Leading Article: For once, the right men are in the right jobs

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The Independent Online
IT COULD be a trend. The appointment of Ray Illingworth as the chairman of the England cricket selectors, coming after that of Terry Venables as England's football coach, means that two men widely considered the best possible choice have actually been appointed to important jobs. To emphasise the point, the England football team beat Denmark on Wednesday, and played imaginatively in doing so. England's game may at last be emerging from its long crisis, and Mr Illingworth could pull off the same miracle with England's no less benighted cricketing reputation.

Profoundly different though the Dagenham Renaissance man is from the Yorkshire cricketer and former England captain, they have much in common. Both are professionals with all the right experience, clear-minded, tactically astute, excellent communicators, and non-Establishment figures. They are perhaps rare in possessing so many qualities widely seen to equip them outstandingly well for notoriously difficult roles. In some fields, notably politics, public expectations are nowadays so high that a single person can scarcely hope to be widely regarded as an ideal choice. Jack Kennedy seemed ideally gifted. In retrospect, his achievements - cut short by assassination - seem slight. By contrast, President Truman and our post-war Labour prime minister Clement Attlee proved very effective leaders, even though superficially not much less ordinary than John Major.

Looking at those who today hold prominent non-political posts in public life, there are clear examples of round pegs in round holes. Richard Eyre, for example, has been a great success as artistic director of the National Theatre. More unexpectedly, the former journalist Neil MacGregor has proved an inspired director of the National Gallery. The Venables/Illingworth equivalent at the BBC would have been John Tusa, but John Birt got the job. The success of his controversial shake-up cannot yet be assessed.

Too often in life compromise candidates win through against better-qualified competitors. Bureaucratic selectors choose those in their own image who will not upset them. Those who are ordinary are unlikely to choose someone extraordinary. Cricket and football are fortunate that for once that cycle has been broken.