February 2004

Des Wilson - Power broker

ohn Stern meets Des Wilson, the man trying to smarten up the suits at the ECB

John Stern meets Des Wilson, the man trying to smarten up the suits at the ECB

When The Wisden Cricketer carried a feature last year entitled `The XI most powerful people in English cricket', there was one notable omission who would doubtless be included if the article was run today. His name is Des Wilson, a cricket-mad New Zealander who came to the UK in 1960 and is now at the forefront of the ECB's policy making on the Zimbabwe issue.

A decision on whether England will tour Zimbabwe is expected at the end of January and Wilson, chairman of the ECB's corporate affairs and marketing committee, has produced two substantial dossiers on the issue, the first of which is 6,000 words long and entitled "Reviewing overseas cricket tours: a framework for rational decision-making". "One thing I feel strongly about is that the current ICC position - and traditionally English cricket's position - that the only issue should be safety and security is an out-dated and unsustainable position," Wilson says.

Wilson sets out six principles which a governing body should consider with safety and security being only one. The other principles include whether the integrity of a tour is in danger of being infringed by the government of the host country; public opinion in the UK and especially government opinion; opinions of players and sponsors; whether a regime is being given sustenance by England touring that country.

The most thorny issue Wilson has tackled is the moral question. "It is possible to define where it [the moral issue] starts and where it stops. The issue is not whether you like how a government became a government. People accept that there are benevolent dictatorships that work to some degree. But you can argue that it matters how a government behaves when it becomes a government. We're not getting involved in party politics but we should be interested in human rights. Then you consider the fundamental principles that are supposed to apply to the behaviour of cricketers like fairness and multi-racialism. And you can ask whether the behaviour of a particular regime is so contrary to these principles that it is incongruous for the team to be there."

Wilson's second paper applies these principles specifically to Zimbabwe. "I have tried to position the ECB so they make a decision at the right time. I hope people will say, whether they agree or not, credit where it's due, they did it right and they thought it through."

Wilson has a wide-ranging role within the ECB that could shape the board's corporate image and policies for years to come. In the past, you might have seen him on TV speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats or know that he used to be senior vice-chairman of Sport England or that he founded Shelter, the charity for the homeless.

He joined the ECB last year and sits on two working parties that are looking into the way cricket in England is governed and the structure of the game. He claims that the Cricket Reform Group are wide of the mark. "The health of English cricket is under appreciated. I believe the game is in much better shape than people say," he says. "Not only are these questions being addressed but they are being addressed within the family of cricket."

However, Wilson, 62, is fighting hard to persuade the ECB money men to shed their naturally conservative tendencies. A debate is raging at Lord's about how much cash the ECB should have in the bank as a `reserve'. "My main reservation is that the game is too conservative and defensive. Just when we should be investing we're tending to contract. I support a reserve but there's a big difference between having a reserve of £5m or £15m.

"Take the Twenty20 Cup. I'd like to see every ground that can get planning permission to install floodlights and for the ECB to match them pound for pound to help them get there. But I fear English cricket won't take the risks. The psyche can't be changed by one man in a short time."

This article was first published in the February 2004 issue of The Wisden Cricketer. Click here for further details.