?

“A fish rots from the head” – as the Russian proverb has it, and it’s a pretty apposite comment on the main reason for the rotten state of English cricket at the moment. The head of English cricket since September 2007 has been Giles Clarke, who is Chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – and the charge sheet against him is a long and damning one. Fortunately his tenure runs only to March 2009 and the 18 first-class counties will have the chance to send him packing shortly. This is why they should:

Elitism. He referred to those with no access to satellite TV as "less fortunate members of society” and sold us down the river to Sky.

Ignorance. He is a businessman, with no real knowledge of the game, which led to the vulgarity of Stanford, and the continued confusions on Twenty20.

Insensitivity. He sits on top of a hierarchy but seems to have no feelings for the inter-personal issues down the line – Vaughan, Collingwood, Moores, Pietersen...

Complacency. Whilst Clarke is blusteringly bullish on frivolities like Stanford (etc.) he has failed completely to get to the heart of English cricket’s problems with reform of the unsustainable county structure.

There has to be someone of substance out there to challenge this man or he will be re-elected unopposed for a second term. Mike Brearley, since retiring from the First Class game in 1983 has concentred on his second career as a psychotherapist and he has until recently never held an executive role in the game. He has, however, written wisely and often both as a journalist and, particularly, in his seminal book “The Art of Captaincy”. His knowledge and track record as a leading thinker on cricket is not in doubt. Nor is his moral integrity and courage – as he showed, in particular, back in 1968/9 over the D’Oliveira affair. Brearley was the previous President of the Marylebone Cricket Club – a role he performed with distinction showing that he love for the game and his understanding of what matters on and off the field are undiminished.

Mike Brearley would make an honourable, skilful and respected chairman of the ECB and I have little doubt that if he stood against Giles Clarke he would be elected by the 18 counties (plus the MCC) who vote on the appointment. If ever there was a time when there was a need to restore harmony in English cricket and have the game driven with somebody who has other criteria of judgment than just the commercial/financial it is now. Cometh the hour cometh the man indeed!

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