ECB elections January 20, 2009

A well-spun candidature

Jeremy James

Pulling the strings? Hampshire's Rod Bransgrove © Getty Images
Lord Marland's campaign to become the next chairman of the ECB has been too carefully orchestrated even for an experienced treasurer of a political party mired in the art of political spin perfected by Saatchi and Saatchi and Tim Bell. He is being given professional public relations advice in an attempt to wrong-foot Giles Clarke, who believed last Friday that he did not have a challenger.

Marland's timing is apposite. The chairman is engaged in various ECB meetings this week - starting with Monday's brainstorming session in Leicester - and, although he will have the opportunity to talk to county chairmen, will be unable to formulate a proper riposte until the weekend. After that, he will then be tied up in the ICC meeting in Perth at the end of next week, if that goes ahead.

It is all rather reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's departure to attend a summit in Paris in 1990 at the very time when she should have stayed in London to rally her supporters against those who dared question her leadership of the Tory Party - an aspect of history of which Lord Marland, its former treasurer, will be acutely aware.

The reason, it would seem, for not making his challenge public before now, was to ensure Clarke would have little time to communicate with any chairman harbouring doubt about his dogmatic style of leadership. At the end of last week, The Guardian wrote that there would be no challenge to Clarke.

The intention was to make an announcement on Monday, the closing date for nominations, but two newspapers got wind of what was going on and the story duly appeared. One of these given some assistance by Neil Davidson's camp - the Leicestershire chairman was implacably opposed to Clarke even before their row over his allegedly sexist text message when Clarke was chairman of Somerset.

Marland was then, on Monday morning, given a slot on the BBC Radio Four Today programme to give his critical views on the ECB an airing. Coming from a man with no background in the game, these did not go down well with at least one chief executive whose county was supposed to be wavering.

The amount of spadework already undertaken by Marland, or his PR advisers, or Rod Bransgrove, the Hampshire chairman who will also be supporting his bid, and Davidson - or conceivably all four parties - was such that they reckoned on having six counties plus MCC in the bag last weekend. This, though, could be wishful thinking, for committee members, particularly at Lord's, may well want a significant say.

At Canterbury, for example, George Kennedy, the new Kent chairman, is pro-Clarke while Paul Millman, the long-serving chief executive, has his reservations. The same goes for Charles Fry, the chairman of MCC, who has already expressed a wish to over-rule Keith Bradshaw, who had a row with Clarke last summer over the proposed Twenty20 document he had prepared with David Stewart, the chairman of Surrey.

Besides, if MCC or a Test-match county was known to have backed a defeated Marland, Clarke might well not be disposed to doling out international fixtures to that particular club in the future.

So who is Marland? He may have been treasurer of the Tory Party but he was, as they say in politics, a here-today-gone-tomorrow individual. He made money in insurance, is a member of MCC, helped run Boris Johnson's campaign for London Mayor, and founded and funded the sports think tank Nexus Group, which has disappeared as quickly as it arrived in 2004.

He has not chaired a county club and the suspicion remains that he will serve as a front man to the likes of Bransgrove, one of the most powerful men in the English game, who has never liked Clarke and who naturally wants more international matches staged at his Rose Bowl before retiring to live in Spain.

Another concern will be whether Clarke can utilise his own ECB PR representatives, such as the head of communications, Colin Gibson, a former sports editor, or whether the governing body has to be seen to be even-handed in the event of a contest for the chairmanship. In which case Clarke himself will have to deal with myriad telephone messages. His is a completely different and more demanding role than the one carried out by a chairman of the old Test and County Cricket Board, such as Raman Subba Row.

All this must make Clarke wonder whether an unpaid chairmanship is worth the trouble, hours and conflict that comes with it. Between meetings in Leicestershire and Perth he will have to move quickly on the rubber chicken circuit - something which he, as a lover of good food and wines, does not particularly care for, anyway.

But he still remains favourite to triumph. Worcestershire, hitherto considered to be wavering, are expected to support the incumbent, as are Gloucestershire, which would suggest the voting, at present, is 12-7 or 11-8 in Clarke's favour.