February 9, 2008

The unwanted revolution

Angus Fraser
The ECB's proposed player-rotation policy will be impossible to implement, not to mention unfair to the players and fans

The Wisden Cricketer

"Greed is good," bellowed Gordon Gekko, the ruthless corporate raider in the 1980s film Wall Street. It would be harsh to compare Gekko's approach to life with that of Giles Clarke, the new chairman of the ECB, but should the player-rotation policy Clarke is touting come to fruition, it would definitely be a case of the bottomline overruling cricketing sense.

What if, upon reaching the ground, one found out that Flintoff and Pietersen were not playing? © Getty Images

Clarke is a hugely successful businessman who will feel that his chairmanship will be judged on the amount of income he generates. He also knows the best way of increasing the size of the ECB's coffers is to get the England team to play as often as possible.

Cricket, like every business, could do with extra income, but playing more games flies directly in the face of the Schofield Review Group, of which I was a member, which recommended that the volume of cricket played by the England cricket team should be cut. It was strongly felt that the quantity of cricket being played was having a detrimental effect on performances.

Clarke, however, seems set on increasing the amount of England cricket, and in an attempt to get round the problem of player burnout, he has suggested there will be times when certain individuals are rested. For a man with a sound business mind it is the obvious way out. To him, limiting the volume of a bestselling product on the shelves when a shop has the potential to stack it high would seem pointless.

Clarke believes a rotation policy makes cricketing sense too. He feels it will allow more young English players to gain exposure to international cricket, increasing the pool of talent available to the selectors. But Clarke's interest in another of his great loves, wine, should have taught him that more is not better. It is hard to imagine the great winemakers of Bordeaux and Burgundy mixing the grapes from their finest vines with those from another, less-celebrated vineyard down the road in order to get more product on the shelf.

International sport should be about the best and most well-prepared team that a country can produce taking on a similarly primed opponent. International caps should not be handed out casually to second-rate players because the best are too knackered to play. It is an attitude that demeans the achievements of those who worked their socks off 10, 20 or 50 years ago.

The policy would be impossible to implement too. Cricketers do not want to miss out on international caps. I have yet to speak to a player who would be prepared to stand down. None wants to give a rival the chance to pinch his place. The decision-making could be taken out of the players' hands, but that would have ramifications too. I would not like to tell an England bowler who had just worked his butt off in Australia that he was being rested for a series against a weak West Indies. Players never forget such treatment, and the reaction would come exactly when a captain needs him most. Rather than enthusiastically bowl the extra two overs at the end of a hot, hard day, he may say he is not up to it. Such an image does not paint a romantic picture, but it would be naïve to believe that it does not happen.

Then there are the poor fans, who buy tickets or pay deposits for overseas tours months in advance. How would they feel if they were to turn up to Trent Bridge to find out that Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff were being rested, particularly if England subsequently lost? It would be even worse for those who travel abroad. Having spent thousands of pounds on a trip to Sri Lanka or the West Indies, how would they feel about the best players being rested?

Travelling fans on the recent tour of Sri Lanka reacted badly to the performance of the England team; had they been deliberately deprived of watching England's best players, they might disappear from the game for good. And who could blame them?

Angus Fraser played 46 Tests for England and is now cricket correspondent of The Independent. This article was first published in the February 2008 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here