Cricket: England tour briefing degenerates into farce

The England and Wales Cricket Board yesterday defended their decision to hold a briefing for this winter's tour to the West Indies after reports that it had degenerated into farce. The talk was arranged by a company run by Jo Rice, Sir Tim Rice's brother, which specialises in briefing people for foreign travel. It was intended to help the England squad avoid the public relations problems which beset their trip to Zimbabwe last winter, but it backfired badly.

According to a report in a Sunday newspaper, the first speaker made disparaging remarks about the West Indian culture and its people, telling the England players that key elements of life in the Caribbean include, "Rum and coke, bananas, sugar and laid-back, lazy black men."

Michael Atherton, the England captain, interrupted the session, telling the organisers, "If you have anything constructive to say, say it now," while the England players showed their distaste by ringing each other's mobile phones and leaving the room to take the calls. One player said: "When they started talking about `lazy black men' it was quite obvious that Dean Headley and Mark Butcher were not amused."

"It is fair to say the Caribbean talk didn't necessarily go quite as planned, and it it is also fair to say that we learned valuable lessons," Brian Murgatroyd, press officer for the English Cricket Board, said. "It was not a great success, but two days later the briefing for the `A' tour to Kenya and Sri Lanka went very well. All this is an evolutionary process and it is a bit unfair when we are criticised for attempting these things when last winter we were criticised for not doing anything."