Chairman's choice foiled by counties

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The Independent Online
Lord's was awash with noise and cheer yesterday, a state of affairs that had everything to do with the final of the Lombard Under-15 World Challenge between India and Pakistan, and virtually nothing to do with the summer meeting of the Test and County Cricket Board.

The youngsters were there - when an ill-behaved rabble of a crowd allowed them - to better their game, an ambition that could not safely be concluded of the first-class counties, who make up the bulk of the TCCB, and around whom the majority of cricketing decisions - if any are actually made - more or less revolve. Their reticence, once again, to take any of the bold choices on offer had more to do with them pulling on their customary blinkers than the impending creation of the new England Cricket Board.

Apart from tabling a few preliminary ideas over how the new ECB might work - a constitution that will not be ratified until the findings of David Morgan's working party have been discussed at yet another meeting scheduled for 24 September - they had gathered yesterday mainly to consider the recommendations of the Acfield working party, a report that was set up to take England to the forefront of world cricket and presumably into the 20th century by looking at how England teams are to be selected, managed and coached.

Fortunately for Acfield and his advisors, who have spent the best part of two months putting their report together, they tabled it as a series of packages rather than as a whole. Without a huge sweetener, they reasoned, small doses would probably be easier to swallow.

For the most part they were right and the counties unanimously accepted all the party's recommendations over the set-up and selection of its three sub-committees, with one exception: the chairman of selectors' right to withdraw players from county matches. They did however agree to "lend a sympathetic ear to the chairman of selectors" should he request Test players to rest during county matches and the officers of the board, Alan Smith and Tim Lamb, knew of no instance during the current season when a request had been refused.

It would not be the first time the counties have blocked anything really progressive that confronts their own despotic self-interest. However, on this occasion the reason is fairly understandable and while Test players remain contracted to and paid by counties, little is likely to change until compensation is awarded - a matter the board's finance committee will be looking into during the winter.

The counties also rejected a motion by the cricket committee recommendation of banning overseas players for the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Apparently the counties felt that overseas players added quality to a game that was still much in need of it.

The moratorium on overseas players being signed beyond 1998 will be re- assessed at the board's December meeting, when another working party will be set up to review the domestic first-class playing programme. This comes a year earlier than had been planned, due mainly to the expiry of television contracts which are re-negotiated at the end of 1998.

In fact it was the BBC's coverage of the Wimbledon men's final that led to there being a rest day during the third Test against India at Trent Bridge. After complaints from all the counties with Test grounds, and consultation with the BBC, it was decided that there would be no rest day in any of the Test matches next year.

Apart from Sunday play, the only other major decision that was passed without a squabble was the appointment of Sir Ian McLaurin to chairman of the TCCB, a post he is likely to occupy for two years from 1 October when Dennis Silk steps down.

McLaurin, who was elected unopposed, retires from his role as chairman and chief executive of Tesco. Apparently he comes with a reputation of disliking committees, so what he will make of the setting up of three new ones under the still to be set up England management committee is anyone's guess. Mine is that after a year in the job, he will probably be keener to stack shelves than to chair TCCB or ECB meetings where the counties are involved.

Tim Curtis, page 4

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