Edward Pearce advises David Lloyd on how to sort out English cricketby Edward Pearce / May 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
It is a proposition beyond contradiction that if things are run badly, they could be run better. Having suggested in Prospect last month that the Royal Opera House would be a better place if it employed junior designers who could paint, and directors bumped down to stage management, let me now give the national game a look over.
English cricket has had a horrible time in South Africa and an even worse one in the limited-over World Cup. This raises two questions: could England be strengthened immediately by different selection and management? And in the long term, how do we start to compete with Sri Lanka, the new masters?
On the first question, there are two key points. First, form players should get priority. A batsman like the happily named Peter Bowler has a brilliant season-scores and scores-but he is not considered. He and anybody like him who has settled straight into the groove should be considered for Test selection-whatever his lack of chic.
You might argue that Ramprakash is a form player who failed. So he is, so he did. But the principle is right: Ramprakash, in spite of tour failure, should be persisted with. If someone plays the way he did last season, a rotten tour should be treated as an overhead. Cricket selection is a bit like company management. The choice is between pleasing shareholders now with ruthless downsizing moves in the manner of Lord Hanson; or sticking with R&D and sitzfleisch in the fashion of ICI. We already defer, reasonably enough, to shareholders/ spectators, in the one day game. But the journey of an in-form county cricket talent, through high anxiety, into an important Test player, demands a selector leadership which ignores that sort of City opinion.
Also, we should favour any player who is hungry. The embodiment of hunger is Nasser Hussein. He wants success so badly that given time, he will translate into full effect. Hunger is, of course, a virtue in a captain. For once, conventional thinking is right. Dermot Reeve lacks the Rupert Brooke touch, but he wants to win, sets about winning, and wins. He is fractionally below taking a place as a player-but only fractionally; with his temperament, he would not, like many gifted players, vitiate his talents by neurotic under-performance. If he’s good for 40, he’ll get 40 instead of being worth a century and slashing behind at seven.
There is a Jewish story in which a father contemplates his newly promoted son. “To your mother, you’re a captain. To me, if you like, you’re a captain. But Chaim, to a captain are you a captain?” Reeve would answer that in a resonant affirmative. Michael Atherton is a splendid opening batsman and should accept that in Test selection, as in the making of pins, specialisation is the trick. With a hungry professional captain and fierce, on-form talent on call, the performance will be significantly upped. One last point. “Form” applies to county sides as well as individual players. Who, apart from the great and ineligible Anil Kumble, made Northants the side they were last season? I name no names; I only suggest that players combining in this way should be in the selectors’ focus.
Now to the long term demands. We need a training body of young players which brings the best of them together. Consensus knows that the National Youth Orchestra is a phenomenal body of talent. To be brutal, we have oboists and cellists the way we don’t have slip fielders and leg spinners. So what about the cricketing version of the National Youth Orchestra? Why not a National Youth Squad, fielding a National Youth Side?
We are fortunate to have a sports minister in Iain Sproat who actually knows about sport, although he lacks the finger-clicking authority over money that would be needed. But money must be spent.
Public schools can play a key part. They have good coaching facilities which, in return for lottery money, should be thrown open to all the talent within a 50-mile radius. The Reg Scarlett model in Hackney should be replicated in all the inner cities.
Possibly the National Youth Squad should operate, north and south, via Lords and Old Trafford. And the youngsters should be trained, not just in a vacuum, but in order to play as a side, perhaps two regional sides. They should have a fixture list of county friendlies, and as soon as they prove their point, they should become part of the League itself.
Take the best 35 young players, give them scholarships for the best training there is, point them as a group at the counties, say “win” and, I reckon, they will win. Personally, I love the county game in all its idle ambience. I dislike the crass, one-day international public-milking session in Faustian thrall to Rupert Murdoch. But I want the humane game to continue to be cross-subsidised by that doom, for civilisation’s sake. And I want the best talent to emerge into county cricket. Train up young talent (16 to 19 year olds) to play over four days at New Road in order to beat Worcestershire. That is the way to find the new English de Silvas. Young players will start matured and competitive-all the better placed to spit in the eye of those who languidly look down upon us.