Dear Ian Botham

Why would a swashbuckler at the wicket want a job as a whipping post? Resign now before it's too late
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The Independent Online
News reaches us that you're after the top job in English cricket. You fancy yourself as chairman of selectors. It's all there in the updated version of your autobiography, due out this autumn. You say you're ready to go as soon as you get the nod.

At the same time, you insist you're in no particular hurry. Far be it from you to encourage anyone to terminate anybody's contract or anything. You're quite happy, you write, for the present incumbent, Raymond Illingworth, to see out his allotted term. So while you're making it patently, publicly clear that you're entirely willing to take this position, and while you're inadvertently generating fat back-page headlines such as "Botham: Give Me Illy's Job", it's not as though you're putting any pressure on. Which is big of you.

Actually, you've been noisily advertising yourself for a senior post for some time now. Indeed, you've moaned so loudly about the current management that it's been possible to wonder sometimes whether your nickname (Beefy) referred not to your portliness but to your determination to carry a grudge. Last winter, the BBC's Sportsnight programme caught up with you in a dressing room in a provincial theatre. You were on tour with Alan Lamb, another ex-England man, in an anecdotal revue show. You linked the decline in the fortunes of English cricket to a number of things, but particularly to English cricket's refusal to employ you personally in an influential capacity. You deplored a lack of spirit in the national side. Your solution then, as I remember, was to "get the team out playing golf together".

You reckon that your major asset is your ability to motivate. You write: "I'm convinced I could give players that `arrogance' which is so vital at the highest level." This may be true, though as a team-leader on the quiz show A Question of Sport, you've rarely been what one might call a galvanising presence, slouched there with your head in your hands. But you know a good lad when you see one. If you get the job, presumably there will be compulsory high-jinks in the dressing room - all in pursuit of that elusive "spirit". One flinches slightly at the thought of some of the quieter players trying wearily to raise a smile on discovering that you've filled their kit-bags with whipped cream again.

The big mystery, of course, is: why would you want this job? Right now, you're free to commentate on the telly, write books and columns, appear in panto and generally remain a warmly regarded English folk hero. The people at the top in cricket, on the other hand, tend to be recipients of public respect and sentiment on a level otherwise enjoyed only by traffic wardens and estate agents. There are thousands who cherish their memories of you as a swashbuckler at the wicket. What a fall from there to chairman of selectors, an all-purpose whipping post, sniped at by cricket bores for favouring Worcester's Eddie Thribcroft over Hampshire's Norrie Downside, despite the fact that Thribcroft has only managed a Test average of 24, whereas Downside... zzzzzz.

Think again. You staked a premature claim for the post. There's still time to offer a precocious resignation.

GILES SMITH

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