Graveney train comes off rails

close-up; David Graveney; A messy withdrawal from the race to become chairman has added to cricket's amateur air.
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The Independent Online
IT WAS all doubtless an unfortunate misunderstanding, but somehow it embodied the sad state of English cricket. When David Graveney, the secretary of the Professional Cricketers' Association, withdrew from the ballot to decide the chairman of selectors amid confusion and some little rancour late last week the inference was easy to draw. Not only are England incapable of picking a winning team, they are also completely hopeless at deciding who should select the bunch of losers in the first place.

Graveney, a selector for a single season after a long and worthy career with three counties as a left-arm spin bowler, was perhaps a surprise challenger for Ray Illingworth's job. He had the seemingly essential virtues of being young (43 actually, but still only a season into retirement), close to the players, sensible and vastly knowledgeable.

Seeking testimonials about his worthiness for the post before he pulled out was to be confronted with a blanket of tributes. Geoff Cook, the Durham manager who hired Graveney as the county's first captain when they were elevated to the Championship, said he was a deep thinker about the game and a skilful communicator. Paul Parker, the former Sussex captain who played under Graveney at Durham, spoke of his unflappability, his balanced thinking and his care for the game and those under him.

The former England opening batsman Chris Broad was, less expectedly, equally glowing. "I had a couple of fall-outs with him when we were both at Gloucestershire and he was captain [Broad left the county] but he has tremendous knowledge and a relaxed, laid-back attitude. He'd be a good chairman."

But a lurking threat to Graveney's candidacy was his full-time job as secretary of the Professional Cricketers' Association, and the conflict that there could have been with becoming chairman of selectors, which is not automatically a paid post. He might have been forced to represent a player for a disciplinary lapse and censure him at the same hearing. Both the player and the county most vociferous in backing him, Warwickshire (though Surrey also nominated him), denied there would be any clash of interests.

However, Graveney never formally approached his employers to tell them of his nomination. The chairman of the PCA, the Worcestershire captain, Tim Curtis, heard the unfolding story about his secretary's likely challenge to Illingworth in the same way as most people, through reports in the papers.

"I picked up something early in the week, probably on Monday," Curtis said. "My county chairman [Duncan Fearnley] told me what was going on. But what was being written in the papers was my only other source of information. David didn't approach me about the nomination. We still hadn't discussed it when the nomination was officially announced."

Phone calls followed between Curtis and other PCA officers such as Jack Bannister, the organisation's president, and then between Curtis and Graveney. By this time Graveney was in Florida, on holiday visiting his father.

The day before flying out, saying that he was honoured to be nominated and did not see the ballot as a head-to-head with Illingworth, whom he had been privileged to serve with as a selector, Graveney had added with a laugh: "It's wonderful to be going on holiday at this time of the year. Having been allowed to retire from playing, at last I can get away from the game in April for the first time."

His holiday was to be interrupted by Curtis informing him that he should withdraw his name from the ballot or, presumably, resign as PCA secretary. Graveney, apologetic for any upset he may have caused, pulled out of the ballot late on Friday afternoon.

Warwickshire, whose spokesmen throughout the week had been denying any possibility of a clash of interests and had introduced a note of barnstorming electioneering to the proceedings, suddenly had no senior officials available for comment. Dennis Amiss, the chief executive, was on his way north for a social engagement, the county chairman MJK Smith was said to be "unavailable unfortunately".

It was left to Amiss's personal assistant, Keith Cook, to field calls. "We didn't have an inkling about it until Friday morning," he said. "It's fair to say we're surprised and extremely disappointed." Others were more disappointed in Warwickshire's behaviour. Curtis, for one, felt they had rushed through Graveney's nomination and that he had "been used a little bit".

It would seem that Graveney was not the first choice of some counties to confront Illingworth. John Barclay, England's assistant manager on their winter tours, was diplomatic as ever but confirmed: "It's fairly common knowledge that a county or two approached me in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup. Though it's an honour to be asked, I immediately declined."

Barclay probably did so because he was unwilling to stand against Illingworth with whom, as he said: "I had a very good working relationship for four months and welded together I hope extremely well."

Not the least interesting aspect of the months ahead will be to see if Illingworth is similarly loyal to Barclay when it finally comes to choosing his successor. As the aborted election campaign hotted up last week the wily 63-year-old Yorkshireman had cast aspersions on Graveney's credentials to be chairman because he had never played for England. Nor did Barclay.

The upshot of the ballot's abandonment is that Illingworth has been reappointed chairman unopposed, though only for six months. By then the Acfield Report on the future selection of England teams will be out.

This is nothing new. As recently as 1989, the TCCB "voted to change significantly the process by which the England team is selected". Nor is one of their likely recommendations - a young, in-touch chairman -exactly novel. In the early Fifties men still playing the game were chairmen and when Doug Insole was appointed in 1965 he was 38.

Whoever eventually succeeds Illingworth - and indeed Illingworth himself - may like to know that the counties are as concerned about the apparent joylessness of England's cricket as much as their defeats. One of the more respected county secretaries said: "I've had long chats with three or four established players. All were deeply disappointed at how their profession was represented by England this winter."

Throughout last week as Graveney and Illingworth squared up to each other, one name was repeatedly mentioned as having an essential motivating role to play in England's future. And if future ballots are to be conducted in the style of US presidential elections then, as a team captain on A Question of Sport, Ian Botham has the perfect soap box.

Post-war chairmen of selectors

1946 Sir Stanley Jackson Aged 75 when appointed. Yorkshire president, former brilliant all-rounder and England captain.

1947-49 Jack Holmes 47. Sussex batsman who did not play for England but was proposed as captain of the cancelled MCC tour of India in 1939-40.

1950 Bob Wyatt 49. Ex-England captain, still captain of Worcs when appointed.

1951-52 Norman Yardley 36. Captained England in 14 Tests. Yorks captain until 1955.

1953 Freddie Brown 42. England captain, 15 Tests; final season as Northants captain.

1954 Harry Altham 65. MCC treasurer, Winchester School coach, played for Hants.

1956-61 Gubby Allen, 54. Fast bowler, former England captain who played in 25 Tests and became MCC treasurer and president.

1962-64 Walter Robins 55. Leg-spinning Middlesex all-rounder who played 19 Tests; also inside-forward with Nottingham Forest.

1965-68 Doug Insole 38. Former Essex batsman; nine Tests; FA Amateur Cup finalist with Corinthian Casuals, 1956.

1969-81 Alec Bedser 50. Great Surrey and England seam bowler (51 Tests); longest serving, much-criticised, dutiful chairman whose era now seems like a golden age.

1982-88 Peter May 52. Exceptional former England captain and batsman; 66 Tests.

1989-93 Ted Dexter 53. Cavalier former Test captain and batsman in 62 matches; unsuccessful chairman.

1994- Ray Illingworth 61. Oldest chairman for 40 years. Outstanding Ashes winning captain who played in 61 Tests.