Maverick man Clarke set to shake things up at ECB

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The Independent Online

The next 18 months at Lord's are unlikely to be dull following the imminent appointment of Giles Clarke as the England and Wales Cricket Board's new chairman. Clarke defeated Mike Soper yesterday in the second ballot for the chairmanship – in the tied first ballot each won nine votes – by 12 votes to six and will succeed David Morgan, who has become president of the International Cricket Council, once his nomination is approved by the full membership on 10 October.

The Somerset chairman will serve the ECB until March 2009, when the voting process will take place again. Soper, who failed to win a third attempt to become chairman, is unlikely to stand again after subsequently resigning from his position as deputy chairman, a role he occupied for five years. Soper would probably have been the safer option but Clarke promises to bring greater dynamism and turn the ECB into a harder-headed business unit.

Clarke, 53, is something of a maverick, an attitude that has no doubt been influenced by his success in the business world. His forthright views and confidence, along with a belligerent and slightly arrogant demeanour, will inevitably upset a few of the more sensitive souls in cricket, but he will not shy away from making big and possibly contentious decisions. Clarke will represent English cricket's interest at the ICC and is unlikely to be bullied by other strong characters present at meetings.

Clarke was educated at Rugby School and Oxford University before starting up Majestic Wine Warehouses in 1981, a company he sold for around £15m eight years later. He also co-founded Pet City and Safestone plc and has acted as the chief executive of the recruitment firm Stepstone. Despite his wealth, Clarke is still an active and busy man. He has been the Somerset chairman since 2003 and was due to oversee the redevelopment of Taunton's County Ground, and is the chairman of ATL Telecom, a telephone manufacturing company.

Within months of arriving at Somerset, Clarke was invited to head the ECB marketing committee and was responsible for negotiating the controversial £220m deal with Sky during the winter of 2004-05. The agreement, which took cricket off terrestrial television, led to him being pilloried by cricket fans around the country. The fears that the decision would result in interest in cricket falling do not appear to have materialised.

Monty Panesar has never appeared for England on terrestrial television yet he holds iconic status and Twenty20 cricket has become a huge phenomenon even though it is only shown on Sky. Yet it was a £40m five-year deal that Clarke struck with ESPN Star Sports, Asia's number one sports broadcaster, at the end of August that prompted several counties to switch their allegiances after the first round of voting. The deal will allow ESPN to broadcast the ECB's domestic and home internationals across the huge cricket-loving continent of Asia.

It is believed the majority of Clarke's votes would have come from the non-Test playing grounds, who he has promised to look after while in charge. Team England, it appears, have their slice of the cake and the extra money that comes into the game looks set to be distributed further down the pyramid.

"I think the most important thing is proper leadership at all levels, to look to improve the finances of cricket both at first-class level and in the recreational game," said Clarke. "Our income is increasing significantly. The recent Asian broadcasting deal, which I negotiated, will bring in £40m, which is a very significant sum for cricket.

"We are spending a lot of money already on the England national side and on the management of the game. We do not need to spend any more on that and that should provide more funds for better facilities, better grounds for spectators in the first-class and international game."

Clarke believes that one-day cricket, and in particular floodlit cricket, has a major role to play.

He said: "It is very important for the game to understand what the spectators want to watch, when they want to watch it and how long they want to watch it for because we should at all times be reacting to the changes in society."