Exclusive: Graves keen on lead role in English cricket

Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale with the club's chairman Colin Graves and the County Championship trophy (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale with the club's chairman Colin Graves and the County Championship trophy (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
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YORKSHIRE chairman Colin Graves is promising a radical review of the game in this country after revealing that he wants the No 1 job in English cricket.

Graves is planning to tackle issues from declining participation in recreational cricket to dwindling Test ticket sales after confirming for the first time that he wants to succeed Giles Clarke as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Graves – the ECB’s deputy chairman for the past 18 months – is ready to relinquish his chairmanship of Yorkshire in order to take up a five-year term, with the possibility of a subsequent four-year tenure amid expected changes to the ECB’s constitution.

The Yorkshire Post understands that Graves is set to be elected unopposed by his fellow county chairmen, who would have until January 26 to come up with an alternative candidate, with Clarke ready to go quietly to a new role as ECB president with responsibility for representing the governing body at the International Cricket Council.

“I can confirm I am putting my name forward to stand as ECB chairman,” said Graves, who would start his new job in May and stand down as Yorkshire’s chairman at the club’s annual general meeting in March.

“I’ve got a proposer, I’ve got two seconders.

“If I do get the position it would be a fantastic honour because it’s one of the biggest honours you could get in any sport to be chairman of a governing body.

“I’m not counting any chickens, but if somebody had said to me as a lad playing league cricket up in Yorkshire many years ago that I would potentially get this role, I would have said they were off their rocker, so I’d be over the moon if I do get it.”

Graves, who turns 67 this month, is believed to have the broad support of his fellow chairmen, who have grown dissatisfied with Clarke’s governance.

The ECB’s ham-fisted handling of the Andrew Gale affair, when the Yorkshire captain was banned from lifting the County Championship trophy amid baseless accusations of racism, was perhaps the final straw for a man who would have no wish to lose an election to Graves that would scupper any hopes of the ICC chairmanship.

Graves, who will officially announce his intention to stand at a meeting of the county chairmen on Monday and Tuesday, is perceived not only as the obvious successor but someone who would work in the sport’s best interests.

The multi-millionaire founder of the Costcutter supermarket chain will go into bat with a clear manifesto.

“I would want a top-to-bottom review of cricket – from England Test match cricket right down to recreational cricket,” said Graves.

“If you ask most people whether cricket is positioned right at the moment, and whether everybody is happy with cricket, I don’t think anybody would put their hand up and say ‘yes’, so there’s a lot of things we’ve got to sort out.

“Test match ticket sales are falling, and that needs looking at in a big way. When we have Australia here this year they’ll all be sell-outs, but any other Test match is difficult to sell, and when you look around the world Test match viewing on the grounds is struggling. We’ve also got a recreational game in which participation is falling, and that needs looking at too.”

In addition, Graves wants to improve county cricket at a time when many clubs – Yorkshire included – are in debt.

The move to Friday night T20 last summer hardly provided the expected boon in attendances, nor the introduction of a new 50-over competition.

“We’ve got to look at Twenty20, how we play it, when we play it and whether we can improve it for the public,” said Graves, who insisted there is no franchise T20 on the English horizon.

“We’ve got to look at the 50-over competition too, which, when you look at it in real terms, is going nowhere.

“Last year we only sold half the tickets for the final at Lord’s, which is unheard of. On top of that, the County Championship seems to be all over the place – stop-start, stop-start, stop-start – and the whole thing, from top-to-bottom, needs a review.”

Graves’s vision would be facilitated by incoming ECB chief executive Tom Harrison and his team at Lord’s.

Their brief would be to seek the views of everyone involved in the game.

“I wouldn’t want a review with outsiders doing it,” said Graves. “We’ve got a new team of execs at Lord’s, with a new chief exec, and his bag is to look at cricket – along with the other execs – and come back to the ECB board with recommendations as to what we need to do.

“Basically, my brief to them would be, ‘Right, guys, you go away, you look at it, talk to who you need to talk to, get everybody involved, talk to broadcasters, talk to journalists, talk to players, talk to everybody because, at the end of the day, we’re in this together’.

“It’s not about creating more committees or surveys – we’re past all that – but about being hands-on and making the damn thing work.”

Factfile: Colin Graves

Born: January 22, 1948.

n He was raised on a farm near Thorne in South Yorkshire and attended Goole Grammar School.

n Graves joined Spar at the age of 37 and, in 1986, he left the business to go it alone and founded the Costcutter supermarket chain.

n He grew Costcutter into a household name with over 1,600 stores and £640m sales.

n A keen cricket lover, Graves was a member of the ‘Gang of Four’ who took over Yorkshire CCC in 2002.

n He has been on the board ever since and injected circa £10m of his own money into the business, most of which is tied up in loans to the club