Plans for a radical overhaul of Lord’s split the MCC but new chief Derek Brewer says slate is wiped clean with work starting on a fresh vision

Evening Standard

Pitching in: Derek Brewer will oversee the revised redevelopment plan for Lord’s Pic: Daniel Hambury. Picture courtesy of Evening Standard

Derek Brewer knows how to avoid bouncers but then the new chief executive of Lord’s has had some practice. Before taking charge of Nottinghamshire in 2005, he was a banker for 24 years with NatWest and RBS, so talk of bonuses is a constant topic of dinner party conversations.

In his first interview since arriving at the home of cricket last week, the 54-year-old is quick off the mark.

“I never worked in investment banking but, in my humble clearing bank, the bonuses were very, very small and people really earned them against specific objectives,” he says.

And, yes, he met Fred the Shred. “He was a very bright individual. The trouble is everyone’s tarred with the same brush. Some of the comments against the banks are difficult to stomach.”

Some Marylebone Cricket Club members have had stomach-churning moments in recent months as they have gone through an almost Bodyline-style row over plans for a £400million redevelopment of the ground. This would have increased capacity but also meant a large development of flats at the Nursery End.

An MCC committee vetoed the project — entitled Vision for Lord’s — and Sir John Major, finding himself in a minority, resigned from the committee. To add to the drama, the former Prime Minister’s handwritten letter arrived at Lord’s late on a Friday night.

Worse still, in a club who pride themselves on keeping dissent private, the row became horribly public.

MCC president Philip Hodgson explained in a letter to members that the redevelopment had to be rejected because: “Preservation of Lord’s as a cricket ground was more important than a windfall of cash”.

Major wrote back to Hodgson claiming his views had been “misrepresented” and that he was being “traduced”. He explained: “I did not resign over the decision to abandon the Vision for Lord’s, even though I believe it is a serious mistake the club may come to regret. I resigned due to the manner in which the decision was reached.”

At the AGM a week ago, the club decided to restart the whole redevelopment process and the MCC committee, which appointed Brewer from 119 candidates, clearly sees this former banker as a safe pair of hands.

Brewer, who played for Warwickshire 2nd XI, can point with pride to his redevelopment at Notts and that Trent Bridge’s seamer-friendly pitches did not stop Graeme Swann developing into the world’s best off-spinner. But can he really be the calming influence the MCC committee seeks?

Looking out of his office window, with a view of the Lord’s square, Brewer says: “If I sit here and spend my time dwelling on the past, it’s not going to achieve a great deal. I’ve got to look forward. At the AGM, a line was drawn by the president. The priorities are to write a strategic plan for the next 10 years and to work with Colin Maber, who’s chairing the ground working party, to devise a fresh 15-year master plan.”

Brewer has not spoken to Major and does not know whether the former Prime Minister will be at Lord’s for the West Indies Test that starts on Thursday. However, he says: “The slate has been wiped clean. The past is the past.”

This distancing from the past also means some of the grandiose ideas that prompted the redevelopment project may be ditched. Then, following the 2005 Ashes triumph when grounds could have been filled twice over, there was talk of having a 50,000-seat stadium. While this would have been a lot less than the 95,000 at Melbourne or 90,000 at Kolkata, it would have been a big advance on the current 29,000.

Brewer is keen to dampen expectations. “Clearly, in Ashes years, it’s a slightly different ball game. It is important to look at the future of Test match cricket and where that’s going. Is 30,000 enough? Should it be 35,000? I’m not sure.”

What he is sure of is that, unlike Australia, India and the rest of the world, the appeal of Test cricket is still strong in this country. “It’s a very attractive product and very well attended,” he says.

“We’ll be pretty well sold out on days one, two and three of the Test. We’ve already sold 84,000 tickets over the first four days. For a May Test match just after the football season’s finished, that doesn’t suggest to me there’s an issue with attendances.”

He is unsure how much of this is because England are playing their first home series since becoming the No1 Test nation last summer. But, naturally he is keen to talk up the season’s first visitors, and says: “There is still something about a West Indies Test.”

He does feel an affinity for the tourists. His earliest Lord’s memory as an eight-year-old is watching Jim Parks make 91 in the 1966 Test when Gary Sobers inspired a West Indies win. And he was elected an MCC member in the summer of 1976, just as Clive Lloyd’s team of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts were demolishing England.

While those days of West Indies greatness have gone, Brewer believes the 2012 version will be competitive.

“Clearly they are quite an inexperienced team but I followed their home series against Australia and, while they lost, they gave a pretty good account of themselves. Hopefully, we will see a great series here.”

What we will not see until the one-day series is one of their best batsmen, Chris Gayle, due to his commitments to the Indian Premier League. Brewer shrugs this off as the change that has come to the game as a result of the rise of India as the “money-bags” of cricket. “Clearly the IPL has changed things. It has meant an early start to our season and led to the Abu Dhabi experiment.”

That venture has seen the traditional English season opener of the MCC versus the champion county move from Lord’s to the Middle East for the past three years. It has also seen the introduction of the pink ball, an innovation that Brewer welcomes.

“I went out to Abu Dhabi last year with Notts and it was fabulous to see the excitement on the face of players like Stephen Mullaney when he was told, ‘You’re going to Abu Dhabi and playing with a pink ball.’”

Not that such enthusiasm makes Brewer a cricket revolutionary. His predecessor, Keith Bradshaw, was eager to import a city-based IPL-style Twenty20 tournament to England.

But Brewer warns: “We need to be careful to make sure we don’t play too much of it. Less is more with T20. I’m an advocate of the sort of programme we’ve got this year. Domestically, it’s about right with five home and five away matches for each county. The primacy of Test cricket is really important.”

In recent years, Test cricket, particularly at Lord’s, has not always been something to be proud of. Spot-fixing two summers ago during the Fourth Test saw Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif jailed and Mohammad Amir sent to a young offenders’ institution.

Essex pace man Mervyn Westfield was also sent to prison for the same offence in a 40-over game. Last November, Lord Condon, the former Met Commissioner who headed the ICC’s first anti-corruption unit, told the Standard: “I don’t think spot-fixing’s going to go away. As long as people are playing cricket, there is always going to be a threat.”

But Brewer is sure Condon can be proved wrong. “The fact that actions are being taken against individuals is a warning to others. I can’t speak for anybody else but, in the last year, structures have been put in place and the education process has been stepped up.”


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