Isolated by self-belief: Ray Illingworth

Censured and fined, the England chairman's thoughts are turning to his villa in Spain.

As the chairman of the England selectors was watching Yorkshire from the balcony at Headingley last week, he was joined by an old pal. Raymond Illingworth passed occasional, typically informed comments on proceedings in the middle - here was a batsman to watch, there was a spinner who could put it on the spot and little more - but most of the time they were talking about the times they had shared together in Spain.

The scene somehow confirmed the view of those who have known Illingworth for years - that the lure of his Mediterranean villa is rapidly beginning to assume more importance than the welfare of the England cricket team. It was mentioned more than once in Leeds, where Illingworth was doubtless assessing the Test claims of the likes of Darren Gough, David Byas and Michael Vaughan, to name but three Yorkshire players. He seemed weary of his professional duties, he was conveying, it was said, scant enthusiasm for the pre-Test selectorial meeting and dinner.

How the 64-year-old Illingworth must have longed last week for his villa and the relaxed atmosphere around it. Perhaps he even missed the tendency, which he finds wearing, of his wife, Shirley, to keep stopping and starting when the couple are out walking. The Test and County Cricket Board's disciplinary committee last week imposed a fine of pounds 2,000 plus pounds 500 costs for bringing the game into disrepute. The charge related to a newspaper serialisation of Illingworth's autobiography, One Man Committee, which contained his version of last winter's dispute with the England fast bowler, Devon Malcolm. Perhaps more humiliatingly, the chairman was also reprimanded for disclosing confidential selection matters. He did not conceal his disappointment.

It was the culmination of a controversial, intermittently successful tenure of office which began three years ago and officially has three months, four and a bit Test matches and three limited-overs internationals to go. Not even a glowing testimony from the chairman of the TCCB, Dennis Silk, could save him from a punishment, which, after a few days' reflection, still looks unnecessary and mean-spirited when compared with the reprimand issued to Malcolm.

After the verdict it was difficult, bordering on impossible, to get a comment from those who had pursued the man who played in four decades and was a hugely respected captain in three of them. Lancashire were one of those who made a formal approach to the TCCB over the alleged selection disclosures, doubtless because they felt it compromised Michael Atherton, the England captain and one of their players. But they were silent on the matter afterwards.

Derbyshire contacted the Board on behalf of Malcolm, though its chief executive, Reg Taylor, said disciplinary moves were by then already being instituted. "That's not to say if they had done nothing we wouldn't have gone further, but it was the TCCB's own procedures which led to the hearing," he said. "I think it would be inappropriate of Derbyshire to comment on the outcome not least because it's sub judice and the chairman of selectors might appeal."

Stephen Coverdale, chief executive of Northamptonshire and an articulate, skilful administrator, would say nothing, not because he played the last of his six matches for Yorkshire in 1980 when Illingworth was manager, but because he sat on the disciplinary committee.

All this relative silence was at bizarre odds with the way Illingworth has conducted affairs since he was elected to the chairman's job and later the manager's amid enormous enthusiasm. Throughout, he has been accessible, approachable, opinionated and blameless.

It is not as though the counties and through them, the Board, did not know what they were getting. There is a sentence in Illingworth's book that contains the following defence and could be a motif for his entire career: "So far as I was concerned I was absolutely and totally justified." How many times he has given that impression these past three years. But the quote is not taken from One Man Committee but from Yorkshire And Back, which he wrote 16 years ago. He was referring to an incident on the triumphant tour to Australia he had led nine years previously.

The feeling persists in some quarters that he has been hauled before the beak for the first time in his life not only because of the contents of the newspaper serialisation. That simply provided the chance to censure him for some pretty wide-ranging opinions over the past three years that have sometimes seemed to suggest that everyone but himself is at fault. He has made enemies, among them, for instance, Mike Smith, the Warwickshire chairman whom Illingworth beat to the England job and has since accused of conducting a campaign against him. (Smith has stayed resolutely silent).

There is, therefore, a certain irony in Wisden's report of the 1970 tour by Illingworth's team. "They produced a brand of team spirit," it said, "which has been equalled in the post-war years only by sides led by M J K Smith."

There was also the small matter of England's gradual decline in the winter when they eventually lost a close-fought Test series to South Africa and looked wearily dreadful and vice versa in the World Cup. The pounds 2,000 fine was almost like having his pounds 25,000 a year salary docked for indifferent performance.

Whatever he says, Illingworth has not always been right and he has been swift to change his mind when it suits. Last week he was proposing the virtues and importance of young players as though it was an original idea - this from the man who insisted on taking Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch to Australia a couple of winters back when it proved to be a tour too far for two superb players.

Perhaps he has been too free with his thoughts and opinions but nobody seriously questions his cricketing knowledge. But his friends in the game's corridors of power are suddenly few. As Philip August, the Gloucestershire chief executive, said on Friday: "The TCCB have taken the action it thought appropriate. I wouldn't say it'll be a relief when Raymond Illingworth goes. He's been slightly unfortunate. As manager you can't play for the players but if you live by the sword you die by it."

Illingworth will no doubt extract revenge. He will leave for Spain this autumn and tell his neighbours how he single-handedly fashioned the revival of English cricket.

The trials of Chairman Ray

Illingworth's first side in 1994 raised eyebrows as it included Yorkshire's Craig White and, less surprisingly, Worcestershire wicketkeeper Stephen Rhodes. Poor White was dogged by being seen as Illy's Boy. Both now out of the side.

IN the 1994 Lord's Test against South Africa a huge fuss was made about Michael Atherton rubbing soil on to the ball. Illingworth immediately fined him pounds 2000 and was not slow in claiming he had saved Atherton's job.

WHEN the England team were in Australia the winter before last, Illingworth was not there. He was in England telling sportswriters what the side was doing wrong.

THE much-vaunted Editor's Notes in last year's Wisden gave Illingworth a couple of barrels. "One began to feel that the right adjective was one that never applied to him in his playing days: amateurish."

FELLOW selector David Graveney announced in March that he would contest the chairman's role. Illy reacted with scorn until Graveney was forced to withdraw allowing the incumbent to continue - probably for six months.

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