Cricket: Board seeks remedy for sinking feeling: TCCB considers Dexter's successor as chairman of England committee against background of Test defeats

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The Independent Online
TED DEXTER'S body may still be warm - in fact, he will not be clearing his desk until the end of the month - but rigor mortis is likely to have long since set in by the time the Test and County Cricket Board finally gets around to naming English cricket's new messiah.

The board's search for a new chairman of the England committee starts today, when the county chairmen sift through the wreckage of the past 12 months at their autumn meeting. However, as the first question is more likely to be 'if' rather than 'who', and the second will certainly be: 'If so, what job is he supposed to be doing?', spring's snowdrops might be putting in an appearance before the new man.

It is almost certain that the board will want the job redefined, probably to the extent that Dexter's 'hands- off' role applies rather more literally when it comes to the Test team. That way, the appointee will not be an unfair target for, as Dexter put it, 'lampooning and harpooning', but more important, will channel almost all his energies into the production line rather than the shop window.

In terms of grass roots, English cricket does not generate enough growth for a pair of nail clippers, never mind a lawnmower, and until the bottom of the pyramid is properly addressed, and talent is identified, nourished and channelled at an early age, the England Test team will continue to promote occasional outbreaks of national rejoicing whenever they pull off something uncharacteristically brilliant, such as a draw.

Attention should be centred on the first-class game, which is largely of mediocre quality, ironically sustained by hand-outs from the cash that people are still prepared to part with to watch England play. These will presumably dry up once England start losing to Zimbabwe.

Three of the competitions promote sloggers and medium-pace dob bowlers. Even in Australia, where they overdose on one-day internationals, the domestic structure involves only one one-day competition.

At the top end of the pyramid, the way England teams are picked will soon involve hiring the Albert Hall for selection meetings rather than booking a corner table in a restaurant. In three weeks' time, 16 cricketers will be chosen to tour the Caribbean, by A C Smith, the board's chief executive, Ossie Wheatley, the cricket committee chairman, Keith Fletcher, the team manager, the England committee chairman, should one have been chosen one by then, Frank Chamberlain, the board chairman, Michael Atherton, or whoever has been appointed captain, and Micky Stewart, the director of coaching.

Fletcher spends his Test matches watching England during the day and apologising for them when play is over. Why the captain cannot run the ship for five days, with the manager out and about watching some county cricket, heaven only knows.

It is this pre-occupation with swanning around on the bridge rather than stoking the boiler down in the engine room that needs addressing, and which will take more time to sort out than a single board meeting.

One option is for the chairman of the cricket committee to take on Dexter's job in a single, central role, working below decks to ensure that England's next Test victory is not delayed until 11 men without beards, a smog- free zone, and Venus' alignment with the Milky Way all come together at the same time.