Cricket: Classic choice over Smith and Illingworth: The TCCB meets today and tomorrow at Lord's to select a new chairman of selectors. Glenn Moore reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IF THE contest between Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton for the England captaincy was regarded as evidence of a class divide in the sport, what will cricket's sociologists make of this week's selection of the new chairman of selectors?

For the choice to be made by the Test and County Cricket Board over the next two days is between two classic cricket stereotypes - Mike Smith, the quiet Oxbridge patrician, or the blunt-speaking Northerner, Ray Illingworth.

Although the absence of younger candidates - such as Tony Lewis and Mike Brearley - is a shame, both are worthy contenders for a job that, after the experiment with Ted Dexter as wide-ranging supremo, has reverted to one practised by his predecessors, Alec Bedser and Peter May. That is, pick the team, justify it and then, all too often, defend your selection after losing. There will, however, also be an influential role on the new all-powerful 'development committee'.

Smith and Illingworth began playing first-class cricket in 1951, were Wisden Cricketers of the Year nine years later and went on to lead England with distinction. Both are older than Dexter and, like him, were sufficiently enamoured with cricket to come out of retirement successfully for a second playing spell.

There the similarities end. In the blue-blood corner stands Smith, better known by his initials, M J K; in the revolutionary red corner Illy, who only ever had one initial.

Smith, educated at Stamford public school and Oxford University, became a self-made businessman, successful enough to dedicate his time to chairing Warwickshire. As captain, he played the game within its gentlemanly traditions and was very popular among his players.

As an individual, he is genial to all except reporters bearing notebooks - off duty it is a different matter. As a captain, he once conducted a press conference from behind a newspaper - presumably checking to see he was not being misquoted - and as a manager of the side currently in the West Indies, his main contact with the press has been to discover the latest rugby results.

This is not just because the side has been struggling. Smith would keep an equally low profile if they were winning. His chairmanship would be a restrained one, chairing the meeting, advising quietly, leaving Mike Atherton and Keith Fletcher to captain and manage.

It is hard to envisage Illingworth adopting such a role. He rejected the chance to become the first England manager because he felt the job, as defined by the TCCB, was that of an impotent figurehead offering responsibility without power. Instead, he writes a regular ghosted column for the Daily Express, commentates on BBC television, and is not shy to give his opinions.

Born and bred in West Yorkshire, Illingworth was educated at the local secondary modern and schooled in the Bradford League. His career was checkered by a premature departure from Yorkshire (a contract dispute), a censure by the Cricket Council for his England team over dissent to umpires and, inevitably, an entanglement in Yorkshire's tortuous Eighties politics.

Having been tempted from retirement in his fifties, he led the county to first in the Sunday League and last in the championship in the same season (1983), both firsts for the county. He also presided over Leicestershire's most successful period and, in 1970-71, became the first captain to regain the Ashes in Australia since the Bodyline series.

If he becomes chairman, and the TCCB were wary of empowering him as a manager in 1987, it would be as an interventionist one. Atherton may still get the players he wants - though his stock as a selector may depend on the next month's performances in the Caribbean - but only after providing a convincing argument. Spinners and variety will be encouraged, as will the sort of positive, aggressively hard-nosed approach that will be vital against South Africa this summer and in Australia next winter.

For Fletcher, an Illingworth appointment could see him marginalised and reduced to a coaching rather than a tactical role. Not surprisingly, the manager, with one win and nine losses from his first 11 Tests, has 'no comment whatsoever' to make on the situation, but it is not hard to see who he might prefer.

Who the chairmen back is more difficult to judge. Illingworth has gained votes recently, with England's poor tour reflecting not so much on Smith as on a perceived need for further sweeping changes. But it would still be a bold appointment, especially from a group better known for their pecuniary rather than revolutionary instincts.

CONTENDERS' FACT FILES

R Illingworth CBE

Age 61. Played 61 Tests (1958-73). Captain in 31 Tests (69-73) winning 12 including series in Australia 70-71, losing 5. Scored 1,836 Test runs at 23.24, took 122 wickets at 31.20 bowling off spin. Played for Yorkshire and Leicestershire.

M J K Smith OBE

Age 60. Played 50 Tests (1958-72). Captain in 25 Tests (63-66) winning 5 including series in S Africa 64/65, losing 3. Scored 2,278 Test runs at 31.63, took 1 wicket at 128. Played for Oxford University, Leicestershire and Warwickshire. Played rugby (stand- off) for England.

Comments