County chiefs have criticized Sir Andrew Strauss’s proposed reforms for domestic cricket despite admitting that change is needed.
The former Test captain has spent the last six months overseeing a high-performance review for the England and Wales Cricket Board, launched in the wake of last winter’s Ashes thrashing, and has come up with 17 recommendations.
Fifteen of these fall under the purview of the ECB and already have the required backing, but two key proposals involving a complete reshuffling of the county calendar need the support of at least 12 of the 18 first-class counties to go ahead.
But Sussex chairman Jon Filby told the BBC: “Strauss’ high-performance review is equally unworkable where county cricket is concerned.
“When viewed through the lens of high performance, it’s exactly what the game needs. But we’re not just looking through the lens of high performance.
“We are looking through a financial and commercial lens. We are looking through the eyes of our members who have the cricket they want and we are looking a lot through a variety of angles that is not just high performance.
Essex CEO and acting chairman John Stephenson also questioned whether the proposals would improve the testing side.
“There are different opinions on all this and you can have big debates about what makes a better trial player,” he told BBC Essex.
“In my opinion, reducing the amount of red ball cricket is not the way to produce better test cricketers.
“Certainly from Essex’s point of view we wouldn’t like to see a reduction in the number of cricket championships.”
Strauss’s panel advocates a reduction from 14 championship games per team to 10, with a six-team top division sitting 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 crowded four-day cricket at the start and end of the campaign, while the possibility of red-ball ‘festival’ matches during the August window for The Cien is also discussed.
The Vitality Blast, a popular moneymaker for several counties, would also be cut from 14 pool games to 10, with the Royal London Cup moving to April as a curtain-raising knockout tournament.
“We have to be careful not to lose too many games,” Surrey head coach Gareth Batty told reporters at the Kia Oval after his side’s decisive win over Yorkshire on Thursday.
“I think it would lessen the excitement (of winning the title) a little bit, because it has been built up for a long time. Ultimately, county cricket is here to serve an England team, but I only hope we do this for the good of the game, and not to keep celebrity cricket alive.”
The overall reduction in days is intended to create time for more rest, training and analysis, creating more intense competition.
“If we want to be the best Test nation, we have to make sure our players are playing enough red ball cricket,” Warwickshire director of cricket Paul Farbrace told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“My personal opinion would be that I would like to see all three groups of six; that would be a very good way to do it.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that we in Warwickshire are going to vote that way. There’s a lot of work to do to get to that stage, but I like best against best because that’s the only way we’re going to compete and be the best test nation in the world.”
But there is a clear financial implication at play, fewer matches means less revenue, not only at the gate but also amongst members, who will effectively see less cricket for their money.
“If it was just high performance and you forgot about members and finances, then yes, go for it,” Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart told BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.
“But it’s a little bigger than that. In my opinion, we should respect the members who pay their membership to come, watch and support. Are the finances that make the game happen well balanced?
But Strauss, whose bold mission statement is to make England the best cross-format team in the world within five years, believes a change is needed.
“The status quo is not an option. Everyone in the game tells us this. We have listened, now we must act,” she said.
“Honestly, I feel like this set of proposals can make a big difference to the game. Of course, anything in our domestic structure is highly contentious and is for the game to go and talk about and debate.
“I think we can still do a lot of good without the final two recommendations, but I think they are a good demonstration of the tough decisions we have to make as a game, and how serious we are about trying to achieve this ambition. ”
London Royal Cup – April
LV= County Championship – May, June, July, September
Vitality Blast – May, June, July
The Hundred – August
Red Ball ‘Festivals’ – August
Central funding for counties would also be linked to performance targets, including provision of players to the international pipeline, and incentivizing good quality pitches is also suggested.
The final decision on the structural changes should come at the end of November, but the earliest they could be adopted is the 2024 season.
A statement from the Professional Cricket Players Association said: “The PCA and most professional players agree that the current schedule is unsustainable and requires reform.
“The PCA and the players support the vision of making England the best team in the world in all formats.
“For this to happen, players must have room to grow and develop with adequate rest and recovery to maximize performance and protect player well-being.”