Acfield advocates rest for top players

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The Independent Online
The first instalment of the Acfield Report into the state of English cricket, published yesterday, added a little fuel to a small fire that promises one day to catch light in spectacular fashion. But the message to anyone waiting for radical changes after England's dog's dinner of a winter is: don't hold your breath.

The working party appointed by the Test and County Cricket Board in March and headed by David Acfield, the chairman of the TCCB's cricket committee, gave its support to the principle of allowing the chairman of selectors to relieve any England player from county duty if it is felt the player is in need of a rest prior to a Test match.

This is an endorsement of the views of the current chairman of selectors, Raymond Illingworth, although as he is standing down this autumn that is neither here nor there. Of far greater relevance are the views of the counties themselves, and at the moment it is hard to imagine many of them agreeing to the further absence of players who already miss a large chunk of their season. They, after all, are the players whom the members pay their money to watch.

Acfield's working party, which includes the Lancashire chairman, Bob Bennett, and the former England captains David Gower and Mike Gatting, have compiled their report from questionnaires to leading figures in the sport including the county chairmen, Test umpires and members of the England Test squad. But Acfield himself admitted: "The counties have already expressed their resistance when the cricket committee suggested the same thing.

"They would prefer to keep it as a gentleman's agreement. I think it is easier and simpler and neater just to have one person with the right to say it but obviously that very much depends on the chairman of cricket using that power sparingly and sensibly."

Bennett, whose job at Lancashire would seem to be at odds with the report's primary recommendation, said: "Whether the chairman of selectors should have the veto over players will be one of the more controversial topics when it comes under discussion with the TCCB.

"It's unlikely to happen very often that the chairman would withdraw a batsman for example. You can understand the case of Michael Atherton because he has the extra pressures of captaincy but in the main I would have thought it would apply to the quicker bowlers."

The report claims that members of the England squad have played an average of 152 days competitive cricket a year, compared to Australia's 100, and recommends top players be given rest before and after the domestic season and, if necessary, during the course of the season.

The working party also recommends that the present England hierarchy - with a captain, coach and chairman of selectors - be kept rather than revert to the supremo role which Illingworth held until this summer.

They do not advocate the coach sitting in on the selection panel, instead suggesting a four-strong team of the chairman, the captain and two other selectors choosing Test squads.

The working party, which will be followed by another this winter looking into the structure of English cricket, advocates a streamlining of the management and administration of the national team.

They suggest the institution of an "England Management Committee" split into three sub-committees with responsibility for the selection of England and England A, the development of excellence and England youth teams and "International affairs", whatever that means.