Cricket: Illingworth becomes England's dictator: Tourists' poor form may have prompted late swing to Yorkshireman as Atherton tries radical bowling change

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The Independent Online
RAY ILLINGWORTH was yesterday appointed the new chairman of the England selectors and immediately made it clear he would be the boss. The 61-year-old Yorkshireman, whose election followed a late shift in votes from the more restrained candidacy of M J K Smith, said: 'I have been given the responsibility I wanted, the final say in selection will rest with me.'

His reign, initially for two years, will end a period in which selection has increasingly been dictated by the preference of the captain. It is also likely to lead to a devaluation of Keith Fletcher's role as manager, which has been undermined by a record of nine defeats in 11 Tests. The former Yorkshire, Leicester and England captain, unlike his predecessor, Ted Dexter, expects to be present at all home Tests and be involved in tactical planning as well as making visits to overseas tours.

The former Yorkshire, Leicester and England captain, who interrupted his flew in from holiday in Spain to attend his coronation, will not be going to the Caribbean but will be following the last four Tests on satellite television from his holiday base near Malaga.

While the result of the election was not revealed, it is likely to have been either 11-9 or 12-8 in his favour. Smith, the favourite a month ago, was a victim of England's recent poor form in the West Indies which underlined the need for firm leadership.

That Illingworth is certain to provide. He is a man with strong opinions on the game generally (such as advocating a two-division championship) and England in particular. 'Some of our cricketers work hard enough at running around the ground but not enough at basic skills,' he said. 'I'd rather have a bowler who can bowl a length than one who can run around the ground 10 times.'

There are few at present who can do either and Illingworth admitted: 'We need a couple of bowlers to come through, especially when, as at present, Devon Malcolm isn't playing. Then we have no one of pace. I cannot see how four medium-pace bowlers can be a balanced attack. If three can't get them out, four won't. A lot of the time we have played four because there have been injury doubts. That has to stop, if you are not fit you shouldn't play.

'We have picked some badly balanced sides for certain wickets recently, especially in India where I was greatly pleased by the success of the Indian spinners as I was last summer by Tim May and Shane Warne of Australia. I would like to see spinners used more by England.'

His faith in spin was further reflected when he added, 'We need some all-rounders, they don't have to be fast bowlers, they could be spinning all-rounders or wicketkeepers.' Illingworth was one of the former and he cited Shaun Udal, of Hampshire, and Richard Stemp, of Yorkshire, as possible successors.

Clearly selection meetings are going to be rather more lively than previously, with Dexter and the outgoing Dennis Amiss - two more selectors will be elected next month - having rarely intervened.

'It is my job to lead the selectors and captain in certain directions,' he said, 'I hope it will work smoothly with everyone agreeing but I will have the final say.

'When I was captain, Alec Bedser overruled me on a couple of occasions and I just had to get on with the game. Mike Atherton is an intelligent captain with a good cricket brain, I'd just like to see him use his imagination more.'

Smith, who flew into Guyana yesterday, heard the outcome of the vote on Tuesday. He said: 'It went through the system in the proper way. The counties voted, Illy got the nod and good luck to him. We are all on the same side, wanting a winning England team. I was sounded out about doing the job and I would have been happy to do it. But you can't say it was a life's ambition.'

Illingworth, who played first-class cricket into his 50s and only stopped playing club cricket four years ago, is widely regarded as being as good a judge of a cricketer as there is and his selection net is likely to be cast more widely than has appeared to be the case in recent years. 'I want everyone to feel they have an even chance of getting in the side,' he said.' I've watched every home Test for 10 years and a lot of one-day cricket but my first task is to watch some more. The players in the West Indies have the opportunity now. If they don't take it there will be changes.'

The Test and County Cricket Board, which is to compensate Illingworth with a salary of more than pounds 30,000 a year for giving up his media work, appointed Harry Brind as full-time inspector of pitches and the current MCC president, Dennis Silk, as its new chairman.

Silk's background as a Cambridge graduate and warden of Radley may help to control a large and unwieldy board, but when it came to reviving English cricket on the field the chairmen have recognised that a dictator, rather than a mediator, was required.

----------------------------------------------------------------- ILLINGWORTH FACTFILE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Born: 8 June, 1932 at Pudsey, Yorkshire. Educated: Wesley Street School, Pudsey. County career: Played for Yorkshire (1951-68; 1979-83) and Leicestershire (1969-78). Test record: Played 61; runs 1,836, average 23.24; wickets 122, average 31.20. Captain in 31; won 12 (including series in Australia, 1970-71), lost 5. Career highlights: Offered trials with three Foot ball League clubs. Did double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets for the season six times. Led Leices tershire to their only Championship in 1975. Be came Yorkshire's oldest captain at 51 while doubling as team manager. -----------------------------------------------------------------

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