Warning of fool's paradise

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THE man at the head of English cricket warned yesterday that the game "will die" in this country if the lessons of England's World Cup humiliation are not heeded. "If our national team keeps going in the way it has been going, then our game will die," Dennis Silk, chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board, said. "All we'll have left will be village and club cricket."

Many people involved in running the game at county level "have been living in a fool's paradise", Silk said. "Everyone must realise that England comes first. County cricket is just not going to keep the game going in this country. County clubs live at present off Test match revenues. It's not much fun at the moment, but if the counties don't start putting England first then we'll soon be in a sorry state."

Ray Illingworth, whose contract as chairman of selectors and team manager are up at the end of March, was absolved of blame. "I don't think this World Cup exit is Ray Illingworth's fault," Silk said. "England have been on a serious downward spiral for a long time now. I just hope that the events of today and of the past few weeks will start to concentrate people's minds."

In Silk's view, the working party set up last week under Essex chairman David Acfield to study the England set-up is long overdue. "I think what we need is an honest debate and an honest assessment of how best to improve the England team," he said.

Silk acknowledged the disparity between Sri Lanka's international standing and their form in the World Cup. "It should be salutary for us to remember that England has turned its back on Sri Lanka quite often over the years, refusing to play many Tests against them for instance," he said. "But, if you ignore people like that, you suddenly wake up and find it is you at the foot of the pile.

"The bottom line is that now it should be evident to everyone that we have to start at the very beginning again if we want to prepare our players for international cricket."