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‘We will not allow our club to be rendered irrelevant’ – ECB high performance review recommendations face pushback

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read

The recommendations put forward by the ECB men’s high performance review have received pushback from several counties.

On Thursday morning, the ECB’s men’s high performance review circulated its final report which included a number of suggested alterations to the domestic schedule.

The report makes 17 recommendations in total – two-thirds of the 18 counties need to vote in favour of them for them to be implemented.

The report, led by Andrew Strauss, seeks to reduce the amount of cricket played in the domestic season. It suggests that the County Championship should be made up of three divisions of six, with a distinct top tier and two parallel second divisions sitting below it – the teams that finish top of the two second divisions would contest a play-off to determine the identity of the sole side that earns promotion to Division One.

It also suggests a reduction in the number of T20 Blast group stage games from 14 to 10, meaning that counties would only host five home group fixtures across the tournament. Other changes include the Royal London One-Day Cup having its own window in April (with the possible participation of minor counties in an FA Cup-style competition) and non-Championship first-class games to be held in August featuring players without Hundred contracts.

Speaking on the Vaughany & Tuffers Cricket Club podcast recently, Strauss outlined his desire to reduce the number of fixtures across a domestic summer in line with what he perceives to be the general view of professional players – that there is currently too much cricket. He said: “Revolution? I’ll tell you what revolution is, it’s all out players going off and playing domestic white-ball cricket abroad which, by the way, is not a million miles away. I think we need to be cognisant of this. The world is moving around us and we can’t stick out head in the sand and pretend it isn’t.

“There are loads of domestic franchise tournaments out there, likely to be one or two in the English summer starting pretty soon. The players, as part of this, have said very strongly, ‘We play too much cricket. We don’t have enough time to practice and prepare. The schedule is a mess.’

“If we don’t listen to them, they’re going to start voting with their feet.”

Some of the proposals met immediate opposition. Upon the review’s release, Kent chairman Simon Phillips said: “The Strauss Review is a wide-ranging and comprehensive document. However, it should be remembered that it has been prepared through the prism of High Performance only.

“The two key areas for our club – domestic structure and scheduling – remain within the discretion of the 18 first-class counties. Within this group, we will now consider issues such as the needs of all our Members, supporters, players and stakeholders, the financial impact, the unintended consequences and the possibly irrevocable change to the essential nature of county cricket.

“Kent Cricket is a fundamental part of our community, committed to supporting the growth of the men’s and women’s game at all levels. We continue to deliver success on the field, produce players for England and support one of the largest recreational and schools cricket populations in the country. We will not allow our Club to be rendered irrelevant.”

Similarly, Essex chief executive John Stephenson expressed caution. He told BBC Essex that, at this point in time, his county will not be voting in favour of the proposals. Stephenson said: “I’ve spoken to the members, we had a forum the other day so they’ve been consulted, I’ve spoken to the board. As it currently stands we would not vote in favour of any reduction in the County Championship, any reduction in red-ball cricket, and we wouldn’t vote in favour of any reduction in home T20s.

“My job is to protect the interests of Essex CCC and its members and going back to the original reason for this review was to improve the performance of our team. There are obviously different opinions on all of this and you could have a huge debate on what makes a better player. In my opinion reducing the amount of cricket is not the way to produce better cricketers and certainly from an Essex point of view we wouldn’t like to see any reduction in the amount of Championship cricket.

“We like hosting seven matches a year, the members enjoy red-ball cricket and as a former player I wouldn’t have enjoyed the prospect of playing less red-ball cricket, I wouldn’t necessarily [think] it makes me a better red-ball player. I think you can pick a lot of holes in it [the review’s recommendations], certainly when it comes to structural stuff and the schedule. 2023 will have the same schedule which I’m pleased with. Knowing with certainty what 2023 is going to look like is reassuring. For 2024, there’s going to be a long period of debate and consultation on that and we’ll see what happens.

“I don’t think the club are in a position to vote for any reduction in home T20 cricket. That’s our lifeblood, that’s what brings in the revenue to the club and not only that, it’s something that the members love to come and watch and not just the members, the general public of Essex come to Chelmsford for those T20 matches and it’s an amazing spectacle, it’s great for the community, it’s great for Chelmsford. I would be very much opposed to reducing that to five home matches.”

And it’s not just the suits that voiced opposition to the proposals. Surrey head coach Gareth Batty, speaking in the aftermath of Surrey’s County Championship sealing victory over Yorkshire, warned that a six-team top division would “diminish the emotion”  of the competition. Prior to the report’s release, Ben Stokes expressed his desire for retaining the 14-match County Championship structure. 

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