Sir Andrew Strauss has urged county chiefs to vote through proposed reforms to the domestic structure that would reduce the amount of cricket played, stressing: “The status quo is not an option.”
The former Test captain has spent the past six months overseeing a high-performance review for the England and Wales Cricket Board, launched in the wake of last winter’s Ashes, and has produced 17 recommendations.
Fifteen of these fall under the remit of the ECB and already have the necessary support, but two key proposals involving a wholesale reorganization of the county calendar need the support of at least 12 of the 18 first-class counties to go ahead.
Strauss’ panel supports a reduction from 14 championship games per team to 10, with an upper division consisting of six teams that sit above two minor conferences that would play for an annual promotion.
Games would be played more evenly throughout the season, rather than the current model, which sees four-day cricket crammed at the start and end of the campaign, while the possibility of red-ball ‘festival’ matches in the August window for The A hundred is also discussed.
The Vitality Blast, a popular multi-county cash cow, will also be reduced from 14 group games to 10, with the Royal London Cup moved to April as a curtain-raiser knockout tournament.
The overall reduction in days is meant to create time for more rest, training and analysis, creating a more intense competition.
While this is likely to go down well with large proportions of players, many of whom found the 2022 model to be an unsatisfying puzzle of competitions and formats, there is a clear financial implication at play. Fewer matches means less revenue, not only at the gate but also among members, who will effectively see less cricket for their money.
But Strauss, whose bold mission statement is to make England the best all-round team in the world within five years, believes change is needed.
“The status quo is not an option. Everyone in the game tells us that. We have listened, now we must act,” he said.
“I honestly feel like this set of proposals can make a huge difference in the game. Of course, anything in our internal structure is very controversial and it is for the game to disappear, talk and debate.
“I think we can still do a lot of good things without the last two recommendations, but I think they’re a good demonstration of the tough decisions we have to make as a game and how serious we are about trying to achieve that ambition.
“What we have to understand is how important it is for us to have a coherent program, and the answer to quality is not quantity. A higher standard, more intense competition with the red ball should be a great thing for the members, for the players, for the ground staff, for the coaches. We have to understand that it’s not all about volume.
“We think it’s a very complete package, but there will be elements of it that some people feel are not in their best interest and we understand that. This is the reality of the internal structure. You can’t solve one thing without solving another.”
Other suggestions the ECB will put forward include a pilot use of the Kookaburra ball in county cricket – predominantly used in Test matches in the southern hemisphere, as opposed to the Duke ball used in England – along with a return to ‘North vs South ” from overseas. ‘, expanded and refocused the England Lions and England age-group programs and a fresh look at the central contract system amid threats from the global franchise circuit.
Central funding for counties would also be linked to performance targets, including offering players on the international track, and incentives for good quality pitches are also suggested.
A final decision on the structural changes should come by the end of November, but the earliest they could be adopted is the 2024 season – meaning another year of a structure that Strauss’s team has effectively discredited .
“We’ve been in a race against time to get these recommendations out so the counties can vote for the 2023 season, but I think we’ve run out of time,” he said.
“But these are difficult conversations and important decisions. Sometimes you have to look at the big picture and understand that it’s better to go for the right solution than to jump off a cliff.”
Source : www.independent.co.uk