Silk cuts his ties after a smooth reign

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Dennis Silk cares passionately about cricket and cricketers. It is perhaps as well to establish this since he is, for a few more weeks, chairman of the TCCB and before that was president of the MCC. Recent and maybe long-ago tradition dictates that the overwhelming qualification for these posts is less an appreciation for whether the ball has been tampered with than if the gin and tonic has been doctored.

Now, Dennis Silk is probably partial to a G & T. Indeed, during an edifying chat last week he made arrangements with a chum to have a large one sometime at the Lord's Test. This should fool nobody, least of all those - if it may be said without risk of a libel writ winging its way in this direction - who dismiss Silk and ilk as gin swigging dodderers.

He is both traditionalist in his approach to the MCC and radical in his approach to the way the game should be played. He is steadfastly loyal and has been unswerving in his support of and admiration for Raymond Illingworth. He is a genuinely good bloke who has now begun his last Test series as the overall boss.

"If I have a regret it is that there is still no national academy for our best young cricketers," he said. "The county academies are essential, too, but surely the best of the elite can be developed so much better at a centre. South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka all have them. Areas like technique, fitness, nutrition could be explored. It seems self-evident."

Silk will depart in October. Nominations for the job - and he will not be among them - close this week. Without his saying so it is easy to receive the impression that he wishes the poor fellow well in an impossible task. Not that all is lost.

"Raymond has been good for England," he said. He has played for so long and knows so much and always has been ready to offer a view. This was not about to change. David Lloyd has been excellent, too, but in terms of international ideas other countries have very little to learn from us, we have a great deal to learn from them."

Silk did not have quite what might be perceived as the conventional background of Lord's mandarins. He was born in Eureka, California, the second son of a medical missionary on an Indian reservation in the Sierra Nevada desert. His Spanish mother (his second name is Raoul) died when he was five and the five children of the family returned to England. He learned his infant cricket about a mile up the road from Lord's where he later scored centuries in two successive Varsity matches.

Silk became a teacher and then headmaster who played county cricket for Somerset in August. But it is with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy that he talks about the game. The perk he enjoys most of being TCCB head honcho is attending the England team's eve of Test dinners.

He thinks the MCC, if not the TCCB, is done a disservice by those who do not realise how many young players it encourages and nurtures from all manner of backgrounds. Sometimes, he suggested with a twinkle, it might be envy on the part of people who weren't members.

As he prepares to leave office it should probably be mentioned that you wouldn't agree with everything he says. ("Do you know," he said, "that there are 64 people on the TCCB, they've all got different opinions and all think they're right which is the beauty of the game.") But you would agree with him more than you ever dared think and in more than two hours we had nothing stronger than coffee.

Presumably, Jason Gallian was much too bemused to care but his unfortunate achievement last week in becoming the second man to score a treble hundred and end up on the losing side at least afforded an opportunity to recall Charles Augustus Ollivierre.

It was not that Ollivierre was the first beaten triple centurion, rather that he was the man who engineered the defeat. After Percy Perrin scored 343 for Essex in July 1904 Ollivierre then replied with 229 and 92 not out. Derbyshire won by eight wickets.

That was Ollivierre's finest hour but his other enduring claim to fame is that he was the first West Indian player in county cricket. He came across from St Vincent with the first Caribbean touring team in 1900 and stayed.

It has been pointed out that last week's Olympians' Cricket XI included none of those who actually took part in the Games's only cricket competition in 1900. This is because the 24 players who participated on the England and France sides, all of them English, contained just two with first-class experience, which amounted to eight games between them.

Yorkshire and Somerset were eminently sensible in belatedly rearranging the start of their Championship match. It saves vast journeys for both tomorrow with NatWest quarter-finals the following day. Essex, however, produced a full-throttle performance to beat Durham in the gloaming last night and save themselves the trouble of having to make a forced march from Hartlepool to Southampton.

One-man stand

Peter Hartley, unheralded long-serving Yorkshire seamer, who has never once begrudged the fame so swifly bestowed on Darren Gough and now may shortly also be overshadowed by Chris Silverwood, was rapturously applauded off by both when he took 5 for 57 the other day. It said much for the esteem in which he is held by his young colleagues. As the 36- year-old beneficiary said: "We've got some good seam bowlers and batsmen in form. We will sustain this Championship challenge." But that was in June, 1995.