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June 2008
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John Stern: Tim Lamb back at Lord’s

June 26th, 2008 by John Stern in England

Of all the days to run into Tim Lamb. It was Wednesday evening, at Lord’s, the occasion a party to celebrate the 100th issue of the Observer Sport Monthly magazine. Only a few hours earlier, the ECB, of which Lamb had been chief executive until 2004, had announced they were cutting ties with Zimbabwe. I couldn’t resist.

After a few pleasantries, I slipped in the predictable question about Zimbabwe - what had he made of the day’s momentous announcement? It would be inappropriate to quote chapter and verse. It was a social occasion, I wasn’t taking notes and in any case I can’t remember exactly what was said. But the words wry smile do come to mind. As does the expression ‘rock and a hard place’.

The Honourable Tim Lamb (Oxford University, Middlesex, Northamptonshire) was a sitting duck for media flak as a an administrator. He worked for Middlesex, the old TCCB and then its reincarnation the ECB. By the time he departed, not exactly on his own terms, there weren’t many mourning his passing. He was portrayed as weak, ineffectual and worse, paying the price ultimately for the Zimbabwe cloud that has hung over English – and world – cricket for half a decade.

The fundamental difference between Lamb’s time and Wednesday lunchtime is Government intervention. That and the fact that South Africa finally started shouting over their neighbour’s fence. In late 2002, Clare Short MP stood up in the House of Commons and said England should not go to Zimbabwe in the forthcoming World Cup, six weeks away. This was not so much cat among pigeons as leopard in the chicken pen.

Months earlier Lamb, he recalled the other night, had alerted senior Government officials to the possibility of a ’situation’ with England’s Harare fixture. Your call, old boy, was the unhelpful message from Tony Blair’s administration. And so it went on. Media, public (and then players’) opinion piled up against England going to Zimbabwe. The British Government didn’t want to know, nor did the ICC. If the ECB pulled out of the game, they would be in breach of their various ICC contracts, if they played they risked doing irreparable harm to the image of the game in the UK by appearing to condone Mugabe’s murderous regime.

After much toing and froing at the Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town, England pulled out and paid a financial price. Lamb told me about the one-to-one meeting he had with Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief, where he told him the news. Lamb didn’t divulge Speed’s reaction but I’m guessing it wasn’t along the lines of ‘we’re right behind you, Tim’.

It’s when you hear stories like this, from the horse’s mouth so to speak, that you realise these are real people having to make real decisions, being pulled from pillar post by all manner of unpalatable political and financial vested interests. I’m no apologist for Lamb but his was a vastly different position to that of his successor David Collier who received clear Government instruction that they were not to receive Zimbabwe’s cricketers next summer. That’s all the ICC needs to know to tick their ‘acceptable non-compliance’ box.

If only Tony Blair had found the time, in between invading Iraq, to write a similar letter back in 2003. Interestingly, Alistair Campbell, Blair’s ex-spin doctor not the former Zimbabwe captain, was a guest at the OSM party too. I didn’t get to chat to him.

PS: for anyone who’s interested, Tim Lamb now runs the Central Council for Physical Recreation which sounds an all together less stressful occupation.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England | 1 Comment »

Stanford’s money makes his intentions irrelevant

June 26th, 2008 by Daniel Brigham in England, Twenty20 and tagged , ,

There is a general mistrust of Texans among the British. First off, there’s George Bush. Then there are cowboy hats. Then there is George Bush wearing a cowboy hat. Throw in some big moustaches, drawling accents, country and western music and it’s not hard to see why they are viewed – almost certainly unfairly – as rather cartoon-like figures.

Which probably explains the general snooty scepticism directed at Allen Stanford, the sickeningly rich Texan who is very generously throwing a lot of his money into trying to revive cricket in the Caribbean and, now, England. Yee-hah.

He turns up to press conferences in helicopters, carries off a big moustache with aplomb and declines to shake hands in preference for a great big manly bear hug – hand-shaking is for wimps, and possibly the less-rich. So far so impressive. But then he says he finds Test cricket boring. Uh-Oh. Then he insists on having his name plastered down the side of his special black bats, possibly making his intentions to the cricket world less philanthropic than he makes out. Oh dear. Then – shock-horror – he shamelessly brings out $20m in a big box at his press conference to announce the ‘Stanford 2020 for 20’ tournament. How tacky.

Except, why should we care how he goes about his business when you consider the figures. Each winning player of the West Indies All Stars v England Twenty20 match on November 1 in Antigua will receive $1m, another $1m goes to the remaining squad players and another $1 to the winning management team.

The rest of the $7m will go to the English and West Indies boards. And there lays question – just how will the money be used and why isn’t the entire $20m going to this pot rather than to the players’ pockets?

But it’s still $7m more dollars than cricket would have without Stanford. And the rather sniffy accusations that Stanford isn’t doing it for the love of the game are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how philanthropic Stanford’s intentions are – since when should we expect a businessman to invent vast amounts of money into cricket just for the love of it? What matters is that he’s putting the kind of money into cricket that is desperately needed. The money going to the players is an irrelevance, just a clever marketing ploy. But if the spirit of philanthropy is to be continued, then the selectors should overlook the current international players when it comes to picking the team.

Kevin Pietersen doesn’t struggle to scrape together pennies, Stuart Broad doesn’t look old enough to have his own bank account and Michael Vaughan has some very tidy housing investments. So England’s team should be made up of those never likely to win an England cap: James Middlebrook supplying the spin, Stephen Peters opening the batting and Steve Kirby opening the bowling. The question is, would it make any difference?!

Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England, Twenty20 | 3 Comments »

Collingwood fails to take the White decision

June 26th, 2008 by TWC in England

Cricket forces you to make decisions with little time for considered reflection. Such decisions are guided by instinct, history and, lest we forget, fear. When Mark Benson looked into Paul Collingwood’s eyes with New Zealand’s Grant Elliott prostrate in the middle of the pitch, England’s captain had a decision to make. Should England’s appeal stand? Collingwood’s answer was affirmative.

Perhaps if Collingwood had heard an 1980s interview with snooker player, Jimmy White, he may have come to another decision. After calling a foul on himself and losing the frame, White was commended for his sportsmanship. In reply, Jimmy was having none of it. His inarticulate, unschooled South London drawl revealed a deep appreciation of the psychology of sporting conflict. He told us that the foul would have affected his later play, clouding his mind, blurring his focus – calling the foul had lost him the battle, but won him the war.

In those closing overs, the scoreboard looked healthier for England, but the team’s faces revealed a different story. Sidebottom was ill at ease and distracted by the crowd; other players looked at little shocked as boos rang around the ground; and Colly himself looked five years older in the final five overs. England collectively played poor cricket, culminating in comedy overthrows to lose the match.

Collingwood has apologised to New Zealand for his weak and tactically unwise decision, but he should apologise to his team and his supporters too.

By Gary Naylor

Posted in England | 10 Comments »

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