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Pakistan v England 2022/23

Private money in The Hundred? Five things we learned from new ECB chair Richard Thompson’s Sky Sports interview

Richard Thompson, Chairman of the ECB pictured during the First Test Match between Pakistan and England at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium
by Katya Witney 3 minute read

In an interview with Sky Sports at lunch on the third day of Pakistan v England Test match at Rawalpindi, new ECB Chair Richard Thompson sat down for an interview with Sky Sports on how the future of the game in England and globally.

Thompson took over from interim chair Martin Darlow in September. In his 91 days in the job, England have won a Test series against South Africa, a white-ball series against Pakistan and the T20 World Cup. But questions linger over the financial state of the domestic game in England, the international schedule and the implications of the Hundred. Here are five things we learnt from his interview, which you can watch below:


‘Not now’ but not ‘not ever’ to private money in The Hundred

After it was reported last week that the ECB received an offer from Bridgepoint Group of £400 million to buy the Hundred, Thompson elaborated on how likely the offer was to be accepted. “I said, ‘thank you very much, we will come back to you when we’re ready’,” said Thompson. “There is no possibility after two years that this tournament is worth what it could be worth in three four, five years’ time.”

So it’s a ‘not now’ rather than a ‘not ever’ to accepting private equity investment in the Hundred. Thompson referenced his history in private equity before moving into cricket as chair of Surrey CCC. “Whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to do it very carefully,” he said. “A number of people have come forward with offers… and I don’t think that interest will go away.”

What Thompson did say, is that private equity money cannot take profits off the top of the game and damage the pathway for international cricket. “We cannot create that pathway, create those cricketers for the future just for them to be picked off by a franchise or by private equity that don’t have any of that overhead or any of that commitment to the broader game.”

Will Smeed’s ‘amber warning’

Will Smeed’s decision to sign a white-ball-only contract with Somerset aged 21 confirmed every traditionalist’s worst fear. What has been threatening since the inception of franchise cricket and the continued shortening of the game has finally started to come to fruition, with Smeed bypassing a career in first-class cricket before even playing a game.

“Our schedule doesn’t really encourage a player like Smeed to want to play in our domestic cricket, given that the schedule is unworkable,” said Thompson. “As far as Smeed is concerned I think that is a flashing amber light on the dashboard and we can’t let it go red, and what I mean by that is a whole slew of players making a decision that they would rather go down that path.”

Under England’s current domestic schedule, which is currently under revision and set to be changed in 2024, it is not possible to play in all four domestic competitions. The Hundred clashes with the One Day Cup, there is much switching of formats required, and that is not to mention the potential of IPL commitments and other franchise opportunities. In order to maximise money-making opportunities as well as preserve the length of a career, for many young players, it would make sense, if their game is more suited to white-ball cricket, to focus on that from the get-go.

“Those players are coming through our pathway, one of the best pathways in world cricket, only to be lost to English cricket in a way we can’t control. We have to be able to control that,” said Thompson. “To be powerless, it can’t be accepted. I can’t accept that that will just play out and we lose a generation of cricketers that should be playing for England.”

“It’s not a ‘Kerry Packer’ moment, but it’s in that realm.”

Counties face financial challenges in an economic crisis

As the UK and the rest of the world feel a stiff economic breeze which will last throughout the winter and into the summer, Thompson recognised the difficulties many counties are facing which may lead to private equity offers on The Hundred and their subsequent financial boosts for counties looking more attractive. The scale of the challenge some counties are facing in England with mounting energy costs and revenue difficulties is significant.

“What we can’t allow to happen is counties, whether their national counties or first-class counties, find themselves in a financial crisis that they can’t control or could have done very little about,” said Thompson. “Utility costs particularly, cricket is a big consumer of utilities, they’ve gone through the roof.”

When asked if any counties are close to going bust as costs rapidly rise, Thompson said: “There are counties that are having some challenges. We are aware of that.

“The reality is that there are some big financial challenges there.”

High Performance Review compromise

The recommendations of the High Performance Review were met with sharp resistance from some counties. The reduction it suggested in the amount of domestic cricket played over the summer was particularly objected to by those counties who do not host Hundred teams. With a vote still not passed on the entirety of the review, there will have to be a compromise in the coming months before the start of the County Championship in April next year.

“Fifteen of the 17 recommendations have been accepted,” said Thompson. “We all know the ones that have caused the most tension and that’s still being debated by the counties to try and find a compromise. We’ve bought some time, ’23 will play out the same way that ’22 did. But ultimately you can’t go into the ’23 season not knowing what you’re playing for in ’24. So we still need to get to a point where that conclusion is drawn and that debate is ongoing.”

If the current plans for the County Championship are accepted, there would be limited, or perhaps no opportunity for Division Two sides to win promotion this year, with a smaller Division One suggested in the review.

Scheduling dilemmas

On the issue of the international schedule and its impact on players, Thompson echoed what Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali said about playing the ODI tour of Australia just days after winning the T20 World Cup.

“The intensity of what you have to put into a World Cup… to then be expected to raise your game again and play in that way, I felt for the players,” said Thompson. “The reality is we now have to recognise, bilateral cricket sitting alongside burgeoning franchise cricket, and a World Cup every year, there’s so much product out there, we need to find a way of recognising how we fit that in.”

With a white-ball global tournament scheduled every year for the next decade, and continued problems around the scheduling of Test cricket with players involved in all formats of the game, Thompson acknowledged the need for balance between financial incentives and the integrity of international cricket.

“If the game just chases money then the game will devour itself and the game will pay a very big price for that, this is not just about money. Coming here (to Pakistan) is not about money, the slogan around this stadium, ‘One Game, One Passion’, sums it up perfectly. What cricket can do, more probably than any sport, is to cross through geopolitics and unite countries and it can’t just be about money. It cannot be about money. So we as the ECB need to stand up to that.”

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