Lamb plays straight bat to talk of crisis

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The Independent Online

If Tim Lamb has suffered another hellish week in the job of trying to run English cricket, he is not showing it. This might have been his lowest ebb - and most of the ebbs lately have been right down there - but Lamb is already plotting his future course.

In short order in the past seven days the England and Wales Cricket Board and Lamb, their chief executive, have witnessed apparent chaos. The most enduringly damaging event may have been the outright rejection by county chairmen of the radical proposals for the game submitted by the Domestic Structure Review Group.

The group, much-trumpeted as providing the ultimate solution for the English game, will now be disbanded and go down in history as an utter waste of time. Any chance of playing fewer games to help the preparation of the England team has probably gone.

Then there was the resignation of Des Wilson, the ECB marketing chairman who wrote a paper suggesting that moral criteria ought to be used in deciding where to tour. Both were accompanied by the ever-present Zimbabwe issue.

It has all conspired to make the ECB look once more as though they are in disarray, hamstrung by their manage-ment structure and decisive only in their indecision. But at the end of the week, Lamb gave the impression of being calm and having seen it all before. "It isn't as though the whole thing has hit the rocks," he said of the DSRG paper, prepared under the auspices of chairman David Acfield and John Carr, the ECB's director of cricket operations.

"But it is true that two of the main proposals were causing considerable concern to the chairmen. They were unhappy at not being consulted at an early stage, and the committee I suspect will now be restructured and come back with proposals that are somewhat less radical, but it is important to have something that people will agree to."

The unfortunate aspect of this reasonable argument is that revolution was promised. The idea of combining the Championship and the National League to arrive at an overall champion county - with the greater number of points weighted to the Championship - has been dumped. So has the suggestion to cut the number of games in each competition from 16 to 12, despite every coach backing it.

If anything demonstrates the shortcomings in the ECB decision-making process it is that. Lamb and David Morgan, the ECB chairman, were not even invited to the chairmen's meeting. "We will be meeting Mike Soper, the First Class Forum chairman, next week," said Lamb. Soper, who described the merger of the two competitions as completely stupid, is also deputy chairman of the ECB. He would seem to be off-message.

The departure of Wilson, whose paper Lamb stressed was always only a discussion document, is the end of the ECB's flirtation with considering moral issues when deciding on tours. Zimbabwe, however, still haunts Lamb's waking and sleeping hours.

He and Morgan will meet the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, this week. Following the publication of Straw's letter to his Tory opposite, Michael Ancram, on Friday, they know that the Government have no intention of issuing an instruction not to tour Zimbabwe next autumn.

"Our position is that we will tour in line with the ICC's programme and we have a fiduciary duty to do so unless there are safety and security considerations," Lamb said. "This is an extremely difficult position and, yes, we are aware that we will have to batten down the hatches." A bad week? Lamb hasn't seen anything yet.

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