Why counties must put England first

Tim Curtis, chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association, says the Acfield Report is a step in the right direction
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The Independent Online
The Acfield Report is not an awe-inspiring document. This should not be seen as a criticism of the luminaries in the working party: more that there was actually not that much which could be done to improve the management of English cricket.

One essential fact was grasped, however, which was that this management must be free from the sometime parochial interests and influence of the first-class counties. Hence their cornerstone recommendation of an England Management Committee to run all aspects of England's international cricket. To quote from the report: "The working party recommends that the EMC be delegated by the TCCB [Test and County Cricket Board] to decide on and implement all aspects of the selection, management and administration of England teams."

Autonomy for the EMC is essential if it is to work. It is the sort of power which I believe Raymond Illingworth and Ted Dexter both sought and which often comes with an authority of one. Yet the working party recognised the inherent difficulties of this dictatorial approach and instead opted for a committee, but one which could be autocratic in its powers because of its independence from the TCCB. It would have "delegated" powers for "all aspects".

Now we find, however, that on the point which most players would regard as the most important, the TCCB have clipped this new committee's wings. The chairman of the EMC will not have the right to withdraw players from county matches if he deems it necessary.

Dominic Cork will continue to average playing two days out of three throughout the year while his Australian counterpart, Glenn McGrath, will play only one out of three.

Our own experience at Worcester this year does not help my argument, in that Graeme Hick's omission from our line-up for one game did not lead to renewed and refreshed success for him. However, Worcester, in an enlightened manner, recognised the pre-eminence of the national side. Only if this spirit proliferates will we bridge this county versus country divide and improve our national team's chances of success.

Other aspects of the report address this same central problem of club pulling in the opposite direction from country. I am delighted to see in the report that, while the TCCB will continue to nominate candidates to sit on the various committees and act as selectors, the EMC retains the right to select from outside these nominations. This, combined with the payment of selectors, should ensure the best possible people are involved. It is not simply a question of people being put forward who have served their time in a county administration and deserve a chance or who, through being retired or personal financial circumstances, have the time and opportunity to fulfil such roles. The basis for selection for these crucial roles will be broadened and quality should emerge as the determining factor.

Further to this, the continuity of the EMC's selection process between Under-19, 'A' and full England teams should improve matters greatly, particularly in the 'A' team where too often it seems local county favourites have been rewarded after a good season. Again, the county interests, a pat on the back for having done well, come before a hard-headed, forward thinking approach to selection and management.

In this question of selection and the central concept of a management committee the Acfield Report grasps a significant nettle. In other areas it is notably woolly, spawning four committees to implement its various plans, and I would not have thought that the process for selecting the England scorer for each tour worthy of quite so much debate.

Perhaps the wooliness was an attempt to disguise and slip through the crucial point of the independence of the EMC. It didn't work. The TCCB's refusal to allow the EMC ultimate powers is disappointing evidence that the differences between club and country will continue to undermine our international efforts.

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