Tim Lamb resigns May 27, 2004

Zimbabwe proves to be Lamb's last frontier

Lamb: leaving Lord's © Getty Images

It was a big day for departures. A couple of hours before Nasser Hussain hogged the headlines, it was confirmed that Tim Lamb will be leaving the England & Wales Cricket Board in September. This particular retirement had been an open secret all week: even The Times yesterday ignored the ECB's protestations that the story was "pure speculation", and printed it as fact.

Lamb has been in charge of the ECB since it was established, to replace the old Test & County Cricket Board, in 1997. He said before getting the job that cricket should be "a business within a game rather than a game within a business". By and large his tenure has been a success: they are even budgeting for a £3million surplus this year. Admittedly, there was the occasional semi-jovial jibe about empire-building as the battalions of blazer-wearers grew and grew.

Lamb was an advocate of open government, and the ECB has indeed become more transparent and more approachable in his time. He himself rarely flinched from an official comment or a friendly chat.

But Zimbabwe proved to be his Russian front. The last-minute debate over England's match there in last year's World Cup could - and should - have been discussed much earlier than it was. When it finally did get an airing, the ECB appeared to change tack halfway through the arguments, and contrived to end up with the not-so-notable double of alienating the organisers and its own players as well.

He survived that, but Zimbabwe came back to haunt him this year, as arguments about whether England should play there resurfaced. First a board member produced a document laying down guidelines on the moral reasons for not touring. The ECB's senior men embraced this warmly at first, then selected reverse gear again as the implications became clear: England could be fined a huge amount, and even suspended from international cricket, if they didn't go. Lamb eventually admitted the players would have to tour, but would do so "with heavy hearts" - surely one of the least-encouraging remarks ever made by any board's boss.

Those who remember Lamb the enthusiastic, energetic Middlesex and Northants seamer (361 wickets at 29 in a ten-year first-class career), and thrusting young Middlesex secretary, have been rather taken aback at the rapid transformation from floppy-haired moptop to slicked-back grey statesman - a look that led to the odd mischievous suggestion that The Honourable Tim (he's the son of Lord Rochester) was auditioning for a film role as a minor mafia don. The change called to mind those pictures the newspapers love to run of pre-office politicians, before the cares of the world descended upon them. And it backs up Lamb's remarks, in his parting statement, that "Sometimes, if you're not careful, the job can almost take over your life completely, and inevitably there have been sacrifices that have needed to be made from both a personal and a family point of view." Cricket administration - especially when run by 18 parochial counties, looking after their own interests first and foremost - is no longer the natural home of the retired colonel or the earthbound wing commander.

So who takes over? In the press, the clamour will be for a hard-nosed hatchet man who will make the big decisions decisively and dictatorially. The trouble is, the ECB doesn't work that way, as Lord MacLaurin - a man accustomed to getting his own way in the Tesco boardroom - found out when his revolutionary suggestions for domestic cricket were regarded with deep distaste by the county chairmen.

The ECB is made up of the county clubs, most of which find it nigh-impossible to see beyond the county boundaries. The newcomer will have quite a balancing act on his hands, between the needs of the national side (which brings in most of the money) and the counties (which depend on that cash to survive, but don't like to admit it). Lamb managed life on the high wire for the best part of eight years before giddiness set in - but a new broom could easily be swept away in half that time.

And so Tim Lamb joins Nasser Hussain on the sidelines. While Hussain is taking a few weeks off before joining the Sky crew, Lamb remains in his Lord's office until September. One thing's certain: neither of them will be planning a holiday in Zimbabwe for a while.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.