Cricket: Statesman who can reflect new world order: A West Indian is expected to be elected chairman of the ICC this week. Tony Cozier examines Clyde Walcott's credentials

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The Independent Online
CRICKET'S new world order, evident on the field for a couple of decades, should finally be reflected in its administration this week when a famous West Indian, Clyde Walcott, is likely to be elected the first non-English chairman of the International Cricket Council.

It is a culmination of what has been, in the game's best traditions, a slow transformation from an annual talk shop between representatives of the Boards of Control of the Test countries to the sport's central authority.

Should Walcott be elected, and the general feeling is that he will be, despite the nomination by Pakistan and India of Raman Subba Row - the former England batsman and chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board - what sort of qualities would he bring to the office?

According to Ali Bacher, the influential head of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, Walcott gained plenty of points for his part in resolving the impasse at the ICC meeting in January to set the venue for the next World Cup. England, the original choice, eventually bowed to a challenge from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka after what A C Smith, one of England's delegates characterised as a 'fractious and unpleasant' meeting. 'Ultimately a deal was struck and a key member behind the scenes was Clyde Walcott,' Bacher said. 'He is regarded as a very senior statesman in world cricket.'

The kudos Walcott gained from his World Cup brokering added to his already impressive credentials. He has been in the game since he made his first-class debut for Barbados on his 16th birthday. As one of the legendary three Ws of the 1950s - along with Everton Weekes and Sir Frank Worrell - he was a batsman of imposing physique and power whose 3,788 runs in 44 Tests between 1948 and 1960 were made at an exceptional average of 56.68. An attacking player who was extremely powerful off the back foot, he probably hit the ball harder than any man of his era.

In the twilight of his playing days his stint as coach and organiser on Guyana's sugar estates unearthed, among others, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher and Joe Soloman and inspired the revival of that country's cricket. His time as manager, selector and, since 1988, as Board president have coincided with the most successful period in West Indies cricket. At a robust 67 he is now retired after heading the personnel department of one of the West Indies' largest companies.

Not much has changed since C L R James observed of Walcott 30 years ago that he 'cannot by any stretch of fact or imagination be called a cricket Bolshevik'. Raised in a middle-class family and educated at Barbados's most eminent school, he has repeatedly revealed himself as a traditionalist and a stickler for principle.

He was chief selector in 1973 when Garry Sobers, no less, declared himself fit to join the home series against Ian Chappell's Australians following a knee operation. Walcott insisted on a medical certificate and, when it was not forthcoming, refused to pick the West Indies' greatest and most popular player, attracting a deluge of vitriol from the public and politicians.

As Board president and a West Indies representative at the ICC he opposed South Africa's readmission in 1990 because he said the application did not undergo the proper procedure. And he vehemently backed England as the next World Cup venue since it had been chosen at an earlier meeting, a decision annulled only when South Africa's return altered the ICC's membership.

As a realist he accepts that one-day cricket is 'here to stay' but when asked if the West Indies would follow the lead of Australia, South Africa and England and bedeck its domestic competition in coloured kit, he said: 'We don't have to copy anyone.'

Nothing angered and embarrassed him more in cricket than the boycott of South Africa's historic Test in his native Barbados last year over the exclusion from the team of Andy Cummins, the local fast bowler. It 'affected West Indies cricket and the image of Barbados in the cricket world', he said at the time.

Sponsorship, and the revenue and exposure from television, will probably determine the future of the professional game he believes, but he does not share the pessimism that the more popular shortened variety is gradually strangling Test cricket to death.

'I don't think there is a need to worry unduly about it so long as we have the sponsorship and TV coverage,' he said last week. 'The real cricket enthusiast still appreciates Test cricket and, certainly in England, the West Indies and India, the interest does not appear to have diminished. We probably need to look at the Test game and see what needs to be changed to attract more people.'

It is one of the tasks he will probably set himself if elected, 'an honour for the West Indies and for me'.

'I couldn't be a figurehead. I am a cricket person and I would work closely with the chief executive officer. It may be an honorary position but I see it as a working one.'

And there is work to be done.

(Photograph omitted)

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