In an unexpected courtroom drama, deep inside London's Inner Temple, Raymond Illingworth, England's chairman of selectors, was fined pounds 2,000 yesterday and severely reprimanded by the Test and County Board's discipline committee, after comments he made in a national newspaper were found to be in breach of two Board directives.
The verdict and punishment - settled on despite of a glowing testimonial sent to the hearing by Dennis Silk, the chairman of the TCCB - took just over three hours to reach, and left Illingworth clearly dispirited and almost speechless in disbelief.
Asked whether he would still do the job if he could turn the clock back three years, Illingworth replied: "No. I wouldn't have taken the job."
It was clearly a sad day for Illingworth, who at present plans to see through his selectorial commitments for the rest of the summer. Yet, in a way, it is even sadder to witness the cricketing establishment's continued perpetuation of the old amateur versus professional divide.
If Illingworth, forever the old pro, had resigned on the spot, it would probably have been the final battle between the two. As it is, his current intention to carry on, probably means the divisiveness will dribble on into the 21st century.
However, what seems to irk Illingworth most is that the financial penalty arose from articles published in the Daily Express in May. Ironically, the fine is exactly the same amount that he imposed on Michael Atherton for the dirt in the pocket affair in 1994, a move which was widely thought to have saved the captain's job.
In the first piece, two paragraphs in which Illingworth had mildly criticised the TCCB's weak handling of Devon Malcolm's flagrant breach of contract, were singled out. While the whole of the second article, the first part of his book serialisation, was the Malcolm critique proper. A third piece, which appeared a day after the others, merely generated a reprimand - the discipline committee patronisingly stating that, but for Illingworth's contributions to English cricket, the fine would have been a lot higher.
"The committee took into account the mitigating circumstances put before them and in particular the exceptional service which Mr Illingworth has given to the game at county and international level," the statement from the committee said. "This resulted in a lower penalty than would otherwise have been imposed.
"The committee imposed a fine of pounds 2,000 in respect of the first charge, a reprimand in respect of the second and a contribution of pounds 500 towards the cost of the hearing.
"The committee indicated that note should be taken that breaches of the Board's directives relating to the making of public statements will be handled more severely in the future."
The TCCB has not handled the affair at all well. What should have been sorted out in 10 minutes, has instead rumbled on for weeks, culminating in yesterday's hearing being held at an unexpected venue that was kept secret until the last minute.
In a summer in which cricket needs all the good publicity it can get, the board, by deflecting the attention away from England's fine start on the field, has been just as prejudicial to the interests of cricket as Illingworth outspoken comments were.
Having been taken aback by his punishment, Illingworth was further distressed to hear that Nick Knight had failed a fitness test on his broken finger. That means Alec Stewart will be given another chance to open the innings, although his inclusion is thought likely to be on a short-term basis only. He clearly turned up at Lord's expecting Knight to be fit as he brought only his Surrey kit, and, when told he was playing, had to go home to fetch his England kit.
Knight, who was struck during the Edgbaston Test, was extremely disappointed to miss out. After having a net, he found he could not catch properly and rightly declared himself unavailable.Reuse content