Counties Hold Key to Changing Face of English Game

Counties Hold Key to Changing Face of English Game

Post by Vishwa Prasad Gaddamanug » Tue, 23 Apr 1996 04:00:00

Counties hold key to changing face of English game

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

RECONCILIATION is supposed to be the watchword  of  the   moment.
It would have been better if the manager of England`s winter tour
had not made public the disgust he feels at what he  believes  to
have   been  a  "personal  crusade"  waged  against  him  by  his
predecessor, M J K Smith.

Still, that is and will  remain  the  Illingworth  style:  blunt,
undiplomatic, unvarnished, straight from the shoulder.

Uncle Raymond may  have  been  talked  out   of   continuing   as
manager,  but  it is evident from the way that he quickly knocked
on the head David Lloyd`s rather vague idea of Ian  Botham  being
in   some   way  involved with the England side that the chairman
remains in charge. Now the cricket has started, we can only  hope
to be spared  the  power politics, from any quarter.

If we are ever to feel optimistic, April is   surely   the   time
and  we should enjoy its magic while we can. "Loveliest of trees,
the cherry now, is hung  with  bloom   along   the   bough";  the
first-class season is underway, five Oxford and Cambridge batsmen
have already made centuries and  schoolboys  everywhere  -   from
all  sorts  of backgrounds - are dreaming of using new bats.

Even the fact that my Daily Telegraph Fantasy  League  team   was
rejected  last  week because I picked three Lancashire players by
mistake did not  depress  me.  John  Crawley,  who  will   surely
establish   himself  for England this season, had to go. Alastair
Brown,  who  was  in brilliant pre-season form at the  Oval,  has
replaced  him, but this  meant that I had now spent only 9,800 of
my 10,000, which was a waste  of  200.   Therefore,  having  seen
Angus  Fraser,  after  a  groin   operation,  looking slimmer and
fresher, I slipped him in instead of Glen Chapple, thus  ensuring
that Chapple will be the bowler of the season.

He certainly bowled well at  Chelmsford  yesterday,   underlining
that  things  are  not as bleak as they  looked  at  the  end  of
the winter. There was  even  a  progressive  meeting   last  week
of   the    most  significant  working party of them all, the one
which is trying  to  smooth the ruffled  feathers  of  major  and
minor  counties  alike  so that the new England Cricket Board can
finally  supersede  the  Test  and County Cricket  Board.   Until
that happens, progress  is  bound  to  be slow and timorous.

Happily, the English game is not deaf  to  methods   which   have
helped to transform Australia`s cricket in the last 10 years

Richard Little,  who  acts  as  secretary   to   David   Morgan`s
working  party,  reports  that about half of the  18  first-class
counties  now have their  own  county  boards  up  and   running.
These  boards  co-ordinate cricket within their area from schools
and club colts  to  the  county first team. Until all 38 counties
comply,  the  England  Cricket   Board cannot get off the ground,
because  their  raison  d`  tre  is  to  integrate  the  national
game  from  the  playground  to  the  Test  arena.  The objective
is for 38 little pyramids  to  exist  within  the national   one,
allowing  money  from  the centre to be be allocated according to
the need and efficiency of each county.

This is the elusive  National  Development   Plan,   which   must
become  practice  rather than theory if the Sports Council are to
start feeding money  from  the   National   Lottery   into  major
cricketing   projects.  Little  is  keen  to  squash  the  common
misconception that "Cricket  Ltd" is wealthy and can  do  without
Lottery  money.  "On  the  contrary," he says, "our entire income
from international cricket  and  television is  only  about  half
the 60 million a year earned by Manchester  United alone.  Unlike
Manchester, we have to keep six national stadiums up to standard.
We  sell  virtually  all   our   tickets  for  Tests  and one-day
internationals now, but the money we are  withholding  from   the
counties  to put into the Cricket Foundation [the charitable fund
which will increasingly be used to regenerate the  game  at   the
grass- roots] will never be enough."

The worry is that public money will not be forthcoming  either if
cricket  is  deemed  to  be richer than it is, or if the ECB take
much longer to start. Jan 1, a full year later than  planned,  is
now the probable date. By then  a  new  chief executive  will  be
in office. A short list of the best candidates  to  succeed  A  C
Smith  will  be  interviewed  again in early May but those in the
running  have been so  closely  involved   for   so   long   with
county  cricket   that objective vision will be difficult.

Happily, the English game is not deaf to   methods   which   have
helped  to transform Australia`s cricket in  the  last  10 years.
Micky Stewart talks passionately of  the  way  that  the  NatWest
Development  of  Excellence programme now trains the best 13, 15,
17  and  19- year-olds in their tri-annual visits to  Lilleshall.
The  National  Sports Centre in Shropshire becomes at such times,
in   effect,   a   National  Cricket  Academy,  and  apart   from
working   on   their  basic  batting, bowling and fielding skills
(including   throwing,   baseball-style)   these  would-be   Test
cricketers    are    being     advised     on     their  physical
development, diet, a disciplined approach to life and  the   need
to  cherish  the special ethos of cricket itself.

It is as a roving contributor to sessions like  these,  not  just
for  youngsters  but  at  get-togethers by touring England teams,
that Botham`s desire to help could best be   utilised.   He   has
the  aura  which comes from great success and  could  be  used by
England  as Dennis Lillee is by  Australia.  Such  a  role  would
employ   his   gifts   better  than  being  a  selector,  without
compromising his other activities.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (