Cricket: Wright concerned by game's changing face: Derek Hodgson on why a former editor of Wisden is dissatisfied with the direction cricket has taken

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WHAT may become to be regarded as one of the most influential books on cricket this century will appear in May under the title of Betrayal. When members of the MCC force the club into a special general meeting, on 27 January, it is another indication, the author believes, of the wrong turnings the game has taken in the past 30 years.

The writer, Graeme Wright, is a former editor of Wisden Almanack. He resigned his post last year because he was unhappy with what he regarded as the creeping commercialisation of cricket.

Wright, who is 49, names 1963 as the year English cricket set off down a dangerous road: 'The 60- over game had just started, it was, curiously, the year that Jack Hobbs and Plum Warner died but the turning point, I believe, came with the decision to abolish amateurs and professionals, just five years after an MCC committee had decided that such a move was the worst thing that could happen to the game,' he said yesterday.

Wright is not against a less elitist control of cricket - the transfer of power to the Test and County Cricket Board - but added: 'I have since learned that it was not MCC's intention that the whole game should become full-time professional. They hoped that the county clubs would continue to play part-timers.

'Once a full-time professional structure was put in place all kinds of compromises had to be reached in order to raise the income necessary to support the game. This process has now reached the point where the only justification for county cricket has become international cricket,' he said.

Wright has always believed that English sport has reflected English life: 'As in cricket as in government: autonomy depends upon the freedom to support yourself. Once you become dependent upon central government for income you lose your freedom. Cricket is now run from London.'

He wants county members to realise that they have not yet lost control. He warns that if county cricket continues as merely a training ground for Test cricket, then the first-class game, which sets the standard, would have no future if Tests were replaced by one-day internationals, an ominous possible development in Australia and India.

He strikes a chord with many when he says he loves the 'lonely days of cricket', referring to the three-day game on a country ground, but admits that such a scene may be anachronistic in a sport that is becoming an urban- based business, moving inexorably along the lines of big league baseball.

County cricket, he asserts, is being tailored to suit the sponsor and the advertiser, not the county member and spectator and he hints at several decisions which, he claims, were made not by people who put the game first and were not made in the interests of cricket.

Gollancz will publish the book, of some 75,000 words, under the sub-title The Struggle for Cricket's Soul. It will appear under the H F and G Witherby imprint, and should enliven the start of the 1993 season.

Wright does not have a public school and Oxbridge background. He is a New Zealander, from Invercargill (the town Charlie Watts described as lacking 'only John Wayne rolling down the main street at sunset') who has been domiciled in the UK for 25 years. He wrote a book about George Best, is a former managing director of Queen Anne Press, edited Wisden for six years, and has been a writer on cricket for most of his time here.