On the Front Foot: In the corridors of power and uncertainty, Clarke stands firm

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The Independent Online

Giles Clarke is probably accustomed to the flak. He might or might not have expected or deserved the criticism directed at him in the past few days when the deal he struck on behalf of the England and Wales Cricket Board with Sir Allen Stanford appeared to be unravelling. As the ECB's chairman, he is slow neither to express an opinion nor to pass judgement. Clarke was almost certainly far too smug about the five-year contract with the Texan multi-billionaire and should have ensured greater discretion in the way it was announced (a helicopter landing at Lord's indeed) and in the manner in which the $20 million Twenty20 match in Antigua was conducted. Whatever your view on the commercial aspects, it was all slightly tacky. But there was no evidence that Stanford was about to renege on the deal in the speculative reports following his decision to release from his payroll 10 Caribbean legends. Indeed, when he eventually felt impelled to issue a statement in response to the allegations, he denied he was severing links. His grouse was not with the ECB but with the West Indies Cricket Board, and he would not be the first to be frustrated by their incompetence. By his nature, Clarke will upset almost as many people as he pleases, and this column has enjoyed several spats with him, in not all of which he has behaved with decorum. But although he may like the kudos the job brings, his heart is in cricket. He has renewed his attack on the BBC's disgraceful attitude to televising cricket and has announced an ECB summit on Test cricket's future, both admirable things. A loose band has been formed to prevent him being re-elected next spring. So far, they have yet to find a plausible candidate to stand against him – let alone one who would win and be any good at what is an increasingly vexatious job. By building such a slender case, his opponents are strengthening his hand and he may yet, as he confidently (and not a little smugly) predicted to this column a while back, be returned to his post unopposed.

Twenty20 – for a tenner

Events of the past week have hardly smoothed the path for the establishment of the England Premier League. This Twenty20 competition, an addition to the one already existing here, begins to look increasingly unwieldy and unattractive. It will be tough to find sponsors, too, and after the withdrawal last week from the game of Vodafone and the uncertainty over the continued involvement of either npower or NatWest, it will be tougher still. The signing of the new £300m TV deal with Sky, much berated in some quarters, who oddly still perceive the BBC to be models of rectitude, probity and organisation, begins to look like a masterstroke.

Can Cook convert doubters?

Alastair Cook has ceased to be the golden boy. Not turning enough starts into proper innings is the common observation, and indeed he has failed to convert any of his last seven fifties into hundreds. But it's worth pointing out that Cook is younger by 470 days than any other England batsman to have made as many Test runs (2,634 before this current Test).

Fixtures unstuck

The 2009 fixtures are out. At last. The delay was caused by not knowing who the first tourists of the summer would be. It is extremely complicated. The County Championship, which is now worth £500,000 to the winners, starts on 15 April, stops on 9 May, then resumes on 6 June until 21 June, when it is suspended again until 30 June. Then it staggers to a finish on 26 September. Can hardly wait.

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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