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Uplifting turn of events after Test letdown

By E W Swanton

1 July 1998

IT would be foolish to suggest that English cricket lovers were not depressed by the happenings of the Sunday afternoon of the Lord's Test.

Up to a point, their side had made a spirited recovery from the first-innings failure against the formidable attack of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. In half an hour all was nullified and the collapse against the support bowlers had moral, as well as technical, implications magnified as usual by certain contemptible pens with unholy relish.

However, within a few days two significant events occurred, one if not both, clearly to the game's ultimate good. There was the Government's decision at the urgent plea of Lord MacLaurin, as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, to release the protection of the BBC from commercial TV in respect of home Test rights. We must trust the Board to make reasonable contracts, fair to all interests and to their considerable financial advantage. An amount well over the current revenue of 14.5 million a year should be available for the wide distribution indicated in their manifesto, Raising the Standard.

For the second significant affair, I take you to the Savoy Hotel where a company of around 300, courtesy of Coopers & Lybrand, celebrated the coming to maturity of the Professional Cricketers' Association. The PCA, who have maintained a quiet existence for 30 years, have recently sprung to vibrant life following the appointments as managing director of Richard Bevan, of David Graveney as chief executive and Matthew Fleming as chairman.

The object of the PCA (like that of any other trade union) is to enhance the financial well-being of their members in health and, particularly, in sickness and injury. There are around 400 members almost every one current county professionals - and as these three officers stress to me, they are all members for life eligible to be given such help as the PCA can provide. They have various sources of revenue by sponsorship - for instance the PCA logo as a guarantee of quality is carried by Slazenger. The ECB have every reason to welcome and support the PCA initiatives, though whether they are prepared to do so to the extent of making them the 19th annual hand-out beneficiaries on the same scale as the first-class counties is, as P G Wodehouse might have observed, a point verging on the moot.

There is one area in which I suggest the PCA would be wise to tread softly. The future structure of the first-class game, wherein the vexed issue of a divided promotion/relegation County Championship outstrips all others in importance, is best debated by more mature heads than those of a body averaging in age around 28 with axes to grind.

Back to the dinner: Coopers & Lybrand presented their awards to Graham Thorpe, as the England Test player of the year and to Shaun Pollock, as the young international cricketer of the year while Sachin Tendulkar's prize as the international cricketer of the year was accepted on his behalf by Ted Dexter. The PCA are presuming to name in time for the millennium what they call their Hall of Fame 100 Great Cricketers of the Century. Five of them - Sir Alec Bedser, Lord Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, Clive Lloyd and Barry Richards - were present to receive, as did the three award winners, handsome pieces of Waterford Crystal.

The PCA may care to note that one wall of the bar of the MCC Indoor School at Lord's is filled with photographs, in action or repose, of 40 Great Cricketers of the Century while on another wall are the 71 captains of England from James Lillywhite to Alec Stewart.

Now for the bonne bouche. In his speech, Hansie Cronje, leavened with humorous asides, enunciated his South African team philosophy, winding up reciting all 32 lines of Kipling's If. If cynics scoffed, their thoughts were muted by the applause. There were, come to think of it, sentiments specially appropriate to cricket: for spectators, ``If you can wait and not be tired of waiting''; for bowlers with long runs, ``If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds' worth of distance run''; for all cricketers, ``If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.'' And may that first imposter, for a change, be England's lot at Old Trafford!

On Edgbaston form, England could certainly turn the tables. The party for tomorrow's Test is stronger for the choice of Nick Knight and the presence of a second spinner (and a competent bat around No 8) in Ashley Giles if, as one hopes, the pitch encourages the playing of both him and Croft. There was no finer English batting of its type in the West Indies than Knight's 122 and 90 in the one-day internationals in Barbados. He is in prime form with a first-class average of 60, and is superb in the field. As for Ben Hollioake's inclusion in the 13, with a batting average of 17 and seven wickets at 36 apiece, he might be thought lucky to hold his place with Surrey. He clearly owes his presence to his form in front of selectors Gooch and Gatting with England A in Sri Lanka, where he certainly distinguished himself.

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Date-stamped : 01 Jul1998 - 10:16