Cricket: Quiet benefactor a factor in England's future: Patrick Whittingdale, a novel sponsor concerned with the top order rather than bottom lines. Martin Johnson reports from Portugal

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The Independent Online
WHEN your livelihood is investing other people's money, having your name closely associated with the England cricket team does not immediately suggest a keen eye for shrewd business deals, nor much of a vehicle for attracting new clients.

Patrick Whittingdale has stumped up more than pounds 2m over the past three years in his quest to lift the England team into the Premiership of Test cricket, yet thus far his return has had more in common with the Beazer Homes League.

Unfazed, the 50-year-old City investment broker is currently here in the Algarve, watching even more of his money being expended on a week's outdoor practice on an astroturf pitch, although for a West Indies tour, they perhaps might have been better off staying indoors at home and using a trampoline.

Whittingdale has the lowest profile of England's major sponsors, less so than either Tetley or Cornhill, but arguably he is making the most valuable contribution of the three. His is the cash invested in coaching, to the extent that these days England almost have more people telling players how it should be done than players themselves. Watching England here this week, the only thing they are missing is Phil Sharpe as first-slip coach, and Vic Marks telling people how best to patrol wide mid-on.

It looks a little incongruous seeing Christmas trees perched next to sunbeds and swimming pools on the apartment patios dotted around the England training camp, but Whittingdale would be ideally cast as Santa Claus. His involvement began in the mid-Eighties, when he paid for a table at an Alan Butcher benefit function, but the chequebook only came out in a serious way in 1989 when, like a good many other people, he stood in a pub wincing at England's performances against Australia.

'My initial involvement was very modest,' Whittingdale said. 'Professional cricketers are very poorly paid as a general rule, poorly enough at any rate not to encourage them to come into the sport at the expense of pursuing other ways of making a living. I began by paying a couple of players - Nasser Hussain and Martin Bicknell - the equivalent of their summer salaries when they were unemployed during the winter, it evolved into launching a Young Cricketers scheme in conjunction with the Test and County Cricket Board, and now it has mushroomed as I would never have envisaged.

'During the 1989 Ashes series, I was fed up of watching us getting stuffed, and decided that the best way forward was to invest in young talent. I believed then, and still do now, that cricket is too insular, and does not look sufficiently at other sports and industries to see what makes them successful. As a businessman, I wanted to get involved and apply business principles to improving our standards.

'It may seem as though things have not improved too much - in fact, some people might even think I'm slightly potty for staying involved - but you have to take a long-term view and I always thought it would be a five to 10-year process to reap the benefits.

'Look at politicians. They are total failures because they do not have any long-term vision or perspective. You must always look beyond the next game. While we are perhaps running the risk of more failure in the immediate future by taking a young team to the West Indies, it must ultimately be the best way forward.'

If Michael Atherton was hoping to begin the process of a fresh start out here, he might have managed a wry smile to find out that Graham Gooch owns a holiday apartment a couple of kilometres down the coast. The discovery that Gooch actually goes on holiday from time to time presumably came as a particular shock. At the moment Gooch is renting it out to one of the first-class umpires, Roy Palmer, at rates advantageous enough to persuade bowlers not to waste too much breath on appealing should they happen to hit Gooch's pads when Palmer is at the business end next summer.

Atherton is a touch more liberal on the hard-work front than the former captain, and it is unlikely that players would have been spotted playing golf - as they have been here this week - under Gooch. Cue for Atherton, perhaps, to send Gooch a 'having a lovely time, you'd hate it out here . . . ' postcard.

However, Atherton bridles at any suggestion that England's complex at Vale de Lobo is a kind of EuroButlins. 'My philosophy is work hard, play hard,' Atherton said yesterday. 'We have not gone short of free time to enjoy ourselves, and you might see a few less three-mile runs these days. However, we have made full use of the superb facilities over here, and it says a lot for Goochie's input that the players take themselves into the gym to work on their fitness as a matter of course.

'The weather is good, we are all getting to know each other a little better, and all in all this week has been far more beneficial than it would have been stuck indoors at Lilleshall. The only worry is still having to wait another four weeks to get out to the Caribbean. We'd love to get cracking right now.' Love to get to the West Indies? The poor lad appears to be cracking up already.

(Photograph omitted)