As we’ve seen, horrendously, during the last couple of weeks, there are more important things in the world than ECB politics.
Come what may, though, the cricket world continues to revolve on its axis. And with each revolution comes another reminder of the caustic mundanities of everyday life.
Of those, few come as corrosive or toxic as the senior management of England’s national governing body. But just possibly, change may be afoot.
Rightly overshadowed by recent events, but interesting nonetheless, was Nick Hoult’s report in the Daily Telegraph on 28th November.
Giles Clarke is set to be replaced as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board by Yorkshire’s Colin Graves in January when a radical shake up of the governing body is expected to begin.
Telegraph Sport understands the changes will be discussed with the 18 county chairmen and the MCC at a two day strategic review meeting beginning on Jan 12.
Clarke is likely to be made president of the ECB in a deal with Graves that will allow him to continue to represent the board at the International Cricket Council. It would free Clarke to pursue his ambition of being chairman of the ICC while clearing the way for Graves, the chairman of Yorkshire, to take power at Lord’s and build a new culture along with the incoming chief executive, Tom Harrison, who officially starts his job in January.
Graves has the backing of the majority of the counties who are desperate for change after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the running of the ECB during a terrible year for the game in this country.
It has become clear in recent weeks that if it went to a vote between Clarke, who has been chairman of the ECB since 2008, and Graves, then the Yorkshireman would win. Clarke’s third term of office is due to end in March and if he were to lose an election he would also see his chances of becoming chairman of the ICC disappear.
Clarke’s powerbase has weakened as support of the counties has drifted away. There is huge dissatisfaction within the county game with how the ECB is run and the emphasis placed on the England team.
Sources have complained that turnover at the ECB has increased in recent years from £80-£140m but the amount filtering down to the counties, around £40m, has not changed.
There are also fears that counties are at risk of financial implosion as the cost of hosting matches and running clubs rises while attendances fall.
The relaunching of the Twenty20 Cup last year only had limited impact on attendances, particularly at the larger Test match grounds. The move to play matches on a Friday night was popular with some counties but at many grounds it had negligible impact. This comes at a time when counties see the huge popularity of Twenty20 tournaments in India, Australia and the West Indies.
Let’s assume for now that we can take Hoult’s copy at face value. True, none of this has been officially confirmed, but Hoult would not have run the story unless he were very confident of its provenance. What reason would his sources have to invent this tale?
My first reaction, and probably yours too, is joy and relief. In the words of Bob Dylan, we shall be released. Finally, after seven years of nefarious tyranny, this cancerous despot is being crowbarred away from the principal levers of power.
With the possible exception of Gubby Allen – the main player in the deselection of Basil D’Oliveira to appease South Africa’s apartheid regime – Clarke is the greatest scoundrel in the history of English cricket.
This is the man who, before acceding to the chairmanship, as ECB chair of marketing, drove through the transfer of cricket from terrestrial to subscription TV in 2004.
This is the man who since then has fought tooth and nail to keep cricket on Sky and away from the prying eyes of the mass public. To him, people watching the game on unlicensed websites constitutes the “biggest danger” to cricket.
This is the man who sold us down the river. During his tenure as chair, Clarke has systematically transformed English cricket into a sport exclusively for the monied elite, through a regime of ticket hyperinflation, and a extortionate bidding process for the hosting of international fixtures which has jeopardised cricket’s entire economy.
This is the man who turned England’s cricketers into money-making machines. By relentlessly pumping ever more fixtures into the schedule, swelling it as grotesquely as a foie gras goose’s liver, he’s not only compromised performance and results but damaged the players’ health and sanity – and all for no purpose than lining the ECB’s coffers.
This is the man whose board punished players for expressing interest in the IPL, but who posed on the Lord’s outfield with a crook and his box of cash.
This is the man who cut the deal for the Big Three. And this is the man whose sole response to Pietersen-gate was to say that “English supporters must move on”.
Very regrettably, Clarke won’t be going completely. This man has no shame. Despite effectively being sacked by the counties, his ego and vanity prevent him from leaving the stage with dignity. Instead, Clarke has demanded the creation of a new and prestigious role, just for him, so he can continue to strut the world stage and besmirch our international reputation. He will still represent us abroad.
Hurrah to the counties for finally seeing sense, although judging by what Hoult reports, their motives for unseating Clarke are entirely self-centred. Of course, we don’t know exactly what they’re thinking, and many county chairs may have been influenced by the harm he has done to cricket in general.
The health of the counties is vital for English cricket, and they’re entitled to fight their corner. But the dynamic behind Clarke’s downfall highlights the core structural problem with the governance of English cricket. The ECB chair is elected by the county bosses, so the board will always act in the interests of the counties, and no one else – certainly not the supporters.
We’ll talk about Colin Graves in more detail another time. Will he be better than Clarke? He can’t be worse.
PS: we are very touched and flattered by Dmitri’s piece about us yesterday. I hope we can sometimes live up to his very kind words. And at the risk of self-indulgence, if there’s any admiration going on, the feeling is entirely mutual.