It's hardly cricket

A cricket board receptionist's dismissal has again focused attention on attitudes to women in the game
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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHAT is it about cricketers that makes them want to hit their women for six, professionally and emotionally if not always physically? The most noticeable thing about reactions to claims of misogyny and unfair dismissal at the England and Wales Cricket Board last week was that most people assumed they were true.

It hardly seemed out of character in a game whose great institution, the MCC, recently retained its exclusion of women, and two of whose heroes, Geoffrey Boycott and Phil Tufnell, have been accused of having beaten up female partners.

Regardless of the growing popularity of the women's game at grass-roots level, the all-male ethos of professional cricket seems to extend from dressing-room to corridors of power and on into rooms full of elderly members voting to preserve traditional male sanctuaries.

Theresa Harrild, a receptionist at the ECB, won her industrial tribunal action after claiming that her bosses bullied her into having an abortion but then sacked her anyway. Attitudes at the board were deeply sexist, she said, with female cricketers referred to as lesbians. A second employee came forward after the tribunal to allege sexual discrimination and malicious behaviour by male staff.

Tim Lamb, the ECB chief executive, took the surprising decision not to attend the tribunal in order to avoid a slanging match, but gave an interview to the Press Association which had the same effect. "Anybody who knows me would deny that the picture she painted was my style," he said.

So what is the style of this 45-year-old who claims his organisation is "young, vibrant, modern and forward-looking"? If ever a man was formed on the playing fields of England it was the Hon Tim Lamb, who pursued a cricketing career from his boys' school to an all-male university college and on to the dressing-rooms of the county game. The second son of Lord Rochester, he was born in Cheshire in March 1953 and sent to 400-year- old Shrewsbury School, whose old boys include the former deputy prime minister, Michael Heseltine. At Oxford he was academically average, but obtained an MA in modern history from Queen's College, which had not yet admitted women.

As a medium-pace bowler he played for Middlesex and then Northamptonshire in the Seventies and early Eighties. His career, which extended to 150 first-class games, is best described as steady.

Even after he married in 1978 his life was mainly spent in male company. "The dressing-room does breed an attitude to women that is about 25 years out of date, to put it kindly, and pretty Neanderthal to put it unkindly," says Tim de Lisle, editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly. "Cricketers spend more time together than with their wives and girlfriends."

THAT testosterone-drenched atmosphere also pervades the management of the game. Attempts to introduce more modern structures often seem driven by the twin myths of the thrusting businessman and the ruthless team captain, both unafraid to make enemies. As an ex-player and an aristocrat with the air of a diplomat, Lamb impressed Middlesex; on retirement as a player he became secretary and general manager.

The club's offices are next to those of the Test and County Cricket Board, the forerunner of the ECB, so nobody was surprised when Lamb moved next door as cricket secretary of the TCCB in 1988.

In 1993 the former England captain Bob Willis railed against what he saw as a production line of conservative managers with archaic attitudes, and named Lamb as next in line. "You'll see the same type of people being perpetuated right down the line. The next generation is already in place."

Lamb came into his cricketing birthright in 1996, when he was appointed chief executive of the TCCB, with an annual salary of pounds 75,000 and a mandate to transform the board. Lamb was seen as a more conservative choice than his main rival, the businessman and vice-chairman of Warwickshire, Tony Cross. "I am not a revolutionary,'' he said at the time. "We are a sport, yes, a pounds 65m business, too, but, as long as I am involved, we will remain a business within a game rather than a game within a business.''

The England and Wales Cricket Board was formed in early 1997 by unifying bodies that controlled cricket from school level upwards. Lamb and the chairman, Lord MacLaurin, increased the staff at Lord's by 50 per cent and constructed a support team for the England side. Of 20 or so top appointments, only one was a woman - Medha Laud, whose job as England teams administrator involves organising players' lives on tour like a super-mother.

Conservatism runs deep in English cricket, as witnessed by the reaction when Lamb and MacLaurin attempted to change the game's league structure. The idea was to get the best players involved in less cricket but games of better quality, in order to improve the England team.

Test matches attract youngsters and are the only ones to draw big crowds. The counties are kept going by a hand-out of around pounds 1m a year each from the money Sky TV and the BBC pay for Tests. The system works for the poorer counties, and it was their representatives who rejected the changes.

The ECB is not the MCC, which ran the game until the 1970s. The MCC is a private club that owns Lord's and gets into the headlines every so often by refusing to admit women. The last time was in February, when the proposal for a rule change fell just short of the two-thirds majority required. Some of the arguments were literally unbelievable: one member wondered if women would be able to afford the annual subscription of pounds 173, while another complained that, having risen early to reserve a favourite seat on match day, he would feel obliged to surrender it to any lady who arrived late.

THE MCC committee is now thought to be considering side-stepping the opposition by allowing female members of other clubs access to the pavilion, or offering honorary membership to prominent women. One of those honoured may be Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, ex-captain of the England women's team, wife of an MCC member and campaigner for a change in the rules; this prospect of favour may be why she was at first reluctant to comment on the ECB tribunal. "Because the MCC situation is moving along quite well I don't want to alienate them," she said.

The Women's Cricket Association said after the tribunal it had been "able to work with the ECB and MCC in a professional and non-discriminatory way and players have always been treated as top-class cricketers". But then the association is in the process of merging with the ECB, whose financial backing it needs.

Tim Lamb supported the campaign for women to be allowed into the MCC. He denied the allegation that he had said "once we get the dykes on board we will get the Lottery money" - and those who know him say that that would be out of character - but the truth is the ECB does need to demonstrate support for female players in order to get such funding.

Those efforts may have been damaged by last week's embarrassment. Ms Heyhoe-Flint changed her mind about making a comment on Friday - and what she said was as precise as her best batting stroke. If the tribunal's findings were true, she said, "one could question whether Tim Lamb should remain in office".