The top level must be right, for the others to thrive, 1997

English cricket: a manifesto

Lord MacLaurin

Where is cricket going to be in 20 or 30 years? We're under pressure from a host of activities - passive and active. My belief is that the prime task of the new Board is to ensure that, by the time we get to the 2020s, cricket in England and Wales is at least as healthy as it is at the moment. And that it remains the national summer sport.

That may sound unadventurous. Obviously we want to grow, to get more and more people playing and watching the game. But we're in an increasingly competitive market-place - something I've had to cope with in the retail trade - with new leisure activities coming in all the time. Just to stay where we are will be a very sizeable achievement.

How do we ensure that? The main message that Tim Lamb, the new chief executive, and I have been taking to the counties is that the top priority has to be a successful national side. That's the key to our cricket and to our business. I remember when my own son was nine or ten: it is so much easier to capture kids' attention if they've got heroes they can look up to, and try to emulate.

Yet it's been so rare for England to win Test matches that people can almost remember where they were when it happened. We need more results like last year's soccer - England 4 Holland 1 - which will capture the public imagination. Tetley's announcement of their withdrawal from England team sponsorship was depressing. There were all kinds of reasons involving corporate restructuring that were behind that decision, but it can't have been entirely coincidental that England had been so unsuccessful for so long. There are some amber lights flashing over our game, and we have to respond.

In so many ways we have so much going for us. There are as many people playing cricket as have ever played it. Although there is less school cricket, there are now 4,000 clubs with colts' sections. And our finances have never been in better shape. We are a £65 million business, and more than £20 million in Lottery funds have been distributed to the game in one form or another. But to maintain the support of TV, sponsors and the public, the flagship - the England team - has to be successful. People want to be associated with winners.

This doesn't mean the whole of our game is going to be sacrificed on the altar of national success. County cricket is an important, integral part of the game, and of the fabric of the country. So is village cricket. And we wouldn't dream of changing that. But now the whole of cricket is run under one roof, we can give the game a strategic plan and a framework that will move us forward.

Tim Lamb and I are a new team, and we have a blank sheet of paper. We're prepared to talk to the counties about issues that in the past might have been filed under "too hard": the amount of one-day cricket, uncovered wickets, two divisions, anything. Perhaps we will have a more radical agenda than people expect. But, clearly, we've got to get it right at the top level, so all the other levels can thrive.

Lord MacLaurin of Knebworth is chairman of the new England and Wales Cricket Board. He retires this summer as chairman of Tesco.

© John Wisden & Co