Where is English cricket heading?

THE enigma which is English cricket has been fully exposed during the World Cup.

BOB SIMPSON

THE enigma which is English cricket has been fully exposed during the World Cup.

David Graveney as Chairman of selectors has been English cricket's greatest survivor. — Pic. REUTERS-

Most Australians don't seem to like the Poms and in particular English cricket.

Coming from Scottish parents I should have been more disposed than most to follow this trend. I never was and particularly when it came to cricket. For after all England invented cricket and perhaps the most famous cricket ground in the World, Lord's, was in London.

I always had a healthy respect for English cricket and admiration for their players.

I have made two tours to England as a player, two as coach of Commonwealth teams emanating out of England, covered cricket tours to England as a journalist and spent two seasons with both Lancashire and Leicester. With this background it could be suggested that I should have some knowledge of English cricket.

Yet, I must admit I am totally confused as to where English cricket is heading.

Indeed it may well be needed to feed all the information to the Boffins at Bletchly Park, who during the second World War broke the German communication code and called in enigma to find an answer.

While in recent times a huge amount of money has been spent on think tanks and seminars, the confusion as to where English cricket is heading is as great as ever.

While we have seen flash titles emerge such as, high performance manager; to replace the coach and centre of excellence for academies, etc. very little has really changed.

The county chairmen still seem to rule the roost and what is good for their county takes precedence over what is good for English cricket. And it seems old familiar faces just don't alter. Perhaps the great survivor as England have plunged further into the doldrums is the English chairman of selectors David Graveney.

While other selectors, coaches, managers, trainees, physios and players in the English set up have come and gone, Graveney has survived.

This has always amazed me, for Graveney as CEO of the English Professional Players Association must have an enormous conflict of interests.

This was never better illustrated when Graveney went public and suggested, while it wasn't up to him to decide whether individual players or the team should or shouldn't play in Zimbabwe, he personally for moral grounds wouldn't go.

Interestingly the Players Association were in the front of the Don't Play in Zimbabwe campaign, but statements were not made under David Graveney's name.

Also of interest is the fact that David Graveney was the manager of the English rebel tours to South Africa during the apartheid years.

England have a long road back to the top and even now it is vital that they start planning for the future.

On the international side, they should be looking towards players who are totally committed to their country and not putting self interests first and foremost.

The English selectors must take a hardline as we did in 1986 and stop selecting players who were just doing enough to keep their place in the team and who weren't prepared to make the hard yards.

If players are not willing to make themselves available for all forms of cricket and at all times and in all countries they should not be considered for selection in an English team. On this basis Nasser Hussain and several other senior players should not be selected to represent their team. England for the first time ever must pursue a youth policy.

There are players such as Jim Anderson, Andy Flintoff, Robert Key, Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Ashley Giles all ready around the perimeter of the English team who would form the nucleus of a youth policy. It will go against the grain of many, many cricketing people, but it must be done and done quickly and given a fair go.

If England don't do this the promised and often over hyped recovery just won't happen.

England must stop going around in circles and set a youth course for the future.

You can't build a good team structure and a stable of good young players unless you have a good cricketing structure.

At present there are too many county teams and too many who are battling to survive.

Amalgamation to me seems to be the way to go. There are many obvious ones such as: Leicester & Northampton; Kent & Sussex; Warwickshire & Worcester; Nottingham & Derby; Somerset & Gloucester.

I wouldn't touch the big population clubs such as Lancashire, Yorkshire, Surrey, Middlesex and Essex, though I would seriously consider changing and reducing their boundaries to give the smaller clubs a bigger pool.

I would not touch Glamorgan as they represent a nation and Durham and Hampshire would stand alone due to their geographical situation.

This leaves thirteen teams down from 18 who could play in one competition.

In addition I would like to see much more control exercised on what hand out from the ECB are spent on. At present too much money is being wasted and not put into areas to develop clubs and players.

In addition to amalgamation I would like to see closer ties between first class counties and the minor county teams.

At present the only contact between these bodies is the senior clubs trying to pinch players.

Minor counties should be assigned to the first class counties so that more promotion and coaching could be done in these areas. Players from the minor counties could also be given opportunities to play in the second eleven. I am absolutely amazed that for the 2003 season, two overseas players will be allowed for each club.

Once again this is a quickfix solution to give the counties a better chance to finish higher in the county championship.

What will it do on the longer term, very little, for it will deny more home grown products from exposure to the highest level of English cricket.

One final point, no plea for English cricket.

Get back to basics as quickly as possible and stop trying to reinvent the wheel. It was most noticeable in the World Cup that the English batsmen were trying to play shots such as the reverse sweep, lap sweep and glide sweep much more often than other teams.

All the shots are premeditated. In other words guesses normally lead to disaster.