Former MCC chief: I was 'too establishment' to be ECB chairman but have the right tools for the job

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Former MCC Chairman Gerald Corbett at Lords Cricket Ground. - GEOFF PUGH
Former MCC Chairman Gerald Corbett at Lords Cricket Ground. - GEOFF PUGH

Gerald Corbett, the former MCC chairman, is asking the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to judge his application to be their new chair on merit after being told he was left off its shortlist earlier this year for being “too establishment”.

Corbett, 70, will launch a new bid to be chairman after the ECB relaunched the process two weeks ago when their first search failed to find a suitable candidate.

“The headhunter recommended me for the short list but the nominations panel pulled me out because I was too establishment, I accepted it with good grace. Stuff happens. There is now going to be a new process, hopefully where everyone is assessed on merit and it is my current intention to apply,” he said.

Corbett has chaired seven public companies, and led the MCC for six years and believes he has the experience, and time, to take on the chairman's role when the game is more divided than ever.

“We rebuilt half the stands, introduced new management, new governance and managed the finance such that in spite of the pandemic and the spend on the stands there was £37 million of cash in the balance sheet and no debt was left.”

If interviewed by the ECB nominations panel, which has come under fire from the counties for its bungled attempt find a new chair in the eight months since Ian Watmore stood down, Corbett will promise to unite the game behind his vision of ‘cricket for all’, help Sir Andrew Strauss deliver his performance review, evaluate the number of counties playing first-class cricket, review the future of The Hundred, solve the voting impasse that has left the counties feeling without a voice, recruit more cricket knowledge on the board and deliver the EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) plan.

“At Lord’s we had a committee that included Mike Brearley, Mike Gatting, Angus Fraser, Mark Nicholas, Simon Hughes, Claire Taylor and Matthew Fleming. At the ECB, they have Andrew Strauss in a non-voting capacity and Lucy Pearson. This balance cannot be right,” he said. “The counties must have mechanisms for holding the ECB to account, and the ECB must have mechanisms for holding the counties to account. We are two sides of the same coin. If the game’s governance and voting structure prevent the right thing for the game happening, then the governance must change.”

Richard Thompson, the Surrey chairman, is expected to put his name forward for the ECB role and is the leading candidate. Five individuals, including Corbett, were selected by the headhunters earlier this year, with four going to interview but none deemed suitable for the role.

“The case I hope to make to the nominations committee is that it needs an experienced chairman who has got the time to do the job,” said Corbett who is due to retire from chairing Segro, a FTSE 100 retail investment company, next month. “The best performing boards are those that are open, transparent, challenging but supportive. It has to be alright to disagree. All of that is words and sounds terribly easy but it is not. It takes a lot of time.

“Cricket as a game for all - it implies growth, participation, diversity, inclusivity. But where we are at, is we have an extremely busy year sorting out the basics, making sure we are vaguely fit for purpose.

“The first major job is finding a new CEO after Tom Harrison’s departure. When you get a new CEO in you are in much better shape if you invest a lot of time up front in the job spec because you have to understand the organisation's strengths and weaknesses and what it is trying to deliver. To get a decent chief executive will realistically take six months.”

Tom Harrison, former ECB CEO - PA
Tom Harrison, former ECB CEO - PA

The clock is ticking. Strauss’s performance review group met for the first time earlier this week and told the ECB’s annual general meeting on Wednesday it will put its recommendations to the board for change to the domestic structure by September.

“It would be hoped that they publish the options for public debate and only after the debate, their recommendations. One cannot just tell people the answer in today’s world,” says Corbett. “People crave context and meaning and they want to understand and feel involved in the decisions.

“The review has to face the elephants in the room. It would lack integrity if the big issues are not faced: the future of The Hundred, three competitions rather than four, 10 counties rather than 18. I don’t know the answer, but the debate will not be comfortable. Problems have to be faced. This is the one chance we have to achieve alignment. The ECB must be run for the good of the game. Cash is merely a means to an end, it is the game that counts.

“The new chair has to implement the 12-point EDI plan, and here I would draw heavily on my Segro experience where the leaders of the business led the changes and we secured the National Equity Standard. The new chair will be unbelievably busy.”

An ECB spokesperson said: “We wouldn't comment on individual candidates. We have run a thorough process and will readvertise the Chair role shortly.”

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