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A biography of Ian MacLaurin by Andrew Murtagh

“Huzzat!” The appeal was loud, insistent and well-orchestrated……and to my dismay, likely to be upheld.


Field House, the dressing rooms and viewing balcony adjoining the main cricket ground at Harrow School, is square on to the pitch. As such, from that vantage point, it is impossible to tell whether the ball that had hit the batsman’s pad was adjacent to the stumps but it is possible to judge the height of the ball at the moment of impact. To me, it looked a little high but it was the last over before tea, the Harrow fielders were desperate in their appeals, a host of home supporters, including many parents, demanded no less, and the ‘home’ umpire could withstand the pressure no longer.


Up went his finger. With a flourish, in the next instant he whipped off the bails and loudly proclaimed, “Tea!”


With that had gone our last faint hope of chasing down the target, stiff enough at the time but now out-of-reach, set by Harrow. Neil MacLaurin, our best player and the only one likely to build any innings of substance, quit the scene, visibly upset.


As Master-in-Charge of the visiting team, Malvern College, I had to put on my social face and join my opposite number, umpires and players for tea in the pavilion.

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“Uh-oh,” said my sidekick and school cricket professional, Geoff Morton. “What is it, Geoff?” “See that man there?” I did. He was making his determined way across the outfield, on a path directly to intercept the umpires. His face was like thunder and steam was coming out of his ears. “That’s Neil’s dad, Ian MacLaurin. I’ll head him off before there’s a diplomatic incident.”


Geoff was as good as his word, though I was uncomfortably aware that Mr MacLaurin’s baleful stare throughout tea was boring a hole in the back of the head belonging to the oblivious umpire, who was stuffing sandwiches in his mouth whilst at the same time recounting endless anecdotes of games in which he had officiated.


Later, after the game had been lost - predictably - I met Ian for a sociable post-match drink. He had recovered his composure and the impression I got was one of urbane geniality. “What a nice man,” I remarked to Geoff in the coach on the way home. “Ian MacLaurin,” he told me, “Iron fist in a velvet glove.”


Geoff was right, I guess. Nobody becomes chairman of Tesco, chairman of Vodafone, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, to name but three of his appointments, without having veins of steel surrounding a generous heart. He was plain Mr MacLaurin then - the titles and awards came later - but to me and others who taught at Malvern, incidentally, his alma mater too, he was just Ian. I had the presence of mind and political wit to appoint Neil captain of cricket the following year (in truth, there was nobody more suited to the job) and I felt I got to know his father well, as he was an enthusiastic supporter and spectator whenever his son was playing. In fact, one of his proudest moments as a parent was when he and Neil tossed up for innings on the Senior, Neil as captain of the College XI and Ian as captain of the Old Malvernians CC. The relationship I had with Ian grew and deepened when he became chairman of the council at Malvern College, steering it through choppy waters to safe haven and a burnished reputation as one of the top public schools in the country.


When he stood down as chairman of Malvern College - a position and responsibility closest to his heart, he always said - he reckoned his race was run. Now he could enjoy a proper retirement in his delightful home near Bath (and support the rugby team). But I wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easily. How about I write your life story, I suggested. Who on earth would be interested, was his typically self-deprecating response. Plenty of people, I said, particularly cricket supporters who remember your years in charge of English cricket. Ian took hold of the reins when England were quite possibly the worst Test-playing nation in the world and when he handed over those reins, they were well on the way to the coveted No. 1 position. Two divisions, Twenty/20, central contracts, the Sky deals, the appointments of Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher….all initiatives brought in on his watch.


In fact, in his varied career, Ian has left every business, every corporation, every board, every governing body in a far healthier position than he found them. Without, it would seem, losing sight of the vital contributions of those at the coal face. His secret, he always maintained, was to surround himself with talented people, his ‘teams’, as he called them, then to set out his objectives clearly, provide a bit of leadership, and, hey presto - success! Hmm. There was a great deal more to it than that, as I was to discover. All who worked with him said he was a charismatic, tough but fair boss, who possessed the common touch, someone who had the priceless ability to take people with him.


Reluctantly at first but with increasing enthusiasm, he led me through his journey, from Malvern College to Tesco to Vodafone to the ECB to the House of Lords and then back to Malvern College. It has been an inspiring ride, one that has been a privilege to record. I only hope I have done the old boy justice.


Andrew Murtagh 1st April 2022


Andrew Murtagh’s biography of Ian MacLaurin is available from the 10th April.

£20 plus p&p

Purchase from: The OM Society Malvern College College Road Malvern Worcs WR14 3DF

Tel no: 01684-581617


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