Evening Standard

"One of the benefits (of the spot-fixing cases) is that there is a real desire among the players to stamp it out," says David Collier. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

When David Collier moved in to Lord’s in 2004, Australia were ruling cricket while England were among the chasing pack.

Now the roles are reversed, with Andrew Strauss’s men looking to cement their place at the top of the rankings during the three-Test series against Pakistan which began in Dubai today.

Australia claimed a series victory over India on Sunday, a result the Baggy Greens could not have envisaged a month ago when their first home Test defeat to New Zealand in more than a quarter of a century sparked headlines such as ‘Aussie cricket crisis’ and ‘Lowest of the low’.

England fans may have been revelling in their great rivals’ demise and wishing that it lasts until the next Ashes series here in the summer of 2013 but Collier does not share that view.

To explain why, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board recalls a conversation he had with Malcolm Speed when the Australian lawyer was in charge of the International Cricket Council.

“I will never forget, back in 2004, one of my first weeks in the ECB job,” says Collier. “The ICC were still based at Lord’s and Malcolm called me across and said, ‘The one thing world cricket needs is for England to recover and be successful.’ At that time Australia had been dominant for quite a long time as we hope England will now be. But, for the sake of world cricket, you need Australia to be strong as well. We do have a love-hate relationship with the Australians, don’t we?”

The following year the ECB spelled out their plans to make England the best team in the world as part of proposals covering a multitude of issues in the domestic game ranging from governance to grass-roots participation.

Collier says: “When we made those plans, a lot of people felt that there was an element of madness.”

But the ECB were proved right as England’s rise to No1 last summer completed the governing body’s 20 targets. And Collier can reflect on that success when he flies out to Abu Dhabi for the Second Test, which starts a week tomorrow.

The spot-fixing scandal from the 2010 Lord’s Test – which led to Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif being jailed and Mohammad Amir sent to a young offenders’ institute – has dominated the build-up to this series. Yesterday, rival captains Andrew Strauss and Misbah-ul-Haq reminded their players not to let any animosity from that controversy spill over into the match.

Four days earlier, former Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield became the first English cricketer to be convicted of spot fixing when he admitted accepting £6,000 to concede an agreed number of runs in a Pro-40 match.

Collier believes both cases should act as a warning to all sports.

“The Pakistan board have had a complete change and their new chairman, Zaka Ashraf, has addressed a number of the key issues,” the 56-year-old says.

“Clearly this is an ongoing situation, not just for Pakistan but world cricket. We can’t think we’re any more immune than anybody else, we’ve seen cases in England. After Mervyn Westfield is sentenced, we will have to address how we deal with him. And this is not just a cricket problem. Every sport should be very much on its guard.

“One of the benefits that came out of the sad circumstances was that there was a real desire among the players to stamp this out. The regulations say it is an offence not to report an approach but players have been given a three-month amnesty from this specific requirement.”

But not everyone is convinced enough is being done to root out cricket corruption, certainly not Strauss. In the summer, he told the Standard he was not happy with the work of the game’s anti-corruption unit and repeated this after England arrived in Dubai. This is clearly a sensitive issue and Collier is quick to play it down. “Players do not often see all that’s going on. There’s a massive amount of activity behind the scenes.

“You have to get solid evidence of wrongdoing and that has been a challenge. A lot of lessons have been learned.”

There is another issue on which the ECB could learn from, although this one is a strictly an all-England affair. In his autobiography, Graeme Swann said Kevin Pietersen was “not a natural leader”, with the former captain replying that it was “not a clever book”.

Collier admits the controversy has made the ECB look at whether they should demand more control over books written by contracted players.

“We have the right to review a book but not to edit it and it might well be there’s a stronger line taken in future,” he says. “I would be reluctant to go to a Draconian stance of saying nobody can write anything. That would be counterproductive and you would get unattributed comments all over the place.”

Pietersen is no stranger to airing his own strong views but Collier, who has held senior roles in the airline industry, accepts that is part of his make-up.

“Great individuals are often more challenging but we should embrace that,” he says. “One of the greatest lessons I learned in business was that it’s no good having a load of ‘yes’ people on your board. You actually want people who will not just accept the status quo. One of the reasons we’ve been so strong is that we have a number of very strong characters in the England side, not just Kevin but people like Stuart Broad and Eoin Morgan, who are prepared to challenge.”

The ECB will face their own challenge later this year when they start negotiations on a new contract to televise domestic cricket. Sky’s four-year deal, which expires in 2013, brought in £250million but Collier admits: “We know there are tough economic times ahead.”

The controversial 2009 deal saw the sport taken off free-to-air television with the ECB arguing cricket needed Sky money to survive. Collier sees little change in the attitude of terrestrial television.

“We have to ask the question why terrestrial television has not bid for sporting events. Sky has done a fantastic job, allowing us to invest in coaching, clubs and schools. There has to be a priority by all broadcasters to put a similar amount of investment in.”

But, even as Collier sketches out the future, it is likely he will not be at the ECB much longer. After seven years other opportunities beckon, particularly the one of becoming chief executive of the ICC in place of the South African Haroon Lorgat who leaves this summer.

Should Collier move from Lord’s to Dubai he would become the first Englishman in charge of the international game. And that could be the ideal time to offer his Australian counterpart a few words of encouragement.


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