For Marlar read radical romantic

the cricket journalist now in charge of Sussex
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The Independent Online
It is in the nature of cricket that, when the season ends the kit is locked away for another winter and thoughts of those involved return to something approaching normality. It usually lasts until about Christmas, then all hell breaks loose - somewhere.

This year the serene ambience of the South Downs has been rudely disturbed by a well publicised rumpus at Hove. Since the sacking towards the end of last season of their England A fast bowler Ed Giddins, who was found to have taken cocaine, five more senior players have left the club for various reasons, including the deposed captain, Alan Wells.

But according to one member, Robin Marlar, ex-Harrow and Cambridge, former county captain, former Sunday Times cricket correspondent, former Conservative parliamentary candidate for Bolsover and now, to his delight, chairman of Sussex, it had all been going wrong long before the Giddins affair.

"The whole thing was rotten, but it was so easy for someone of my background to repair," said the president of Marlar International, his head-hunting company, and the Marlar Group of Consultancies.

For Marlar the final straw had come in November when Danny Law, a promising young all-rounder of whom he had particularly high hopes, left Sussex to join Essex. When Tony Pigott, a former Sussex player, subsequently asked Marlar to back his attempt to overthrow the entire Sussex committee, Marlar, now 66, needed no second bidding. This was despite a serious hip operation just a couple of years ago - "I was quite ill, nearly snuffed it, so they tell me."

After a brief but bloody battle they succeeded. The employment of the 57-year-old club secretary, Nigel Betts, last spotted baring his behind for the magazine British Naturism, "is at an end", according to Marlar and, with Pigott installed as the new chief executive, peace has been restored. Whether it will be quiet, however, is another matter.

Marlar and Pigott seem an odd couple at first glance, both former Sussex players but from very different eras. Earlier this week, in the drawing room of his extensive manor house near Guildford which he shares with his beloved wife and two doting dogs, Marlar explained: "His father and I played cricket at school together, but in all the time I've been in newspapers I've never been close to any of the players.

"At one stage Tony wanted to leave Sussex early in his career - he'd been offered a job by Warwickshire. We had a long chat to find out what he really wanted, as you do, and he obviously wanted to stay where he was."

Man management is something Marlar will undoubtedly involve himself with at Hove but it is hard to believe any aspect of the club's running will be left un-Marlared. "One of the things I've been railing against for years is the complete failure of cricketing establishments to organise themselves properly, including Lord's," he said. "What we've done is put in the kind of management structure that any consultant would do in a minute. It's blindingly obvious and so simple.

"The thing's got to be run as an executive body, with someone to look after the cricket, the same as a production manager in a factory; marketing, which is absolutely crucial; and the administration - counting up the books. Classic organisation.

"My job is non-executive and I'll have to keep reminding myself and the members of the committee who are also non-executive, how they can and cannot behave. They're not going to like this, some of them.

"For instance, the first little problem we've got is the library, which is in the best office on the County Ground. The cricket office is in a Portakabin behind a sightscreen, without windows and facing the wrong way. Facing a block of flats. The cricket office! What's the bloody club for? For playing cricket. So Tony Pigott said we're going to move the cricket office and I said go ahead, go for it.

"The chief librarian, who is a lovely man and does a wonderful job, couldn't handle it and resigned. We'll make him a vice-president because he deserves it, a very important servant of the club."

Marlar has high hopes of the newly formed English Cricket Board and was quick to defend its chairman, Lord MacLaurin, a long-time acquaintance, over his recent threat to resign if the counties did not fall in with future proposals. "The ECB pays five-eighths of our revenue and they're entitled to do whatever they like. All counties should be audited from the centre. That would be a revolution in itself."

The structure of the game is, according to Marlar, of secondary importance. "You could play a whole concerto on the new ideas, it's just that every now and again one of them becomes politically correct. This latest one, two divisions, is absolute bunk."

One subject which has Marlar momentarily lost for words is one on which he is perhaps better qualified to speak than any other club chairman - the press. He intends to continue writing and as to his companions in the Press box he says, after much thought: "I think all the members of the media love their cricket. But the understanding of it, as evidenced sometimes by questions in press conferences, is enough to upset the players and is deleterious to future respect."

Despite, or perhaps because of, his own vintage Marlar is keen to stress his ideas for bringing young people into the game. "That's the real issue," he says. He intends to incorporate an under-30s management group into the Hove structure and is working on a plan to attract children of working parents into the ground during holidays.

Despite the encouraging start they have made against Northamptonshire, expectations on the playing side at Sussex will not be high this season. "Before, the attitude at the club was that you've got to win something. It's not that now, and nor should it ever be because Sussex people are not like Yorkshiremen or Lancastrians; to get beaten isn't the end of the world. To play well is the objective. If you play well and lose, that's not a disgrace. I don't mind that."

And for the time being Marlar, who could perhaps be described as a radical romantic, "couldn't be more pleased" with life. "For a captain to be a cricket journalist for 42 years and then finish up as chairman of the club, even for a year, it's just a dream, absolute dream."

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