Chairman Smith? Imagine that

Mike Smith brought glory to Warwickshire. Adam Szreter ponders what he could do for England
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The Independent Online
Next week's Test at The Oval is not only the last of another summer but the last at home for yet another chairman of selectors. Although Raymond Illingworth's final official duty will be to organise the team to tour Zimbabwe and New Zealand this winter, a new man will be in charge when the England side return to face the Australians next season.

Those appointed to the top job in English cricket over the past few years have all been former England captains, and since England have had more than their fair share of captains in that time, the short-list will be quite long. But whoever is chosen, the temptation will be to imagine that he will bring to the job the same qualities that he brought to his captaincy or his playing. Which is probably why Illingworth was chosen ahead of MJK Smith in the first place.

Whilst popular with his players, the criticism levelled at Mike Smith's captaincy of England was that he presided over too much dull cricket and too many drawn games. Illingworth was seen as more of a winner. But, whatever the reason, it did not turn out that way for Illingworth as chairman. Who is to say that Smith might not have succeeded as a chairman where, arguably, he fell short as a captain?

During Illingworth's ill-fated reign over England, Smith has enjoyed an astonishing period of success with his county, Warwickshire. He took over as chairman at a time when the members were finding it hard to agree what day it was, and, with a little help from Messrs Donald and Lara, Edgbaston has been transformed.

Smith is a cautious man, and after being accused by Illingworth earlier in the summer of organising a campaign against him, his caution seems justified. "He's been quoted as saying that, but he's got it wrong as far as I'm concerned," Smith said. "That was when we wanted to put David Graveney up as chairman of selectors this term. All we wanted to do was put David up as an alternative nomination."

At 63, Smith's own chance of another nomination has probably gone, but if you ask him whether he is still interested he leaves the door intriguingly ajar: "The fact that Neil [Smith's son] was in the World Cup and played in the early one-dayers this season, I wouldn't want to be involved under those circumstances anyway. So that's the easy way out of that, isn't it?" Except that, as Smith well knows, Alec Stewart playing for England never stopped his father, Mickey, from getting involved, and Neil Smith is by no means a regular England player, anyway.

MJK may not be given to flights of fancy, but it is nevertheless tempting to wonder how a struggling England team might respond under the influence of such a pragmatic character. Talking last Saturday, he said: "The England side obviously has not been half as successful as we would want, and what we haven't had is a settled side, for whatever reason.

"There's been a lot of chopping and changing. It's not an easy side to select at the moment because you don't have enough players who are really doing a very good job.

"It all comes down to having people who, when the situation and opportunity arises, win the game for you. If you've got 250 or 300 to get in the fourth innings, what you're looking for is someone who goes in and gets you 150, as opposed to 75 or 80.

"Similarly with the ball. Nobody is coming in, taking over an innings and turning it round. It's the bloke who gets out there, appreciates what has to be done and gets it done. If you relate that back to the success which Warwickshire have had over the last couple of years, usually, when it's come to a 50-50 situation, Warwickshire have pulled it off. You've got to get into the habit of winning your tight matches.

"We would all select different players, and I wouldn't home in on that aspect, particularly. Simon Brown's had one Test match, Andy Caddick and Darren Gough have come back into consideration, and they've picked Caddick in front of Gough. You and I might have picked something different, but so what? That doesn't mean to say it was wrong.

"I certainly don't knock the ability of the individual players in the England side, but you have to say, in comparison with Australia, that we've not found as many matchwinners. When we were in Australia last time, we played some pretty good cricket on occasions without winning the matches.

"Australia do exceptionally well for the population they have. They're very good at rugby union, very good at rugby league, very good at hockey and they're not the world's worst at one or two other things. What they seem to do considerably better than us is to get much more out of the talent that there is. No one would suggest, I believe, that there is not the equivalent talent in this country, but, for whatever reason, we do struggle to get it out. And that's not just cricket.

"I don't know how much sport is played in schools in Australia, but quite honestly that is a problem over here. There is not half so much sport played in schools as used to be and the first thing you've got to do is to get kids started. Obviously, if there is not the policy or the money in education to put in as much sport on the curriculum as there used to be, then it's got to be done some other way."

As far as his own success with Warwickshire is concerned, Smith pays tribute to the contributions of Brian Lara and, in particular, Allan Donald, before adding: "We've got some pretty good cricketers here. A fair number of them I think have been under-rated, but the proof of the pudding is looking in the book at what they have achieved. We've had a well-balanced side who've got themselves well organised and played it right." Sounds like a pretty good pudding to me.