Profile: Maj-Gen Simon Pack RM (25 April 1999)

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25 April 1999

Profile: Maj-Gen Simon Pack RM

Scyld Berry

FEWER than three weeks remain until cricket's World Cup, yet the dispute over the England players' contracts for the competition has only just been resolved, and then not amicably. For 'Them and Us' tension there has been nothing like it in English cricket, if not since the leading professionals went on strike in 1896, then at least since World Series Cricket 20 years ago, when Kerry Packer first told cricketers they might be worth more than the average wage.

In one corner are the 15 members of England's World Cup party, a few more money-minded than the rest. In the other corner the England and Wales Cricket Board, personified by the international teams director Simon Pack, a former Major-General who would have been working on how to position ground troops in Kosovo if he had not retired in 1997. Seldom can the major player in English cricket have been a non-cricketer, as Pack is at the moment, while he not only fronts these negotiations but innovates central contracts tying England players to the Board, and sounds out candidates to be the next England coach.

Both sides have issued propaganda to enlist public sympathy. The Board claim to have no more money available to give the players if they should win the World Cup without taking from the grass-roots; the players claim that the initial guarantee, starting at £3,750 for five weeks of service to England, was derisory. But while the original issue was money, the players' grievances have broadened into a general resentment of their Board's attitude and tone, turning this dispute into a clash of values and even culture.

When a detailed World Cup schedule was sent to the England squad, one of their more emotional members so bridled at the regimental inflexibility that he ripped it up. No names (especially in this instance), no Pack drill. Three tickets were allocated to each player for England's World Cup matches, only one including lunch: thus have molehills become mountains of contention. Slight was therefore perceived last Monday when the players' representatives were to meet three members of the Board and only one turned up (Pack had flu).

The tradition of military men retiring into cricket administration is a long-standing, not altogether happy, one. They have wanted cricketers to think for themselves on the field but not off it; soldiers when told to jump say 'how high?', cricketers 'why?' Pack, however, is patently sincere in his ideal of producing a winning England team, and brings to his work not only a love of the game which began when he followed Peter May and Colin Cowdrey in the 1950s, but also organisational skills unprecedented in English cricket. A very big fish, in what has long been a backwater.

"He was one of three mischievous sons of a family I liked enormously," remembers his house tutor at Hurstpierpoint, John Peters. "He was quiet and very determined, not an extrovert but one of those chaps who just gets on with it," recalls Reg Ruddock, the former head of geography, one of Pack's two A-level subjects (English the other). "He was also a member of the best squash team we've ever had, and a dogged opening bat for the seconds, but he never became a prefect."

The man resembles Mike Brearley more than any other England player of the last generation, beyond the dogged opening batting: tall, grey-haired, not languid exactly but without sharp edges, the quiet modulations of his speech concealing the strength of will. He has been an ADC to the Queen and to the first Australian-born Governor of Queensland. "He is very interesting when he talks about his past," says one England player, slightly pointedly.

He joined the Royal Marines as a compromise: his father was in the Navy but the young Simon felt sea-sick on holiday on destroyers. His first five years were spent in manning outposts in Sarawak against Indonesian terrorists. He rose through the ranks of the Commandos to become chief of staff of commando forces; and through the ranks of the Ministry of Defence until he was determining the level of British forces required in the world outside Nato, and almost lived at the MoD during the Gulf War. His final appointment was to be the commander of British forces in Gibraltar, where he re-organised 2,000 men in three services into 1,450 in one. But the title of Nato commander in the Western Mediterranean was not quite as grand as it sounds: it meant looking after the British forces in Gibraltar without taking any orders from the Spanish.

A diplomatic incident occurred when he was driving to lunch in Spain, was stopped at the border and questioned at length: the Foreign Office protested. Also during his command, parliament was told that the cost of maintaining 12 staff at The Mount, the commander's official residence, for 'valeting, cleaning, cooking, waiting at table and gardening' came to £175,000 a year.

On retirement he was at the Valderrama golf club in Spain and mulling over several offers when he happened to meet a fellow member, Ian MacLaurin. As a mover and shaker prepared to bang heads, Pack might have made a fine chairman of the ECB. Since Lord MacLaurin already had that job, he was told about a new position of international teams director, was short-listed and chosen.

In the process the job-description of ITD was notably souped up. It was originally advertised as a largely administrative post in which experience of first-class cricket was 'preferred' though not 'essential'. The role now is to have 'executive responsibility for the overall direction, management, development, organisation and administration' of all England teams. An imminent project is to find a full-time manager to complement the next coach and the board-contracted players. It is Pack's method - and Board custom - to discuss England matters with the captain.

Accordingly the contracts issue began when Pack flew to Brisbane to see Alec Stewart two days and one day before the Ashes series began. The timing is odd: never does an England captain have so much on his plate as then, and herein perhaps lies some of the misunderstanding.

Communication, however, should involve more than the captain, the most secure member of the team, usually with a benefit behind him, and near the end of his time: he has a different agenda to the other players, who should surely elect one of their number to give their viewpoint on England matters, in addition to the captain. For only when it is a partnership of 'We' - not 'Them and Us' - will English cricket realise its potential.

The overall context of this dispute is nothing less than a conflict of values. Pack believes players should play for their country and for their team-mates - and be paid fairly in the process. But a highly important new book, The Age of Globalisation by Hilary Beckles, Professor of History (including cricket history) at the University of the West Indies, points out that West Indian cricketers are no longer motivated by patriotism and love of the game like their predecessors, but have new, legitimate expectations; and the same is becoming true of England's, more so than Australia's or perhaps Pakistan's.

The international cricketer in the free market of tomorrow will be an entrepreneur, a sort of businessman in his own right, primarily motivated to be excellent at cricket because that is the most financially rewarding thing to be. The discordant noises emanating from English cricket come not so much from a shoot-out between Goodies and Baddies but from a disturbing, and debilitating, cultural clash.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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