The BBC’s chief sports writer, David Bond, stole a march on the rest of the British press today as he caught ECB supremo, Giles Clarke, in a reflective, even repentant mood. Making the most of the opportunity, Bond interrogated Clarke with sharp, penetrating questions that struck deep at the heart of the issues that have so exercised him and the hugely impressive Paul Downton since January.
The new ECB managing director and former wicket-keeper, who played in more than 500 tests, has brought this considerable experience to bear in making the appointments of former wicket-keeper Peter Moores, and former wicket-keeper Paul Farbrace as team coaches. Clarke would not be drawn on the promotion of the hugely impressive former wicket-keeper Andy Flower to the role of technical director.
During a candid interview, in which a dogged Bond allowed the tired and emotional Clarke no wriggle room, the former wine merchant admitted for the first time that England had lost the winter Ashes series. It was a shocking revelation that will stun cricket fans up and down the land. What now to make of those reports in the Guardian and Mail describing the team’s open-top bus celebrations and tickertape welcome home from a grateful and jubilant nation? Clarke said he could not comment on articles written by his hugely impressive friends in the press since to do so would compromise their impartiality.
Clarke explained bravely that he had been in denial about the loss of the Ashes, and his recovery followed weeks of prolonged therapy with Mark Bawden, the team psychologist who spotted Jonathan Trott’s mental deterioration and so successfully brought the batter back from the brink. In a moving passage of the interview, a tearful Clarke revealed that he had been traumatised as a young man when his gambling addiction finally caught up with him and he lost a fortune betting on red in the Oriel College tiddlywinks cuppers. Clarke claimed that unusual betting patterns in India suggested the game had been fixed. The experience left him unable to cope with losing and forced him into investment banking where his addiction could be more freely indulged.
Clarke revealed that the sessions with Bawden allowed him to recall repressed memories and he now recognised that by the time Paul Downton arrived in Sydney for the fifth test, the England dressing room was a place of unremitting misery. In a story that was bound to come out at some point, Clarke described how Kevin Pietersen, who has a South African father, wanted to take to the field wearing the blue lycra of the Delhi Daredevils instead of his England whites.
After consulting with Andy Flower, Cook said no and the Natal-born troublemaker stormed off to the Australian dressing room where he handed Darren Lehmann the folder containing the England game plan. Lehmann handed back the envelope soon after, but the damage was done. The state of the dressing room further deteriorated when Pietersen, who hails from Pietermaritzburg, slipped laxatives into the skipper’s teatime quinoa, claiming it was the only way Cook was going to get runs on the tour.
Clarke confirmed reports that Graham Gooch had banned all net sessions throughout the tour, and used a starting pistol to begin the twice-daily 20-mile fitness runs, but denied rumours that the former KwaZulu Natal player Pietersen had wrestled the revolver from Gooch’s grasp and set fire to it. “There was no smoking gun,” sighed the ECB chairman. Gooch has since paid the price for being neither a former wicket-keeper nor privately educated.
Clarke’s mood visibly lifted when he described the joyful scenes in the England dressing room before the recent magnificent win over match favourites, Scotland.
While he did not recognise any of the faces, Clarke watched as Cook and his team of young tyros ran around butt-naked, throwing half-empty cans of Irn Bru at the Waitrose commercial director, debagging Peter Moores, and sticking pins in Pietersen dolls that Paul Downton had shipped in from a hoodoo conjure man he once met in Jamaica. “There was no question that was the best atmosphere I’ve seen around the England team for quite a long time,” said former public schoolboy Clarke.
Asked about the captain’s role in the new England cricket project, Clarke’s eyes began to well up and he started to sing “Bring Him Home” from the popular stage musical Les Miserables. In an unexpected falsetto, the unassuming Clarke made it clear in four heart-rending verses just how emotionally connected he was to the former chorister from St Paul’s Cathedral School. Hardly able to speak, Clarke was unable to confirm that the embryologists responsible for Dolly the sheep had been seconded to the ECB with a brief to clone a Cook XI to truly kick start a new world order.
When pushed by the irrepressible David Bond, Clarke confirmed that moving on, his priority was to re-engage the English team with the common cricket fan. In a moment of touching humility, the multimillionaire said he shared the pain of ordinary supporters and was determined to embrace their views and bring them back inside the hospitality tent (some mistake, surely, Ed).
He had first noticed there was a problem during the summer Ashes series. Some of the old guard, he agreed, had become arrogant and were even seen urinating on the crowd after clinching a series win at the Oval. Pissing on the fans is not the job of the players said Clarke. Some things have to be left to the experts.
David Bond is widely expected to take over from Jeremy Paxman as presenter of Newsnight.