Cricket: Home fires burning in Gower debate: The latest MCC saga over England selection continues tonight. Derek Hodgson reports

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The Independent Online
THE British public has always been delighted to see the Establishment, or one of its constituent parts, in a tizzy. Which is why the special general meeting of the Marylebone Cricket Club at Central Hall, Westminster this evening will be followed as keenly as any critical Parliamentary debate.

What has happened is that a group of MCC's 18,000 members (180 were needed to sign the requisition) are proposing that the club has 'no confidence in England's cricket selectors'. MCC's committee is opposing, proxy forms have been dispatched, cricket luminaries have been lured into print and TV studios, and a letter in the Daily Telegraph was denounced by the committee as 'cheating'.

The dissidents, angry about the omission of David Gower and Jack Russell from the England party to tour India, even had the effrontery to quote the venerable E W Swanton, a former committee member, in their statement to club members, a blast from Sandwich then denouncing them and all their works.

The debate itself promises to be high-powered. Speaking for the motion will be Lord Bonham-Carter, Lord Gilmour and Donald Trelford, editor of the Observer and a former member of the MCC committee.

The committee, it is reported, has lined up an even more formidable battery in three ex-presidents - Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former Chief of the Defence Staff; Lord Griffths, former Chief Justice; and Hubert Doggart, of Sussex and England.

There is a subsidiary argument continuing over the choice of venue. The committee refused to close the indoor school at Lord's to host the meeting, thus incurring expenses of pounds 20,000 in hiring Central Hall. The dissidents claim the indoor school could have been used for this one occasion and point out that regrettable though the spending of pounds 20,000 is, the club's total administrative costs are currently pounds 2.3m. The committee says that, because the indoor nets would have to be taken down and moved, almost 80 bookings by cricket clubs would have had to be re-scheduled or cancelled.

The dissidents say they are calling the meeting 'to give all members an opportunity to hear or express a view about the manifest deficiencies in the system of selection and style of England team management and about the damage we believe these are doing . . .the rejection of Gower is a manifestation and symbol of these deficiencies'.

Gower, who missed the England team's nine-hour overnight rail trip from Bhubaneshwar to Calcutta yesterday because he is in Australia (he will be reporting the Tests in India for Sky TV and a Sunday newspaper), has been grateful for public support but thinks the dissidents are going too far. Russell, who flew out yesterday for the six-week A team tour of Australia, will make the best of his disappointments in Sydney and Adelaide.

The selectors under fire are the Test and County Cricket Board's England committee, which chooses the touring team under the chairmanship of Ted Dexter and consists of Alan Smith, chief executive of the TCCB and a former England manager and wicketkeeper; Graham Gooch, the captain; the former manager, Mickey Stewart; the present manager, Keith Fletcher; Dennis Amiss, the former England opener; and Ossie Wheatley, the former Glamorgan bowler who is the chairman of the TCCB's cricket committee.

The chairman of the TCCB, Frank Chamberlain (Northamptonshire), the current England tour manager, Bob Bennett (Lancashire), and the A team manager, Norman Gifford (Sussex), attended the selection meeting but did not have a vote.

The TCCB is the ruling body in English cricket, a body on which MCC has one vote, the same as Minor Counties. MCC's committee is, in effect, saying this is not its pigeon so, if you can think of a better system of selection, take it to the TCCB. The dissidents say many objective MCC members, and even more cricket followers among the general public, are reflecting a general unease about the direction the game is taking. It is ironic that this unease should surface within MCC.

If the dissidents had broadened their thrust to include a denunciation of what is being described as 'the creeping commercialisation of cricket', the committee may not have wished to hold the fort tonight: it would have probably opened the gates.

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