Collier means business and preaches persuasion

A tough agenda awaits ECB chief in January - that's the way he likes it.
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The language of English cricket administration is about to change. No more talk about playing with a straight bat; cricket's brave new world will be a "stakeholder environment"; change is to be "progressed" at a reasonable pace. As for overseas players in the County Championship: "We have to find a methodology to maximise the number of English-qualified players."

The language of English cricket administration is about to change. No more talk about playing with a straight bat; cricket's brave new world will be a "stakeholder environment"; change is to be "progressed" at a reasonable pace. As for overseas players in the County Championship: "We have to find a methodology to maximise the number of English-qualified players."

Now is the time for management-speak at the ECB's headquarters at Lord's. But it does not come from a stranger imported from the business world to sweep away prejudices and preconceptions. This is the way David Collier speaks, and the ECB's new chief executive comes to Lord's from Trent Bridge, via the county grounds at Colchester, Bristol and Grace Road. The new man is an insider.

This is why last week's appointment is criticised by Bob Willis of Sky TV and the Cricket Reform Group. "I think there were better candidates from the business world," he says. There is gossip about a senior man from IBM Europe not making it to the short list. Collier is not concerned. "Look at my business experience and I think it does fit with what the Cricket Reform Group were asking for," he says.

Collier does not emphasise the vivid memory of watching Graeme Pollock's legendary 125 at Trent Bridge in 1965, or his part in Leicestershire's Championship pennants in 1996 and 1998. Instead he talks about a spell at Insead, the business school in Fontainebleau, and an intensive course at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania.

He was born in Leicester 49 years ago, and he is plumper than he was when he umpired hockey matches. Collier is obliging to callers, but the messages from Trent Bridge are mixed. Efficient, no doubt; exceptionally driven, yes; and fiercely ambitious. Observers report that he did not confide easily in his colleagues, and his manner sometimes rubs people up the wrong way. Put this to him, and he freely admits he can react sharply when he is displeased: "I don't like poor work. I value people who listen to the customers. It's fair to say that I set myself a high standard, and like to think people working with me do so too."

When Collier starts work in January, his first job requires particularly good work. The ECB are producing a strategic review for discussion in the late spring. It is badly needed. The Board have lost credibility; their twists and turns over Zimbabwe have been humiliating. Outside the tight-knit circle of county cricket, the ECB are widely conceived as the instrument through which 18 first-class counties cream off a large proportion of TV revenue for themselves, leaving the Test team and club cricket short of badly needed funds. Sport England, a significant contributor to cricket's budget, have expressed open disapproval of the way the game is governed.

The agenda is crowded. A majority of counties have to be persuaded to devolve power to the management board; too many overseas players is a problem; and criticism of the two-division structure of the Championship has to be addressed. It is a forbidding list, but Collier may be lucky with the timing. Vinny Codrington, Middlesex's chief executive, says he has inherited a surprisingly strong position. "Among the counties, it's generally thought now that the democratic way is too unwieldy," he says. "Democracy" meant that, in principle, counties agree to share the spoils from Tests equally.

Clubs like Derbyshire and Northamptonshire are kept afloat by the distribution. They justify it by claiming ownership of the game, although this nonsense is finally being eroded. Collier offers some evidence: "The counties have indicated that they're open to a form of performance-related payment," he says.

The test of Collier's ability to be a successful chief executive is the power of persuasion. Tim Lamb, his predecessor, was constantly frustrated by the inertia of the chairmen who ran the counties. Collier will need to exhibit considerable powers of leadership to overcome it. Can he do it? He doesn't suffer from self-doubt. Collier is confident that when he worked in the US for American Airlines in his mid-thirties, he acquired the experience he needs: he ran an airline reservations system that embraced airline, hotel groups and car rental companies. "That was a far more complex stakeholder environment. Consulting with rather than dictating to, so that everyone buys into it and everybody signs up. Those are the skills of leadership that I'll bring."

He has to persuade the customers that the counties will stop hiring second-rate cricketers from abroad at the expense of young English players. He needs to convince clubs that they are not a nuisance and England's team management that their ambitions are not to be denied by petty, penny-pinching behaviour. Collier must also satisfy Sport England that revenues are spent for the good of the game.

Reformers like Willis and Mike Atherton have no power to do anything about it except talk, and what they say about Collier shows their pessimism is undiluted. "You can't see anything happening at all," says Willis. "We'll go on rattling their cage." Collier is paid £170,000 a year. If he meets his objectives, he may have earned it.

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