Henry Blofeld: Flailing ECB must appoint a leader of iron will
Monday 31 May 2004
The comings and goings in English cricket over the past two weeks have not been confined to the cricket field and have been difficult to keep track of. For once the England England and Wales Cricket Board seems to be more set about with problems than the side representing the country in the middle, which has seen Nasser Hussain wave goodbye just after giving a big "hello and welcome" to Andrew Strauss.
This is not quite a tit-for-tat situation. Strauss's success at Lord's came as an opener while Hussain, who seems to have said that one of the reasons for his departure was to make sure there was a place for Strauss, had made his home in the middle order. This may mean that Michael Vaughan, whose knee injury in the nets at Lord's began the Hussain/Strauss affair, will drop down the order.
Hussain's departure immediately after his heroic, match-winning hundred at Lord's, has left me feeling slightly uneasy. For some time his greatest and oft-expressed ambition was to bring his tally of England caps to a hundred. He now goes four short of that mesmeric figure.
A year ago Hussain suddenly threw in the captaincy after England had drawn the first Test against South Africa, at Edgbaston, with the second starting three days later. Once again he knew it was the moment to go and passed the baton to Vaughan, who hardly had a moment to learn his lines before a disastrous Lord's Test was upon him.
In the old days resignations were only expected, unless there was a catastrophic in jury, at the end of a campaign. The job has surely been to win the series rather than one particular match. Hussain has always had his own idiosyncratic way of doing things and often it has not taken account of anyone else. His Damascene conversions have come with an earth-shattering suddenness, which does not at any stage involve looking to his left or to his right.
If he had stayed until the end of the summer he would not only have reached a hundred Test matches, but he would also have put the selectors in the enviable position of having to choose from an embarrassment of riches. Having scored one match-winning century, it would not have been unreasonable for such an able batsman to have the feeling that he could do it again. But then there was the matter of a four-year contract with Sky Television.
While it is sad to lose as doughty a cricketer as Hussain, it could be that it will make the dressing room a more comfortable home for Vaughan. Hussain and the coach, Duncan Fletcher, got on famously and are probably out of a similar mould. Under Vaughan's leadership I dare say there were still occasions when the coach and his former captain would have meaningfully caught one another's eye. Vaughan will now be more his own man.
While the innermost workings of Hussain's mind may be a closed book to most of us, the outrageous and daring skill of Strauss was all too obvious to see. His success was a shot in the arm for that much-derided - in most cases deservingly so - institution called county cricket. He took the step up to the top level as if it was an inch or two at most. Compare his form at Lord's with the difficulties of Ed Smith against South Africa last summer. Let us hope there are some more Strausses about, and if there are we must not waste any time in telling the Australians. Propaganda should be a two-way deal.
The recent internal problems at the ECB began with the resignation of Des Wilson after his presentation of the moral case for not touring Zimbabwe. Then Mark Sibley, the marketing guru, decided to return to his old firm complaining, one hears, of the heavy-handed bureaucracy at the board. By all accounts he was an able performer who has now left a big gap at an awkward time, with the television rights soon coming up for grabs once again.
Then the chief executive, Tim Lamb, was forced to fall upon his own sword, more than anything because of the continuing indecision and ambiguity about the ECB's approach to Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The crisis at the last World Cup was bad enough, but what has been going on with regard to England's tour there this coming winter has taken the biscuit.
Lamb is a good man, but perhaps not best suited to the political squabbles that have been going on. At heart he has been an appeaser\ and this may be the most sensible way to go about a difficult job when it comes to trying to get the agreement of the county chairmen, who are a fractious lot, for the changes he and his cohorts have had in mind.
The ECB has never needed to be led by a man of steel and decision more than it does now. To see the organisation floundering as it has this past year and to be losing such key players argues that the leadership is weak and ineffectual. It is not in its own best interests that the ECB should all the time be trying to be all things to all men. That is so often the quickest way to generate contempt.
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