Cricket: Coach Lloyd is reprimanded by MacLaurin

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As England struggle against the weakest side in Test cricket, the man widely touted to cure the malaise has begun his pronouncements. Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the newly formed England and Wales Cricket Board, may engender great respect in the world of retailing but, as far as changing the lifelong habits of English county cricket are concerned, such reputations have an unerring habit of ending up on the shelf.

However, MacLaurin, here in Harare to observe England at play abroad, is determined that he and Tim Lamb, the new ECB's chief executive, come to the job with as few preconceptions as possible. "We need a blank sheet of paper," he said. "In order to bring forward a plan to put to the new Board."

MacLaurin, a keen sportsman himself, believes that the game still harbours too many sacred cows: ailing old beasts that need to be slaughtered if the game is to continue to attract the unprecedented finance and sponsorship of recent halcyon years. "The England side are a top priority," he said, speaking in the Bowls club behind the cricket pavilion at Harare Sports Club. "Financially everything flows from that."

Of course, there is nothing new in that, although MacLaurin has promised a speeding up of the notorious feet-dragging of the old TCCB that has held the game in check since the Packer revolution first ruffled its feathers in the mid 1970s. "A cumbersome democracy," Lamb called it, admitting that perhaps the old TCCB had been "dilatory in addressing those problems."

Rapid change will not be easy, despite MacLaurin's reputation for disliking the endless circumlocution shunted around most committee rooms, a system that used to progress by the sole means of fudge and counter-fudge. Apparently he comes with a no-nonsense attitude that has already been pushed into action with the "private punishment" (thought to be a last-chance warning) meted out on David Lloyd for his unseemly and public outburst at the end of the first Test a week ago in Bulawayo.

Lloyd was the subject of an investigation by the match referee, Hanumant Singh, after an "exchange of words" with a Zimbabwe Cricket Union official. No action was taken, with the matter apparently "amicably" resolved, but there were also unconfirmed reports that Lloyd, agitated by Zimbabwe's defensive tactics during England's thrilling run chase and the whole drama which surrounded the "scores level" draw, made some provocative gestures and further comments towards members of the crowd.

"How we present ourselves is of the utmost importance," MacLaurin said. Although, in true former TCCB style, MacLaurin and Lamb refused to reveal just what the punishment was, adding only that Lloyd, appointed as England coach in September on a two-year contract, had not been sacked. Some old habits refuse to be budged, and secrecy, that odious hallmark of the old elite, appears to be very much alive and well.

To progressives, the core of the problem has always centered on the first- class system and the 18 counties that play it. They in turn argue that the problems have little to do with current structure and that England's poor showing is merely part of a cycle.

The chairman of Tesco disagrees: "I'm convinced the problems are not cyclical and that there is something fundamentally wrong with the game. Something that must be put right so that we can rebuild the game."

Advice will not be in short supply and MacLaurin, who has a two-year tenure, claims he will be seeking as many viewpoints as possible, particularly those of former Test players, like Ian Botham who has "played and won at the highest level."

Botham, as quoted in a Sunday newspaper, is apparently unhappy with his role as England's bowling consultant, claiming that he was not consulted over the bowling selections made for this Test. Botham, who allegedly said that he was not prepared to let his name and reputation be dragged down by this team, later denounced the piece as inaccurate.

"I've had enough of the High Court," Botham said yesterday on Sky television, when asked what he was going to do about the so-called apocryphal nature of the piece. "I'd probably get hung for that one," he said, grinning, no doubt referring to last summer's judgment over his libel case against Imran Khan.

However, Botham confirmed he would like one day to be in charge of England as a football-style manager with the power to pick the side.

"I have said all along I don't believe in the selection policy, I think there should be one man in charge," he said. "And if I was offered pounds 150,000 to take the job over three years and a few incentives, who wouldn't?"