Ed Warner: Richard Thompson must continue bold start at helm of English cricket
No deckchair shuffling for Richard Thompson. English cricket’s new leader has pretty much cleared the deck of the governing body’s directors.
His kind words about departing colleagues he has barely overlapped with suggests this is a diplomat with admirable stiletto-wielding skills.
Now he must hire replacements capable of backing the reset that the sport so urgently needs. Forget the bland role profiles that the England and Wales Cricket Board has published: time-servers and those of a timid disposition needn’t bother applying.
Thompson is one of five non-executives on the ECB board – one of these positions standing vacant after the untimely death of the senior independent director who led the process that resulted in the hiring of the former chair of Surrey CCC. There are also five directors drawn from the cricketing community, plus the organisation’s chief executive and chief financial officer.
With a new CEO inbound – Thompson’s long-standing lieutenant at Surrey, Richard Gould, who is arriving from Bristol City FC – by the time the board refresh is complete at least seven of the directors will be new, including the chair himself.
Usually one would worry about a loss of corporate history and continuity given such an upheaval, but in this case it must be a cause of celebration for those frustrated by the weak leadership of recent years.
If in any doubt about the challenge Thompson poses to the board that hired him, consider for a moment Baroness Amos’s decision to step down at the next AGM. She only joined in May last year and was by far the ECB’s strongest representative in the face of MPs’ hostility during the select committee inquiry into racism in cricket.
The question of racism continues to cloud the sport. The disciplinary hearings about Yorkshire cricket begin on 28 November and will doubtless create headlines over the following weeks.
The ads for the ECB’s board roles are tailored accordingly. The very first line in the job spec reads: “We are looking for candidates who can help cricket become more equal, inclusive and diverse.” You wouldn’t have seen that just over a year ago – or any time previously.
As I’ve written before, it’s by no means universally accepted that cricket is institutionally racist, and the rush to (re)action in Yorkshire shows the risks of hurried, sweeping changes. I’d expect Thompson to be alive to the breadth of challenges facing the ECB and craft his board accordingly, while ensuring that his ambition for cricket to be a game for everyone suffuses its work rather than smothering other objectives.
Those stated objectives include having thriving and sustainable schedules for the elite game, domestically and internationally. This is where non-executive backbone will be of paramount importance. Tough decisions need to be taken to declutter the calendar while protecting the financial health of the first class counties, and enabling the careers of England’s best players who are in demand around the world.
It can only help in this regard that a majority of the board will be new. For the past couple of years we have been told that The Hundred, the ECB’s controversial new competition, is sacrosanct. That its long broadcast deal makes it inviolate at the heart of the summer season.
But why shouldn’t a new group of people who are untainted by its creation negotiate a radical restructuring or even cancellation of the contracts underpinning this under-loved newcomer?
If Thompson is to get stuck into the existential challenges facing English cricket, he needs committed wingmen and women: a trusted CEO to deliver the strategy (tick); and non-executives with time to engage with the sport, to share the creative load and to energetically deliver whole-hearted support outside the boardroom (apply here by 13 November).
Of course, success on the pitch would make everything just a little easier for the ECB chair and his colleagues, both present and future. By the time you read this you may already know whether England’s men have reached the T20 World Cup final.
The tournament has certainly been a welcome reminder of cricket’s core appeal – as well as its vulnerability to the weather. Now, if Thompson could do something about the rain, he really would be a saviour…
Get ‘em out of here!
And so it begins. Season 22 of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! Just as Strictly Come Dancing has reached the halfway point in its 20th outing.
As has become customary, both feature a couple of retired sports stars, although ITV’s signing of Mike Tindall might be as much a reflection of his royal marriage as past rugby career.
A quick trawl through Wikipedia (please don’t judge me too harshly) reveals 34 sporting contestants on I’m A Celebrity… down the years and 41 hoofing in Strictly.
I’m happy to suck up these celebrity contests as lazily as the next couch potato, and I’m conscious that individual motivations are more nuanced than simply money, career rebooting and/or a needy craving for lost limelight. But they do stand as annual muddy and spangly reminders of the mayfly duration of many elite sporting careers.
Remember these contestants? Joe Bugner, David Ginola, Fatima Whitbread, Neil Ruddock, Jimmy Bullard, Victoria Pendleton, Dennis Taylor, Martin Offiah, Sam Quek, Joe Calzaghe, Peter Shilton, Graeme Swann, Ben Cohen, Martina Hingis, Willie Thorne, Richard Dunwoody, Diane Modahl, Rodney Marsh.
Our heroes are indeed a long time retired and only the very fewest of the few achieve such superstardom that their bank balances and egos are impervious to the corrosiveness of time.
Even the great Martina Navratilova took a turn in the jungle back in 2008, two years after retiring with career earnings of $22m.
The less remunerative the sport, the sooner their stars appear on our screens in new guises. Jill Scott, last seen memorably getting in the face of a German opponent as the clock ticked down to the Lionesses’ European Championship win in July, is already down under with Ant and Dec.
And occasionally a sportsperson is still competing. Long jumper Jade Johnson’s dancing in 2009 didn’t sit easily with our performance department at UK Athletics. In the event, she picked up a career-limiting knee injury.
To those prepared to bare their vulnerability and reveal previously hidden talents for our entertainment: thank you, and please keep doing so. Maybe, though, our greatest admiration should be reserved for those elite athletes who craft entirely successful existences in different walks of life, where retirement is neither a mindset nor a burden but simply a word attached to an earlier phase of their career.
Sign at the bottom of the steepest hill in last week’s trail race: “Pain is temporary. Internet results are permanent.”
Thanks a bunch! My time was six minutes slower than last year. Where’s the delete button?
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com