ENGLISH CRICKET IN CRISIS: THE AGENDA FOR CHANGE

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The Independent Online
Another winter, another humiliation, another inquest: English cricket is used to soul-searching as it prepares for the summer. This year, however, the reality is starker than ever, for we have just seen the state of English cricket ruthlessly measured against the rest of the world's Test-playing nations in the World Cup, and it was found desperately wanting. What is more, almost any league table of international Test cricket would leave the game's founding father in eighth place out of nine - and we have yet to play Zimbabwe.

In the World Cup the nation's best, well-paid, fully professional cricketers looked woefully uninspired. The batting was brittle, limited and blinkered; the bowling was benign and lacking variety; the fielding was slovenly; and the tactics were simply light-years behind.

The authorities have responded predictably by setting up a working party, which will report later this year. Meanwhile, the Test and County Cricket Board meets tomorrow to discuss the team manager's position. The job was filled this winter by Ray Illingworth, who has also been chairman of selectors and is set to start a new six-month term in that role after his only rival, David Graveney, withdrew from the contest.

Having said he would be responsible for England's performances, should Illingworth's contract be renewed when the first-class counties meet tomorrow? Should the jobs of chairman of selectors and team manager be filled by one man?

Or are the problems deeper? Is the structure of the game in England right? Should overseas players be banned? Is coaching in schools good enough?

In the first of a major two-part investigation into the state of our national summer game, we canvassed the opinions of leading figures throughout the cricket world on the issues facing the sport.

MIKE DENNESS

Former Kent and England captain (28 caps) and current ICC referee

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

I am not in favour of a two-tier Championship. A breakaway elite might improve their standard, but I can see counties going to the wall. If a side containing Test players is relegated, will those players stay? I think not, and that the counties with money would be after them. A free- for-all transfer system would not be to the game's advantage.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

Worldwide, there is an enormous amount of Test and one-day international cricket. Domestically, there is too much limited-overs cricket. I think it is right to have a 50-over competition, because that is the World Cup format. I think the 60-over game can be very good as well. My view is the Sunday League should go.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

Things can always be improved. We need different types of coaches and a grading system. One person may be excellent with eight to 10-year- olds, but not so good with the critical 16 to 20-year-olds when they need a teacher to iron out faults.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

Yes. But large staffs have become something of an evil borne of necessity because of the increasing amount of injury to players.

Are there are too many overseas players?

Not now. Providing you get the right overseas player; Warwickshire is a good example where their players must have benefited from having Allan Donald and then Brian Lara around.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

No. I don't think it has worked. The supremo situation, combining the roles, just did not work. He could stay on as chairman of selectors as long as he stops at picking the side.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

I think I'd plump for David Graveney as chairman of selectors, not as supremo. And then as coach/manager, John Emburey comes to mind after seeing how well he went down on the England A tour. Phil Neale has not done badly with the A team either.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

I would have a chairman and either three selectors, of which the captain was not one, or two other selectors plus the captain. I would probably look to an umpire too.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

Yes, in the overall context of captaincy, I'm quite happy with him. But I feel he may not wish to carry on. If he does go, there is no ready- made candidate there, although Jack Russell appears to have captained Gloucestershire successfully, and did very well with the bat.

GREG CHAPPELL

Former Australian captain

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

I've seen nothing in the past 20 years to indicate there's been any improvement in the English system. Australian cricket is a highly competitive pressure cooker; England has a clubby, antiquated and almost feudal system, with many professionals playing on in the hope that after 10 years they will receive a benefit that might give them enough to retire.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

There has to be a restructuring of English cricket. Leave the County Championship and have a more elite competition on top of that. What's the present aim? To run the County Championship or produce Test players?

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

The less structured countries are the ones that produce the most exiting players: they allow the flair to come through. Graeme Hick would have been a better player had he played Test cricket at 19, before ingrained habits developed.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

Cricket in Australia is still not seen as a career. Having a career outside the game always helped me maintain my freshness and intensity.

Are there are too many overseas players?

I don't think that overseas players are a problem - as long as they are of top quality - because it improves the competition.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

The manager has a minimal effect if the structure is wrong.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

Whoever becomes the England manager will be handicapped by the system.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

You're attacking the problem from the wrong end. If the business is not viable, the best management in the world won't make any difference.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

The best England captains I saw were Ray Illingworth and Mike Brearley. But if you put them in charge now, they'd probably be no more successful than Mike Atherton.

DAVID LLOYD

Lancashire and England Under-19 coach

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

We need fewer but more competitive Championship matches; how we achieve it is the question. Old players will tell you how much more cricket they played than do today's professionals but there have been times in recent summers when I've seen our lads mentally and physically knackered. Different times, different stresses. I like the idea of two divisions but I can see the complications.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

If the implication is that we are playing too much one-day cricket, I reject that totally. The World Cup has demonstrated that one-day play has now become a science, a challenge to brain and body. As a coach I am delighted that I can now turn to my young bowlers and demonstrate that they have to pitch the ball up and swing it, or they have to really spin it. Easy wickets on green tops have gone forever. Watch for the return of the leg cutter.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

No. We do it brilliantly. Technically we are the envy of the rest of the world and our record at under-17 and under-19 level bears that out. We can do a lot more; educating lads in a better lifestyle is one priority.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

Probably. The system at most clubs does tend to get clogged up.

Are there are too many overseas players?

I think one per club is fair. I would be in favour of doing without altogether but I can understand that some clubs feel one is necessary to keep public interest and for marketing.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

I have never believed it fair to comment in public on a man in a job.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

It's not appropriate for me to answer that.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

No comment.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

Absolutely; Mike must stay. He has a job to do. It's unfinished and knowing him he will want to finish it. He's a great player and tactically sound. What he needs to do is to smile a bit more. I've told him that often enough. Sometimes you have to smile, and smile like an assassin.

GEOFF ARNOLD

Former England fast bowler who has coached England and Surrey. Part of the coaching team for England Under 17s and 19s

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

The first-class game should stay as it is, but it should be played on better pitches. I think they should try to get the cup competitions out of the way earlier. Ideally, all one-day competitions should be 50 overs. I would drop the Sunday League, even though I know people enjoy watching it. I maintain that you just need a bowling machine at the other end in the Sunday League.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

Yes, there is definitely too much cricket being played. It doesn't give enough time for coaching. Players get stale. There is not enough fitness. I do not subscribe to the school of thought that you bowl to get fit. You get fit to do the job. And rest is an important element of fitness.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

It is always improving and at the moment at Under-15, -17 and -19 levels England are in good hands. There have been innovations - a baseball thrower was called in to help with their throwing skills. We introduced the Under-19s to a sports psychologist.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

Yes. Staff should be reduced to 17, 18 or 19. At the moment they all want three-year contracts, but I think one-year contracts will come back in.

Are there are too many overseas players?

Yes. I am convinced that they should be out of the game. I think counties do get something out of them, but they have to be top players.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

No. There is no way he should do either job.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

I think the chairman of selectors should be a player in the twilight of his career, Mike Gatting, or Dermot Reeve, someone like that. As for manager, I would go for Micky Stewart, but I am biased. Perhaps Keith Fletcher, except I can't see them going back to either of them. I think there are older players with good views on the game.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

There should be a supremo, with two or three selectors. I don't think the captain should select. We should follow the Australians, otherwise there is a danger of the captain picking his mates.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

Yes. I have nothing against the man as a player and there is nothing to suggest that Athers should not be captain.

PAUL PARKER

Former Sussex and England batsman, now teaching at Tonbridge School in Kent and coaching cricket

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

Four-day cricket for the Championship is good, but I would consider splitting it into two divisions to give players a more competitive edge. The four-day game has an advantage, especially if it is going to continue to be played on covered wickets. In its present format it has encouraged more attacking cricket.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

Yes, far too much. The number of county games should be cut drastically. First, by splitting the Championship into two divisions, and then by having just one game between sides. Also drop one, or even two, one-day competitions. I think the Sunday League could be regional. There is room for a knock- out competition.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

It is a matter of seeking quality over quantity. There is also an element of over-coaching: the kids are playing far too much cricket. Overall, judging by the number of people now playing cricket in this country, the game has never been healthier.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

Yes, far too many. We should reduce the size of staffs to perhaps 12 professionals.

Are there are too many overseas players?

No. But we have tended in the past to put overseas players on a pedestal. There is no doubt that teams benefit, you just have to look at Warwickshire.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

No, I don't think so. It's not worked, let's have someone else.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

Let's have John Barclay as chairman of selectors. As far as manager or coach, it comes down to who is available. Phil Neale has done well with the A team. But then John Emburey worked well with the A team in Pakistan this winter. However, he has not had much experience. Neither, mind you, has Dermot Reeve, and if he is available, let's go for it.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

I don't know. They have tried so many different things. It would appear to be about right. The captain has a say in selection, which has to be right.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

I don't see who else there is. Let's stay with him. He's led from the front with the bat.

EDDIE BARLOW

Former South African captain, who also captained Derbyshire and was senior coach at Gloucs

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

There are too many games. Players get bored. There is too little time for recovery. Nowhere in the world is there such an intense domestic competition as the County Championship. When I was coaching Gloucestershire there was no time for everybody to sit back and take stock, because there was another game the following day.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

Yes. There are certainly too many one-day competitions. There is too much of a concentration of activity for top players. I would drop anything that did not match the requirements of the World Cup. What you want is a carbon copy of Tests and to try to duplicate the format of the World Cup.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

The number one issue is not technique, it is attitude. There is a hell of a lot of quality in the England side, so I don't think you have to change the system, but you have to get the players' attitudes right.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

Some are nice guys; they're not going to become world-class players, but are doing a fine job for their county.

Are there are too many overseas players?

I am totally opposed to overseas players. There have been some wonderful players, they performed superbly, but they haven't improved English cricket.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

I have not given it a lot of thought. I'd rather keep out of that. I am too far away from it.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

No idea. No comment.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

No idea. No comment.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

Atherton was a wonderful captain in the second Test in Johannesburg, then there was the rumpus with Devon Malcolm and suddenly he is a bad captain... the criticism was unfair, irrational. He is quite capable of getting England going again.

KIM BARNETT

Derbyshire and England. Former Derbyshire captain

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

None at all. We have been down this road so many times. I cannot believe that the county system is to blame for any decline in the national team.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

No. I think we were playing too many Championship matches but that has now come into balance. I'm not in favour of abandoning any one-day competition.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

By engaging them full-time. So many say goodbye in September and return in March no better than when they left. Those who go overseas only benefit if they play first-class cricket. Those who go to club cricket often come back worse than when they left.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

Yes. There ought to be a limit of 16-18 per county and the second team should contain players of 16 years upwards.

Are there are too many overseas players?

No. The question was relevant when there were two or more per county but with only one per team, there is plenty of opportunity for the dedicated youngster.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

Raymond has to take the ultimate responsibility as the supremo and as he will not be touring next winter, and his contract is finished, I see no point in his carrying on.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

John Emburey. He has all the qualifications. He is a Test cricketer of high repute, he has played in a successful side, he has experience of captaincy, a good cricket brain, innovative ideas and he is a good communicator. Also, he is only just coming to the end of his playing career, so he is very much in touch with the modern game.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

None. We supported Raymond Illingworth's appointment. We think it is right that one man should be in charge.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

In that the onus, win or lose, lay with the manager, Mike Atherton can be regarded as only partly responsible for any failings this winter. He is a fine player, a learning captain and in the absence of an outstanding contender he remains our best candidate.

CHRIS HASSELL

Yorkshire chief executive

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

I would like to see two divisions with automatic one up and one down promotion and relegation but with a play-off (matches played to a finish at the end of the summer) between the next four clubs finishing bottom and top of the two divisions; that way interest would be high right through the summer.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

No. Two divisions could reduce the schedule in the Championship. I don't want to lose a one-day competition. We need the Benson and Hedges to spark early interest and it is through the Sunday League that we market the game to the kids and the public at large.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

In Yorkshire we are concentrating on the preparation of young players with some success.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

No. Like water, employment of professional cricketers finds its own level.

Are there are too many overseas players?

Yorkshire would prefer none at all but we can understand that many counties want an overseas star and we can live with one per club.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

Yes. He should certainly remain chairman of selectors until we have had chance to consider the Acfield Report.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

Hard to say. There are very few outstanding candidates.

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

The captain should choose his own coach and the chairman of selectors should be an elder statesman who can act as a sounding board. I do not see the need for a manager.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

Definitely. He has had a difficult time and he is not perfect - no one is - but with help he can get it right.

DEAN JONES

Former Australian batsman and new captain of Derbyshire

What changes should be made to the County Championship?

The points system in the Championship should be changed to encourage more attractive cricket, although it will depend on the captains. We play more for results in the Sheffield Shield, and less for draws.

Do you think we play too much cricket, and if so, where should changes be made?

I'm dubious about the real priority of players and administrators in England - is it to play county cricket or play for England? Right from juniors in Australia, playing for your country is No 1. I think the counties and the TCCB must work more closely on priorities, even if it means county players missing a couple of games. I'd also like to see fewer Championship games, and a knock -out for the top teams.

How can the coaching of young players be improved?

Coaching depends on the senior players. That's the great thing in Australia: there are so many good senior players willing to help young players. Some of the old players in England seemed worried about the young ones coming through.

Are there are too many full-time professional cricketers?

No, there aren't too many professional cricketers.

Are there are too many overseas players?

I don't think that professional players are a problem.

Should Raymond Illingworth continue as England's team manager and chairman of selectors?

If the team is losing, then everyone has got to be looked at, right up to the administrators. It is no good pointing a finger at the manager.

If his contract is not renewed, who would you like to see replace him?

The biggest problem for England is team spirit. Ian Botham would be great as coach, telling the players how important it is playing for England, and working with them. Wether you like him or not, he wins. If England wins, Lord's would be happy, wouldn't they?

Is the England management structure right? If not, what changes would you make?

It is important you have a coach that you can talk freely with, who is not also a selector. I'd like to see Ian Botham as coach and David Graveney as chairman of selectors.

Should Michael Atherton continue as England captain? If not, who should replace him?

I think Mike has done a good job but he needs help - from the coach.

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