England news August 12, 2014

Counties could have gone bust - Collier

David Collier, the out-going ECB chief executive, has revealed that "seven or eight counties" could have gone out of business had the ECB not made changes to the running of the English game.

In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with ESPNcricinfo, Collier reflected on a decade in the role and admitted his regrets over the Allen Stanford episode, his true feelings over the lack of cricket on free-to-air television and his pride at the pioneering support that England has given to the funding of women's and disability cricket.

And while Collier conceded that not everyone in the game was sorry to see him go - "everyone is happy," is how he put it - he generally reflected with great satisfaction at the vastly increased stability of the game in England and Wales over the course of his period in charge.

That is understandable. When Collier was appointed chief executive of the ECB towards the end of 2004, the organisation was in debt, participation in the game was falling and England had not won the Ashes for nearly 20 years.

A decade later, the ECB has a surplus of £40m, participation has doubled, the Ashes have been won four times and, despite the recent decline, England have enjoyed spells at No. 1 in all three formats of the game. Of course there are negatives, too, but those facts are compelling.

That £40m surplus has caused controversy within the game, however, and created resentment towards Collier from some counties. The counties, many of whom have undertaken extensive redevelopment programmes, would like that money to be distributed among them to help with their debts.

But, as Collier explained, the ECB felt the need to insulate the game from unforeseen events, some which can make cricket seen very insignificant but could have had serious repercussions for the game, and that surplus actually exists to protect the counties

"So many events occur that are outside our control," Collier told ESPNcricinfo. "Consider the spot-fixing episode during the 2010 series against Pakistan or the Mumbai attacks in 2008. In my very first summer in the role, we had the 7/7 attacks and then 21/7. There was a real possibility that Australia would go home and not play the rest of the series.

"If that had happened, we would have had issues with broadcast partners, with sponsors and with the venues. Seven or eight counties would have gone out of business. It really could have been that bad. There were no reserves.

"The game is much safer now. Much more stable. We are in a position where the impact caused by big shocks can be more easily withstood thanks to our reserves and that means the game is more sustainable."

Collier was a good enough sportsman to captain the British Universities at hockey and cricket - "not many people have done that," he said with understandable pride - and played 2nd XI county cricket. A highlight was taking four wickets in five deliveries, including John Wright and Geoff Miller, while playing for Loughborough University against Derbyshire.

But it is not his personal achievements, the financial strength of the ECB or the success of the Test team that provokes most pride in Collier; not directly, anyway.

"My most emotional day in cricket came when I went to the Ken Barrington Centre at The Oval in 2005," he said. "And presented caps to our disability side.

"Women's cricket and disability have grown exponentially over the last decade. And yes, I am very proud of that.

"People sometimes talk as if money is all we care about. But it's that money that has helped us invest in better facilities for spectators, in better facilities for players, to ensure the on-going stability of the game, to invest in grass roots cricket and to lead the world in our development of disability cricket and women's cricket.

"Of course over 10 years I have made some mistakes and there are some things I would do differently. But when I look at where we were when I started and where we are now…"

Still, the financial health of the game is not what many will associate with Collier's time at the ECB. Rather, it will be the image of him glad-handing with Stanford, the disgraced Texan billionaire, when he landed his helicopter on the Nursery Ground at Lord's after he was brought into the heart of the English game in 2008 - billed as a saviour against the threat of T20 leagues around the world.

As history will forever record, England lost a million-dollar match against Stanford's All-Stars in Antigua, at the end of a week of one uncomfortable moment after another, then a few months later, ironically while England were playing a Test in Stanford's backyard of Antigua, his world came crashing down as fraud of astronomical proportions became clear.

Collier wishes he could turn back the clock, but insisted that the warning signs were not there. "With the benefit of hindsight, we wouldn't have done it," he said. "But you have to understand the context of the time: he was involved in the sponsorship of sailing, yachting and polo.

"He was triple A rated and had just been knighted. There really weren't the red flags people suggest. And, at the same time, the ICL was very active. There was a genuine danger from unauthorised leagues. Yes, the way it all panned out I regret it, but we acted with the best interest of the entire game at heart."

Generally, however, a good administrator is much like a good wicketkeeper: they only gain attention when they make a mistake. Nobody goes into cricket administration for the glamour or the praise. After a decade working diligently in the background - and Collier's habit of replying to emails at anything from 6am to 11pm betrays his dedication - Collier departs in the knowledge that he has left the game in a better position than he found it.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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