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New MCC president eyes younger fans

Matthew Fleming (front, first from right) with the victorious England one-day side in Sharjah, 1997 Getty Images

His family dreamed up James Bond, he lives close to Blofeld, served with the Royal Green Jackets and played first-class cricket in an appropriately pugnacious manner. His first two scoring shots were sixes. His suitably entertaining friends include Boris Johnson, who will be high up on the list of invitees to Lord's next summer. In appointing Matthew Fleming as its youngest president since Peter May several decades ago, MCC has opted for a colourful individual, for sure.

It is also a practical selection. Fleming, who takes office at the start of this month, is already MCC's representative on the ECB's board at a time when the club is concerned about retaining two Tests a year at Lord's, the effect this might have on its redevelopment, and its role in any future city-based T20 tournament. Gone are the days when the president was a man such as Fleming's fellow Green Jacket Lord Bramall, whose position was a titular one. As the likes of Christopher Martin-Jenkins have found in recent years, there is politics around every cleft of the great ground.

Fleming is now 51 but is little changed in looks since his ruddy-faced exertions for Kent and, in one-day cricket, for England, although his resemblance to Ian Fleming, his great uncle, whose literary estate he helps direct, is increasingly noticeable. His background in the army, outwitting bomb attacks in Northern Ireland, gave him, he said at Lord's this week, the maturity to play sport under pressure. "If I get something wrong in cricket, we lose the match. If I get something wrong in the army, someone could die."

Fleming's father wanted him to join the army after he left Eton, where Johnson, "a preciously intelligent and enthusiastic man" was a contemporary and friend. Fleming wanted to go straight into cricket, but initially was turned down by Kent and then by Worcestershire. "They preferred Kapil Dev - one of the easier decisions," he said. Colin Cowdrey, however, was supportive and Fleming eventually made his debut for Kent at the age of 24. His maturity and independence - "If I had your money I'd play shots like you," David Bairstow once told him from behind the stumps, or at any rate claimed to have done - proved a boon.

"The members love cricket. If they sit in the pavilion wearing MCC blazers, putting on weight and falling asleep, that is fair enough, but they are not reflective of the core body of the club"

Even so, the nickname of "Jazzer", as in jazz-hat cricketer, was misjudged. Fleming was no amateur. He gave his all for Kent as a middle-order biffer and medium-pacer, finishing with 9206 runs and 290 wickets in first-class cricket, as well as the fastest century of the season in his final year, 2002. T20 would have been a perfect fit for him.

He was good enough to play for England 11 times in one-day cricket and, on one memorable televised occasion in Canterbury, to run out four batsmen from point with direct hits. Never could a home address - he grew up at Stonewall Park in Kent - have been more inappropriate.

Not that Fleming did not admire the hard-nosed professional who ground out runs. He favoured signing Steve Waugh for Kent towards the end of Waugh's career, even though the club was running out of money and the emerging Alex Loudon was kept out of the side as a consequence. Fleming's countenance was ruddier than ever when he stormed up to the press box and, bizarrely given his own background, accused his critics of supporting Loudon only because he went to Eton.

So how does Fleming view Waugh and his advocacy of sledging given that one of his prime roles as MCC president will be to promote the club's "spirit of cricket"? "In many ways Steve embodies that, but in his quieter moments he might think, as captain of one of the most successful of sides, that he could have done one or two things differently and set a slightly different tone on the pitch." Indeed, Fleming is turning his attention to this rather woolly pronouncement. Russell Cake, the chairman of MCC's Laws committee, is looking into the wording as part of a complete review. "The language may need tweaking to be relevant to a new generation of cricket lovers," said Fleming.

The new generation is at the forefront of his ambitions as president. And, when he comes to appoint his own successor, to take office next October, he will be after someone who reflects his energy and enthusiasm. "The evolution of cricket is essential. There is a huge amount of social and intellectual capital in the club and I want to engage with more younger cricket fans. If there is to be more day-night cricket at Lord's, [in terms of city-based matches] then we will have discussions with Westminster City Council about more use of the floodlights. It would be good if double the number of schools used the indoor school."

Fleming wants to create a form of membership to enable London-based young people to join MCC. "We are going to have to be imaginative for younger generations without alienating the 6107 candidates on the waiting list." The options the club is considering for redevelopment at the Nursery End include a hospitality area near the east gate, which would provide a meeting point for a form of membership for the U-18s. MCC is conscious that the average age of the members is 61 - and rising.

"This could be called Lord's Cricket Club but the idea has not gone before the main committee yet. It is not a conscious effort to get away from the stereotypical image. The members love cricket. If they sit in the pavilion wearing MCC blazers, putting on weight and falling asleep, that is fair enough, but they are not reflective of the core body of the club," said Fleming.

All in all, youth will be the prevailing theme on his watch. Andrew Strauss, on behalf of the ECB, and John Stephenson, MCC's cricket secretary, will be conducting what Fleming calls "a root and branch review of player pathway" in terms of whether it is more beneficial for prospective first-class cricketers to go to university or straight to the counties to which they will already be attached. Whereas Strauss benefited from having been coached by Graeme Fowler at Durham, Fleming did not go on to higher education.

MCC's funding of six leading university centres will be cut by half from next year. Fowler believes in nurturing elite players, but MCC's take is that universities should also create opportunities in their local communities. "Some counties embrace having players at university more than others," said Fleming. "Maybe there could be more coaching at universities. We feel they could be finding partners. There has to be a degree of recognition for the investment the club has put into the game, and perhaps the ECB could top this up, for over the last ten years the ECB has not taken this into account in terms of allocating major matches. Andrew Strauss is not one to hang around."

Fleming is also chairman of MCC's cricket committee. The original "Vision for Lord's", which was believed to have been approved by Johnson in his capacity as mayor of London, incorporated a subterranean indoor academy at the Nursery End, yet Fleming was on the main committee when the scheme, unanimously backed by the development committee, broke down amid considerable rancour in 2011. Fleming sided with the then chairman, Oliver Stocken, and the treasurer, Justin Dowley, who stymied it. "The academy looked astonishing," he said, "but I feel the membership need more information about development at the Nursery End." Development or no development - and doing nothing at the Nursery End will not be one of the options put before the 18,000 full members at the turn of the year - Fleming believes Lord's still has "a compelling case" for staging two Tests each year.

If the likes of Cake and Mike Brearley, "who has the extraordinary ability to listen to a conversation and sum it up in three words, not a quality always in abundance in MCC committees", provide the intellectual capital Fleming can draw on, Johnson will provide both that and required social impetus. "Although he is a thoughtful man, I couldn't sense Boris was going places when we were 18. We thought we were all useless and didn't think about the future in those terms. He was more suited to rowing, but he did once bowl me with some screwed up A4 paper."

When Roger Knight, a former headmaster, rang Fleming to ask him to be his successor as president, Fleming's first thought was that he had done something wrong - as if he was still at school. Those were less exacting days, however, than when he was on a tour of Northern Ireland (army, not cricket). "I went back there when I played for Kent and afterwards took a taxi around the areas I used to go to with a gun. There were plenty of moments - bombs were more of a concern than shootings - that I'm glad I don't have to go through again."