Cricket: Wanted: dextrous thinker with a rhino's hide: Martin Johnson, Cricket Correspondent, on the candidates and the need to redefine the job description for Ted Dexter's successor

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THE ASHES, currently available (for viewing purposes only) to England cricket captains on payment of pounds 1 to the curator of the Lord's museum, were born - lest we forget - from the loss of a single Test match.

On current form, it would be more appropriate to set fire to the Long Room than a couple of bails. The charred remnants could then be interred inside a silage tank, to be presented to Michael Atherton, or (given that we may have to wait until Papua New Guinea are granted full membership of the International Cricket Council) one of his great-grandchildren, on the occasion of England's next Test victory.

It is now almost 12 months since the England Committee invoked the ridicule of the nation with the unveiling of its squad to tour India and Sri Lanka, which was an open invitation to a winter tour result of played four, lost four. Since then, two heads have plopped into the basket, and the day when Keith Fletcher drives into a Test match in a sponsored tumbril may not be too distant.

Fletcher, 11 months into a five-year contract, has now presided over nine defeats in 10 Test matches, and eight in 11 one-day internationals. However, just for the moment, the accent is not so much on another execution as on who will be occupying Ted Dexter's office at Lord's when the England committee chairman finally clears his desk in three weeks' time.

The world and his dog have been promoted, including the current betting favourite M J K Smith, the former England captain and Warwickshire chairman, and even Chris Middleton, the chairman of Derbyshire and the first public figure to call openly for Dexter's head. M J K would certainly qualify if the Test and County Cricket Board wants someone almost totally anonymous.

Then again, there is the lobby for someone like Geoff Boycott, as a kind of messiah or 'supremo'. It may well be, of course, that a player who spent an entire career concerned almost exclusively with himself can now wave a cerebral wand and revive the entire fabric of cricket in this country, but in any event, the job is about far more than taking a couple of net sessions and curing the Test team overnight.

Dexter was commonly perceived as being the main England selector, and was scoffed at for his consistent non- attendance at Test matches. In fact, as he stated at the start of his tenure, he always intended to leave the major selectorial duties to the manager and captain, and his absences were often the result of his work lower down the structural ladder, at under-17 and under-19 level, for example.

Dexter lost his job because he was too closely identified with the Test team's failure, and because he had become, through an unfortunate character trait in an otherwise decent, likeable and hard-working bloke, a Basil Fawlty type character.

However, the job that he was elected to do remains of singular relevance to the future well-being of English cricket, which is why it is not only imperative to replace him, but also with the right man.

Mike Turner, the chief exectutive of Leicestershire and a member of the TCCB executive committee, which meets on Monday for preliminary discussion on who to appoint in Dexter's place, said yesterday: 'As far as I am concerned, the No 1 priorities are to get the job itself clearly defined, and also make it clear precisely how it relates to the manager and captain, and also, to an extent, to Micky Stewart in his new role in development of young players.

'Even as a member of the executive, I did not know until three weeks ago that Ted was intending to step down, and as far as I know, no names of a successor have been seriously bandied around at Lord's as yet. However, we must define the job, and we must get the right man.

'Cricket has enjoyed a golden era over the past 20 years or so, and the game has been sold to the public as never before. We can only sustain this, though, by success at Test- match level, and it is vital that we turn this unbelievably bad sequence around. If not, it will have a knock- on effect at both international and county level in terms of diminishing interest.

'One of the things I feel most strongly about is that England have not made as much use as they should have done of people of the highest possible calibre. I am talking about the likes of Raymond Illingworth, Mike Brearley and Geoff Boycott, who have a wealth of potential input that is comparatively untapped.'

Turner does not believe that the job as England Committee chairman should necessarily be full-time, although it would surely be preferable to the current bodged-together system. The ICC, for example, bumbled along for years with honourary officers drawn from the MCC, until the demands of the modern game (finally brought home by the fiasco of the Pakistan ball-tampering allegations) prompted it to appoint a professional chief executive.

The game is almost into the 21st century and is no longer played (as Dexter, ever the romantic dreamer, appeared to believe) by Gentlemen and Players, with top hats and curved bats.

Situation Vacant: England Committee chairman. Applications invited from hard-nosed realists, who believe that England's problems might conceivably run a touch deeper than smog, prawns and planets, and will be paid a comparative pittance for the privilege of being lampooned and harpooned throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Cricketer's Diary, page 28

Rethink required, page 29