The Evening Standard

Keith Bradshaw is an unlikely revolutionary to be running the home of cricket. When a headhunter from Sydney rang him about the job, Bradshaw thought the MCC being talked about was the Melbourne Cricket Club.

Bradshaw was then working in Hobart as a partner in the accountancy firm Deloitte and his first thought was that it was not far for him to move. It was only when the headhunter replied, “Well, it’s actually quite a long way away”, that Bradshaw realised this MCC stood for the grandest initials in cricket!

Now four years later, as I sit in his office overlooking the sacred square, the evidence of the revolution he is leading is everywhere. One wall is entirely taken up by a life-size artist’s impression of the “Vision for Lord’s”, a radical redevelopment which could see the capacity of cricket’s HQ rise from 28,000 to 38,000.

This week the MCC took the unprecedented step of seeking partners for this redevelopment by placing advertisements in the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the South China Morning Post and the Straits Times.

However, much this might horrify the traditional members, it is only the tip of the almost volcanic lava of change that will flow through Lord’s this summer. The most eye-catching innovation will come during Middlesex’s Twenty20 matches.

During the interval, spectators will be challenged to hit a ball delivered by a bowling machine at a bullseye placed somewhere at mid-wicket. If they succeed they could win a million pounds and the MCC are taking out insurance to cover the potential pay-outs.

All this is part of Bradshaw’s determination to make a Lord’s Twenty20 night special. “We want to create a Thursday night experience,” he says. “What do you do on a Thursday night? You come to Lord’s and watch Twenty20 and Adam Gilchrist.

“It’s pure entertainment and a vehicle to bring people to the game. People came to last year’s World Twenty20 who hadn’t been to cricket before. The Twenty20 vehicle will take cricket to North America and to China.”

Bradshaw’s innovations do not stop with Twenty20. This year’s Bangladesh Test will see spectators who buy their tickets before 4 May get their money back if any bowler gets 10 wickets in the match.

The former Tasmanian cricketer is just as keen to start matches at Lord’s at two or three in the afternoon with play going on till eight or nine. It will, he feels, not only attract people after work but help with the MCC’s research into the pink ball for Test cricket.

With that he produces a pink ball from a box on his table, similar to the ones used in the season opener between the MCC and the champion county. This match has historically ushered in the English season and represented all the old English values but this year it was not staged at Lord’s but in Abu Dhabi. With barely 100 fans turning up each day Bradshaw admits the match was part of an experiment more about trialling the pink balls.

For the 47-year-old chief executive this is a perfect illustration of the MCC, the club that once stood for tradition, becoming the agent of change that, he argues, will help preserve Test matches. The pink ball developed by Imperial College is crucial to day-night cricket that Bradshaw wants to see expanded to the Test arena.

While the Abu Dhabi experiment was not completely successful – the seam would have to be made much darker for batsmen to see the rotations of the ball under lights – but Bradshaw has no doubt that the journey to the desert served a purpose.

Although his mother and all his grandparents are English, with roots in Croydon and Lancashire, being an Aussie in charge of the MCC was an experiment he was worried about especially when one national newspaper called him “The enemy within”.

“The MCC was a super tanker which knew in which direction it was heading and didn’t need to change quickly,” he explains. “But I found that the MCC was no longer viewed as a powerful and a strong voice in the world of cricket.

“I don’t think anyone foresaw the changes that were happening in cricket: the IPL, Sir Allen Stanford and the commerciality around the game.

“So I have tried to re-establish this club, to make sure the club was leading the way. And I have not been frightened to comment on issues.”

His influence has been felt. Following England’s debacle at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, the England and Wales Cricket Board held an emergency meeting. David Morgan, the chairman and a Duncan Fletcher supporter, wanted the Zimbabwean to carry on for the summer. But Bradshaw insisted he had to go immediately and his view prevailed. Fletcher was replaced by Peter Moores. “I certainly felt at the time that changes were needed and I was prepared to put my head above the turret,” he says.

Bradshaw gave up his role as an ECB director last year after differences of opinion with new chairman Giles Clarke. Chief amongst these was how to handle the IPL. “A lot of people said the IPL is not going to work. It’s not sustainable but my view was that it’s a juggernaut and you can’t stop it.”

Yet he found himself in a minority with only Surrey chairman David Stewart for company. Their response was to work on an English model of the IPL. With help from Bradshaw’s old firm Deloitte they prepared a paper for the board proposing a nine-team franchise ready to be launched in the summer of 2008 – they also secured promises of financial support, however before the ECB could discuss the plan, it was leaked to the media.

“We felt that there was an opportunity to rival the IPL,” Bradshaw claims. “I remember that particular day going to the Media Centre. It was in the middle of a West Indies Test. I could see 95 per cent of them had the confidential document. To this day I am not sure who leaked it. I believe it was leaked to try to stop it going ahead.”

When the board met the plan was rejected with the members preferring to back a Clarke idea of securing investors in Abu Dhabi to help set up a rival to the IPL. When that plan didn’t work, the ECB allied themselves with Stanford, the American financier who is now facing fraud charges, to promote Twenty20 cricket in the Caribbean and this country.

Bradshaw says: “I only met Stanford for about 30 seconds at a Lord’s Taverners lunch. I walked past him and was introduced to him then. It is fair to say certain decisions were taken which have not stood the test of time.”

Soon after that, Bradshaw suffered an even bigger blow when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, putting all of his headaches over the IPL sharply into focus. “I was lucky. I was playing real tennis and I went for a shot. I did my leg and, for two months, nothing would fix it. I had an X-ray and they found all this bone deterioration which ended up being cancer.”

He is now in remission, feels very fit and two years on with Stanford history, the IPL and cricket story has come full circle for Bradshaw.

He has always kept in close touch with the Indian organisers and the IPL final will be screened at Lord’s in 3D. Two months ago the MCC discussed taking a stake in one of the two new franchises – the Sahara one based in Pune.

The club had hoped that their brand name and the use of Lord’s would secure an equity stake in the franchise but the Indians wanted hard cash.

Bradshaw is also chairing a committee of cricket chief executives that are looking at the entire structure of the game. He does not rule out changes to the four-day County Championship which could result in the creation of more than two divisions because he feels the “step from county to Test cricket is too big”.

The review could also result in introducing IPL-type franchises. “Over time that will happen,” he insists. “You are going to see clubs becoming more powerful, not only in this country but globally.

“I see the game going down a path similar to football and we could end up with truly global franchises.

“In Australia and South Africa franchises are being looked at. We have the Rajasthan Royals forming a global strategic alliance. I can see cricket one day having teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, or even Manchester United.”

The traditionalists at Lord’s may shudder but Bradshaw believes his vision is essential for the game to survive and prosper.


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