Cricket: Lamb's bullish world outlook

Stephen Brenkley hears the Cup's critics dispatched to the boundary
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The Independent Online
DURING THE needless hiatus in England's match at Canterbury last week two lines of inquiry seemed pertinent. The first was to try to discover who was at fault and the second was to ask how the England and Wales Cricket Board had cocked up the World Cup this time.

As it happened Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the ECB, appeared soon after to offer an explanation. The extended break between innings of 55 minutes, when a maximum of 35 should have been taken, was the fault neither of Lamb nor of his organisation. The umpires had merely misinterpreted the regulations.

Lamb's willingness, initially to argue the toss with the match officials and then to subject himself to questioning, brought to mind an old axiom. Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you.

The ECB were derided at every turn in the approach to this tournament and in the nine days since it began they have been castigated. The indictments are not quite inexhaustible. Examining them, officials must wonder how a ball was ever bowled, let alone that the event has begun to enter the national consciousness.

Matches have been played at idiotic venues, practice facilities for the players have been poor, security arrangements at grounds have been lax, the MCC are a bunch of snobbish old buffoons, the opening ceremony was useless, staging this many matches at this time of year is madness, the swinging, white ball is a disaster, the BBC television coverage is a joke, the places where matches are being staged are not promoting the event properly and the Bank of England standard rate is still too high. Not all of these can be laid at the ECB's door at Lord's but there may be several cases to answer.

"When we are wrong we like to admit we are wrong," said Lamb after the interval farce at a gloomy St Lawrence ground. "But I do think some of the criticism is not only ill-informed but being made by people who have not tried fully to get the facts. That is disappointing."

Whatever the doom-mongers have said, the opening week of the seventh World Cup has been a qualified triumph. The grounds have been full, mostly with joyously partisan fans, all matches have been completed and why, in certain instances, it has been possible to believe you are at a carnival.

Lamb rejected the assertion that games such as those involving India and South Africa and Pakistan and West Indies should have been played at bigger grounds than Hove or Bristol. "The aim of this World Cup from the start was to take it to every corner and every county in England. That we have done. Perhaps you have a short-term gain by playing only on the larger grounds but that would have defeated the object of this as a truly national event."

He was as bold in justifying the timing. Later there were traditionally British sporting festivals with which to contend. August had been toyed with but no more. "We always play our one-day internationals at this time of year and only two have ever been rained off," Lamb said. "I seem to remember last year the Benson and Hedges Cup was in July and the NatWest Trophy in the first week in September and both were badly affected by rain." So far, touch a stump, the most redundant men have been Messrs Duckworth and Lewis.

The chief executive conceded that he was hugely downhearted to see the multitude of empty seats in the Lord's pavilion on the opening day. He has, in an indirect and most polite way, brought his displeasure to the attention of the MCC. "They know how we feel," he said.

Lamb is bearing up under any perceived strain. "I am disappointed with some of the press that we get from time to time, which can be sapping, but we don't mind justified criticism," he said. "It is true that initially we hoped that this World Cup would be a bonanza. That wasn't to be, for various reasons - and the state of the economy in the Far East should not be underestimated. But we are now very hopeful of a pounds 14m return instead of the pounds 11m projected a few weeks ago. Overall, we are delighted with the way things have gone."

If Lamb is happy enough, despite the criticisms, the event manager, the Australian Michael Browning, remains bullish. "I've had all this before, but when I get out people are talking about this event. If we'd spent pounds 5m on promotion that would have been pounds 5m less for grass-roots cricket later on and we would then have been accused of squandering."

There remains the matter of the BBC's piecemeal, swansong coverage. Last week they left Australia's match for repeats of Are You Being Served? Browning would not be drawn into direct criticism but said: "If you asked me I'd have to say Captain Peacock's all right but I'd rather watch captain Waugh."