He does not beat about the Bush

Giles Clarke is 54 and at the height of his powers and what is more he is clearly sure he is using them wisely. He will not want to be in charge of the organisation that has the England Test team as its frontispiece and see it fail to bring back theAshes. By Ted Corbett.

The men who lead the England and Wales Cricket Board seem to be in two distinct categories.

There are the enterprising, determined, progressive types of whom Lord MacLaurin is the obvious example. M’Lud wasted no time once he took over in 1998. Within a few weeks he had improved the lot of the Test players to an extent even they cannot have anticipated and by the time his second term as chairman was finished the whole organisation was more modern and buzzing with excitement.

There have been other chairmen who have made a rather less dramatic impact but still ensured that what has become a vast organisation is running smoothly.

Both Denis Silk and David Morgan controlled the ECB with no more than a steady hand on the tiller but with an easy authority.

Now the Board is under the energetic management of one Giles Clarke, a self-made man of money, a brainy fellow who makes his mind up with such determination that he cannot be shaken out of his beliefs. He is a leader from the front if ever there was one. Even though Lord MacLaurin was at one time chairman of Tesco, one of the largest supermarkets in the world, and went on to lead the immense Vodafone, he is not certain to win a race against Clarke, for whom the term entrepreneur seems inadequate. Legend has it that he paid his university fees by gambling; the record shows that he bought a bankrupt wine business and sold it at a huge profit, that he built up a pet shop and sold that to the Americans and that at this moment he has fingers in a range of businesses. He took over Somerset and insisted it must be successful. He has a degree in Persian with Arabic, which sounds as if it might be a useful skill at a time when the game is expanding in the Middle East.

He is 54 and at the height of his powers and what is more he is clearly sure he is using them wisely. He will not want to be in charge of the organisation that has the England Test team as its frontispiece and see it fail to bring back the Ashes.

Admirable. Yet there is a single reason to wonder if his entrenched attitudes are right at this time.

That reason is the sudden eruption of Twenty20 cricket which has created enough money to make even Clarke blink and has made every England cricketer reach out to find whether he can have a share of those riches. Clarke does not beat about the bush. He has said every time he is asked that he does not want the star England players to take part in next spring’s Twenty20 tournament and begin the Ashes series tired.

“If they play they may lose their England place and they will not want that,” he says but there are many people who think he is whistling in the dark. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff will not turn aside the sort of money on offer from the IPL and ICL and surely they have the right to go for the gold.

If England drop them there will be other enterprising businessmen to make them even bigger offers.

Of course in England there is a large section of the cricket community that believe that Test matches are the only worthwhile form of the game and their voices can be heard on every radio station and seen in the letters column of every newspaper.

They are passionately behind Clarke. They think it is the patriotic duty of an England cricketer to lay down life and limb for his country especially when he tackles the Australians.

But — and this is largely down to the MacLaurin revolution — life has changed for our top cricketers too.

Pietersen lives in a flat in Chelsea Harbour, an area where you need deep pockets to rent or buy your property.

Flintoff paid £1.85 million — to the Blackburn football manager Mark Hughes — for a house in the stockbroker belt just south of Manchester. The area has always been one of the bolt holes for the millionaires of Manchester and in particular to the Manchester United and City players.

I remember many years ago travelling to a house nearby to talk to the City footballer Rodney Marsh. When he answered my knock I was so impressed by his home that I could not help joking: “Rodney, I can’t decide if you are living in a detached house or a detached street.”

Flintoff was not satisfied with his home of close to £2m. He asked an architect to draw up plans for an enlarged version with two — yes, that is right — two swimming pools, a gym, a sauna, a cinema, snooker and pool rooms, changing rooms and six bedrooms all with en suite bathrooms. When I knock at his door I will be tempted to ask if he is living there or running a hotel business.

The point I am making is that Giles Clarke is no longer governing players on small salaries who are desperate to tour every winter and unhappy at the thought of missing a Test. So Flintoff and Pietersen, the new heroes, Michael Vaughan who lives just round the corner from Flintoff in another expensive home — when he is not lodged in his other house in the Caribbean — and Wisden Five stars Ian Bell and Ryan Sidebottom and that tiny but skilled wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose will not be able to match Giles Clarke dollar for dollar but they will have enough in the bank to weather a storm or two.

They will not be intimidated by the thought that the first time they lose their England place there will be bread and water for dinner. These are seriously wealthy men, trailing the footballers by a mile, but still able to make a stand when they need.

Fred Trueman once pointed out to me that the players we were watching were making more money in a season than he had earned in the whole of his playing career. By the way the local planning authorities have turned down the Flintoff plan and he must settle for a smaller house. His neighbours say it is too big; a bit like the man himself I guess.

So chairman Clarke will have to curb his tongue. Frankly, he is always sure he is right and he is sometimes wrong. He once told the TV executives that they needed cricket more than cricket needed television.

That sounds irrational; a glib phrase with more penetration than sense and it is not what cricket needs at this stage in the game’s history. Diplomacy is a vital necessity and we wait to see whether Clarke can add that to his strength of purpose.