Six weeks ago, I wrote a 7,000 word post regarding the flaws in the consultation document from the ECB’s High Performance Review. Literally the next day, the final report was published. At first glance, the whole thing seemed laughably poor. I was therefore dismayed to see the recommendations receive broad support, with only those regarding the county schedules receiving the consideration and pushback that they deserve.
As a consequence, I have decided to write this brand new 11,000 word post which details point by point why each of the 36 proposed actions is bad for improving the development and performance of England men’s players, bad for the ECB, and bad for the counties.
RECOMMENDATION 1: CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR MEN’S HIGH PERFORMANCE
Proposal 1: The introduction of a High Performance Non-Executive Director (NED) role on the ECB
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Three cricket boards have an obvious claim for outperforming the ECB with regards to developing world class men’s cricketers: Cricket Australia, New Zealand Cricket and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. None of them appear to have a board member with sole responsibility for their men’s team development and performances. This would suggest that such a role is far from essential to the process, and may even be harmful.
Moreover, such a move ignores the lessons of this summer. Coming into the 2022 season, England were considered a very strong white ball team but relatively weak in Test matches. Following new appointments in both coaching and captaincy, these trends appeared to be reversed. This would seem to indicate that the most significant factor with regards to the performance and development of England cricketers is the individuals who are employed rather than the structures they are in. In other words: Sack those currently in position who haven’t done their jobs well, many of whom were authors of the High Performance Review, and hire better people instead.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It will cost the ECB a lot of money every year to employ an additional board-level director, not to mention the extra staff who will likely be needed to support them and the use of consultants during the recruitment process. If the extra position offers no logical likelihood of improvement, then that is a poor use of the ECB’s time and resources.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Whenever the ECB spends money on extra staff members, in such a way unlikely to yield any positive results, that is money which then can’t be used to help the counties either directly (through central payments) or indirectly (such as building up ECB reserves or improving participation levels). Inefficiency and profligacy within the ECB is not harmless, as it prevents the ECB’s resources being used in a better way.
Proposal 2: The Performance Cricket Committee (PCC) to be re-purposed with a single strategic focus
on enabling successful England teams and delivery of this plan
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: A committee dedicated to delivering the proposals in this plan would be a plus point if the proposals in this plan were good. If the proposals are not good, and would not logically lead to any improvements, then it creates a tier of bureaucracy where success (and quite possibly a cash bonus) is linked to the implementation of a plan rather than beneficial outcomes such as an improvement in international results or more Test-quality cricketers being developed. This provides little incentive for members of the committee to question or alter the plan if it is not working.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: One likely consequence of limiting the Performance Cricket Committee’s responsibilities is that another committee would have to be formed in order to oversee the areas which it is stripped of. Apart from the additional expense that English cricket will incur as a result, it would also further increase the sheer number of people involved within ECB committees. I have yet to hear a single person say that having ‘not enough committees’ is an issue which they need to address.
Such a move would also enshrine the view that delivering ‘high performance’ is the sole priority within the structure of the England team. It is worth remembering that the ECB is less than a year away from its disastrous appearance in front of the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport parliamentary committee hearing into discrimination. There are a number of investigations and reviews regarding racism and sexism which are due to report in the coming months, and it would be the height of foolishness to pre-empt and ignore these issues by making wide-ranging changes to the structures and culture of English cricket before they are published and the results considered.
Limiting the remit of the PCC does make sense if you were to consider the current members of the committee unable to fulfil their current obligations. Since several of those members helped write the High Performance Review, such a perspective would presumably bring the conclusions of that review into question.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Aside from the additional costs involved, again, having a committee dedicated solely to to the implementation of this plan means that it will become entrenched and difficult to overturn. Counties must therefore act immediately to oppose all of the recommendations in this review, and not just the two related to domestic schedules.
Proposal 3: The creation of an expert panel from outside of cricket – ‘Performance Advisory Group’ (PAG) – to support and advise the PCC
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Taking methods from banking and applying them to cricket will not create improvements in performance for the same reason that taking lessons from scuba diving and applying them to stamp collecting won’t work: The outcomes are either so generic as to be obvious, or so specific that there is no practical application.
It suits the board, the Performance Cricket Committee and the ECB employees responsible for developing international cricketers, many of whom helped write the High Performance Review, to imply that all conventional cricket methods have been applied to the problem with the best coaches and technology available and failed. If this is the case, then there is an obvious requirement to both increase funding and to create unconventional processes to deal with the issue. This avoids laying blame on those currently in situ, as they did the best with the resources they had available. The problem with this line of thought is that it falls apart after a single question: If a massive influx of money and brand new ideas are needed to succeed in international cricket, why are they being outperformed by India and Australia? Neither of these boards appear to have ball tracking at every domestic match, nor regularly consult with business leaders and luminaries from other sports, nor centrally organise warm weather training camps and conferences for their domestic teams. What they do have are better coaches, better team cultures, and better executives overseeing it all.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It is a patently stupid idea, which makes those who propose or support it look ridiculous to almost everyone watching. The concept that it is necessary to reach into business or other sports to gain alternative views on how England could improve its coaching of players demonstrates how the ECB thinks everyone within cricket agrees with them. They don’t. The consultants who they pay to agree with them do so, as do the people who they hire after ruling out anyone with an opposing viewpoint.
Far be it for me to disparage people who are ‘Outside Cricket’, but the England teams’ issues are caused by a lot of bad ideas being implemented poorly by people who were appointed by morons and there are plenty of candidates in and around English cricket who would be happy to say so.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Aside from the additional cost taking more money out of the game, it would seem to give a group of people with no interest in cricket beyond a paycheck an inordinate level of influence on the ECB, and by extension the counties themselves. Having appointed such a committee, the ECB would almost be bound to follow its recommendations or else they would have to admit it was a foolish idea.
RECOMMENDATION 2: IMPROVE OUR SHARED UNDERSTANDING OF ‘WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN’
Proposal 4: Update What it Takes to Win (WITTW) research on the batting and bowling skills required to win in Test and limited overs cricket
“This includes broadening the analysis to include a deeper understanding of the physical and psychological factors that predict how well a player may perform in elite cricket.”
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Ruling out cricketers with superior batting or bowling records on the basis of some metrics decided by a committee would be a very interesting approach to take, and not one typically employed by any other teams. If the England team had a wealth of talent at its disposal, such a move might not have any negative effects. As it stands, that is unlikely to be the case.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It bears saying that, particularly with regards to players’ psychological makeup, these factors become a lot less important when paired with good leadership. It is the role of captains and coaches to manage a disparate group of individuals, getting the most out of every single one. Good leaders can handle multiple subordinates with different needs. Getting rid of anyone who doesn’t fit into their idea of how an international cricketer should think would be a tacit admission that the people that the ECB have hired in senior roles lack basic management qualities.
Such a move would also offer a significant risk of discriminating against minority cricketers, as ‘not fitting in’ with others and different cultural reactions to authority have been cited as barriers to players who aren’t White public school boys advancing, and these proposals would seem to further entrench that idealised image of what a professional cricketer should act like.
Why it is bad for county cricket: The aim appears to be to embed the What It Takes To Win methodology throughout English cricket, using annual conferences, coach qualifications and financial payments to incentivise counties toward following the ECB’s lead. This means that any potential damage will not stay limited to just the England teams.
Proposal 5: Embed the game’s WITTW analysis into the ECB coaching curriculum and the wider network ethos
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: The review doesn’t explicitly state what What It Takes To Win entails, but describes it as “a holistic view of what skills and attributes players and teams need to succeed”. Examples of what this might entail can be inferred from other sections of this report: Bowlers using spin or extreme pace, and batters facing them more often. It’s certainly wouldn’t be a problem for England and the counties to use and develop more players with these skills, but it would be foolish to do so to the exclusion of everything else.
International cricket has shown us time and time again that you cannot afford to overlook talented players just because they don’t fit the expected archetype. Since South Africa’s readmission to Test cricket, the bowler who has the best Test bowling average for them (min. 100 wickets) is medium-paced Vernon Philander. Over 80% of the Tests he played in used the red Kookaburra ball and yet he frequently bowled deliveries at less than 80 mph, an approach which Sir Andrew Strauss appears to argue would not work for English bowlers. Mohammad Abbas has had similar success for Pakistan, almost exclusively with a Kookaburra ball. Two of the highest-scoring openers in the 21st Century are Virender Sehwag at 5.0 runs per over and Sir Alastair Cook at 2.8 runs per over. The ECB’s strategy not only risks skilful players not being selected for England when they might be in the best XI, but perhaps not even making it through to county first teams.
Ultimately, the goal of the ECB and counties has to be making every single cricketer as good as they possibly can be. Whether they bowl at 95 mph or 78 mph. Whether they score at 5 runs per over or 1.5. To pigeonhole players as ‘not Test material’ because their skills don’t fit a selector’s preconceived ideas of what the format requires has probably cost several good county bowlers an opportunity to prove their worth. Many attempts by ECB coaches to make square pegs fit into round holes, pressuring bowlers to become 5 mph faster or batters to increase their Test strike rates, have arguably ruined the players’ lives.
To misquote the film Ratatouille: “Not everyone can become a great cricketer, but a great cricketer can come from anywhere.”
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Imposing an untested coaching and scouting philosophy, apparently overriding the judgement of their own employees in the process, will be crushingly bad for morale and recruitment. What international coach with any self respect would allow every matter of selection and training be dictated to them by a committee of executives? The best case scenario is that it would be largely ignored.
Why it is bad for county cricket: The ECB’s track record for coaches that have received its qualifications is abysmal. An English coach has never won an ICC tournament with England, nor has one won an Ashes series since Micky Stewart in 1987. The state of English coaching is, generally speaking, dire and the introduction of standardised ECB training in 2000 has done nothing to improve things. The curriculum doesn’t need additions, much less of expensive and untested methods as is proposed, but scrapping (with everyone currently involved at the elite level fired) and starting again from scratch.
Proposal 6: Implement mobile ball tracking technology within the domestic game to ensure that any WITTW skills are measured objectively
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: You can tell a lot about how well someone in cricket understands statistics by how enthusiastic they are about using data in coaching and selection. The argument is that it replaces old-fashioned guesswork with a scientific and reliable approach. I do not think that most of the cheerleaders for it, particularly ex-cricketers, broadcasters or executives, understand the intrinsic limitations and biases that it has.
The first thing to say is that ‘ball tracking’ represents less than half of the information which is logged for each delivery. Whilst that part is broadly consistent and objective (subject to the technology working properly), the other aspects are much less so. An observer records dozens of aspects of each play, particularly regarding the batter and fielders, which are used as a very important part of the data set. Is the batter on the front or back foot? Was the batter in control of the shot? Could or should a fielder have prevented the runs? Was the shot aggressive? How difficult was a catch opportunity out of 100? All of these judgements are subjective, and leaves the gate wide open for the observer’s biases to skew the figures to meet their expectations. The same innings could have a very different ‘score’ depending on the person doing it, which seems like the opposite of a scientific method.
All of this ignores perhaps the greater issue regarding using statistics in cricket, which is sample size. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen statistics on a players’ strengths and weaknesses based on just a handful of games. It is frequently stated as fact that a young batter struggles against all spin when they had played the majority of their Test matches against teams with world-class spinners (against whom more experienced players also struggled), for example. Using data in this way blinds you to the context of performances. At the same time, making the data set larger in order to remove these kinds of short-term blips leads to introducing a lot of irrelevant information. An extreme example would be James Anderson. His career Test bowling average is 26.22, but this goes back to his debut in 2003. Do statistics from almost twenty years ago really have any bearing on how he will play now?
What good data analysts do is contextualise the data they are given. Each performance by a player is affected by so many factors (the quality of the opposition, the position of the game, fitness, fatigue, the light and weather, to name just a few) that no algorithm can actually quantify or accurately judge a player’s value, no matter what their marketers tell you. Ultimately, having ball tracking data for every cricket game in the world would not offer you any more useful information than a good scout watching the game.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: The cost for introducing Hawkeye (or the non-branded equivalent) for every county ground is eye-wateringly huge. At a minimum, I think you would need nine teams of three people to cover every game (two technicians and someone logging the non-tracking elements of the data), plus hiring all of the equipment (at least four specialist cameras for every match) and licensing the proprietary software needed to make it all work. It may well be easier to install the cameras and staff semi-permanently at each of the eighteen main grounds, in which case it will require twice that many. This is a massive outlay of money with very little to show for it, when that money could be better used elsewhere.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Again (and this is a recurring theme throughout the review), this proposal requires a massive amount of extra money to be spent without any guarantee (or, quite frankly, likelihood) of success.
RECOMMENDATION 3: FOSTER A HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMMUNITY
Proposal 7: Establish a community for high performance, connecting individuals and leaders in relevant roles – coaches, directors of cricket, ground staff, and so on
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: The ECB has consistently failed to show success in coaching or scouting for over a decade, which is essentially the issue that led to the review being written, so how are they qualified to teach those at county level? It is like if Liz Truss started doing courses on how to win friends and influence people. The methods and philosophies suggested in this review have not been used by England or any other team, and yet the ECB appears to support implementing these untested processes at every level of the game. This would risk institutionalising bad practice, and further damage the England Test team as well as the counties.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: This would require several new staff positions at the ECB in order to manage this community, perhaps a whole new department, which again increases costs for the ECB.
Why it is bad for county cricket: This proposal represents yet another attempt by the ECB to micromanage every aspect of how the counties are run. Whilst there are undoubtedly some teams which are doing so badly that they need this kind of help, it is very questionable that anyone at the ECB has the qualifications necessary to deliver it. The whole review is based on the premise that they have failed in their work and need radical solutions to fix, after all.
And, of course, this would also require extra expenditure by the ECB and take money out of the game.
Proposal 8: Ensure regular communications between these roles, and explore the holding of an annual performance summit. Much of the communication to centre on sharing and embedding the WITTW framework
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Only a certain brand of executive thinks that conferences routinely offer any positive outcomes. For most people, it is a few days listening to boring speeches (not that the speakers think so) and not doing the work you’re actually paid to do.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Who’s going to pay for the conference and hotel rooms and transport for the hundreds of people that the ECB wants to gather every year? Another expensive suggestion.
Why it is bad for county cricket: As well as the costs, both centrally at the ECB and for the counties themselves, the entirety of county cricket will grind to a halt for a few days as every county Director of Cricket, coach and senior ground staff will go to a conference for a few days.
RECOMMENDATION 4: DEVELOP DIVERSE SKILLS IN PERFORMANCE LEADERSHIP ROLES
Proposal 9: Expand the existing ECB development programmes to focus on leadership development of directors of cricket, coaches, and captains. Programmes to focus on individualised development rather than classroom-based learning
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: The ECB has a really bad track record for developing leaders. No English coaches have won an Ashes or ICC tournament for England since 1987, and which England men’s captains in the past twenty years have been actually good at their jobs? Morgan, Vaughan, Collingwood, and maybe Strauss? It often seems like the ECB conflates ‘leadership skills’ with the ‘well-spoken’ tag attached to former public schoolboys, in which case these development programmes might also discriminate against players who didn’t attend public schools by trying to teach them to act more like Bertie Wooster.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Extra money being spent that the ECB doesn’t have. Again.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Extra money being spent by the ECB, in order to tell the every senior member of staff at the counties how to do their jobs.
Proposal 10: Increase the diversity of people in our high-performance roles (as aligned to the game’s EDI objectives)
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: It does bear saying that a Black or Asian coach, British or otherwise, is not inherently better at their job than a White one. The reason why an under-representation of Black and Asian coaches in English cricket could have a negative effect is if more talented coaches are not given opportunities because of their ethnicity. However, there is also an apparent insistence that the vast majority of coaches are experienced ex-professional cricketers at every level. Given that British Asians in particular have been disproportionately less likely to be employed by counties, relative to the numbers playing junior cricket, there are perhaps not that many potential candidates who are looking to be employed in these high-performance roles.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It’s a High Performance Review, and one of the proposals is to stop being racist. It’s not a great look.
Why it is bad for county cricket: If the ECB are looking to hire experienced British women, Black and Asian coaches then the easiest way to do so would be luring county coaches away with more lucrative pay deals. This in turn would strip county cricket of a majority of its own non-White and/or female coaching staff and end up leaving it much less diverse.
RECOMMENDATION 5: REWARD PERFORMANCE IMPACT
Proposal 11: We recommend that from 2025 a significant proportion of the funding that ECB distributes to counties via the County Partnership Agreement should be performance related, based on an agreed set of metrics on the levels of contribution to the broader strategy
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: There are two broad kinds of performance-related payments which this would appear to include: On-field success (Being in Division 1, winning matches and winning trophies) and developing England players. The first encourages short-term thinking, with a Division 1 county perhaps incentivised to poach experienced players from other counties rather than allowing their own youth players to develop in their first XI. This would appear to be the antithesis of what a High Performance Review should cause.
At the same time, the rewards for developing England players typically only come more than ten years after they make their professional debut with a club (Twenty-three years, in the case of James Anderson). No county can predict whether their youth players will eventually reach that standard, or whether this payment system will still be in place if or when they do. Therefore, it would be foolish financially for the counties to invest extra money in player development in the hope that this will pay off for them sometime in the next decade.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: This will cause a fight, and the ECB will lose. Although this recommendation is considered one of the aspects over which the ECB has the ability to pass through its own board rather than getting the counties on board, this isn’t entirely true. As it suggests, this relies on a fundamental change to the County Partnership Agreement and therefore needs the approval of the counties. With at least half of the counties standing to lose money relative to their competitors, not least the twelve teams in Division 2 if that proposal was passed (it won’t be), it would be difficult to see such a proposal having widespread support.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Perhaps it wouldn’t be, but it would be bad for a lot of individual counties. Any county in Division 2, any county which hasn’t developed a current England player, any county reliant on reliable ECB funding wouldn’t find this in their own interests to support. It could also lead to a drop in team (and consequently individual cricketer) wages, as the current minimum team salaries are predicated on each county receiving over £3m from the ECB every year. If some teams were to receive less, then the minimum professional contracts (currently £27,500 pa) may have to also be lowered.
RECOMMENDATION 6: CHALLENGE OUR BOWLERS TO DEVELOP THEIR GLOBAL SKILLS
Proposal 12: Trial the use of the Kookaburra ball in the County Championship cricket to test the impact on bowlers’ skills development
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Twelve proposals in, and I have to give this one credit. It probably wouldn’t be bad for helping English county cricketers play overseas. Most countries use red Kookaburra balls in Test matches, and using that ball domestically might lead to English bowlers relying less on the Dukes ball’s prominent seam and longer-lasting swing.
If it did work, with English bowlers taking fewer wickets as a result, then there could be negative consequences coming from that. More games would end in draws, which could mean that the Championship is won by a team which has drawn more matches than they won, and bowlers would have fewer opportunities to bat in games.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: There could be issues with relying on a foreign (Australian, no less) supplier for cricket balls. There may be value in asking Dukes to develop a less bowler-friendly ball for use in county cricket rather than using Kookaburra.
Why it is bad for county cricket: If it works, then it is difficult to see any consequence other than a lot more draws in the County Championship. This could lead the competition to seem boring, and counties might lose members and sponsorships as a result.
RECOMMENDATION 7: GIVE PLAYERS ACCESS TO EXPERIENCES OVERSEAS
Proposal 13: Play an annual red-ball series between North vs. South in overseas conditions in pre-season.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Playing red ball cricket immediately before a fifty-over competition, in foreign conditions, is clearly not good preparation for the county season.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Extra costs for the ECB again, including hiring a foreign cricket ground and flights for two teams of county cricketers.
Why it is bad for county cricket: More money being spent by the ECB, and taking players away from their counties’ preseason training right before the season starts. Given the ECB’s track record with bowlers, this might also significantly increase the chances of their players being injured by the start of the season.
Proposal 14: Secure access to best-in-class warm weather training facilities overseas, to be used by England teams and First-Class Counties players for training experiences and to prepare for tours
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: ECB facilities at Loughborough, which they describe as best-in-class, have not provided any obvious benefits in over twenty years. It is unclear why a second facility overseas would offer any positive results.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: More money that they don’t have being spent, and perhaps the suggestion that certain ECB employees just want to be sent somewhere warm (probably with very nice beaches and hotels) at their employer’s expense.
Why it is bad for county cricket: More money taken out of their pockets.
RECOMMENDATION 8: PROVIDE EARLIER INTERNATIONAL BENCHMARKING
Proposal 15: Develop an U17s England programme with matches overseas against international opposition
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Australia and India don’t appear to play international matches below the under-19s age group, and so there isn’t any evidence that it could improve player progression. Such a move could lead to ECB staff to concentrate resources on players from the under-17s team and fail to move on to better cricketers who develop more after the age of 16.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: With an extra team, you need more coaches and support staff as well as hotel and flights. This would not be cheap.
Why it is bad for county cricket: As well as all of the money that the ECB will have to spend on this, it would also see counties’ most promising young cricketers taken away from their counties in order to play and train with the England teams. This will weaken the quality of the counties’ under-17s teams and reduce the standard of the existing competitions.
RECOMMENDATION 9: REFOCUS THE LIONS
Proposal 16: Align Lions selection to England’s current and medium-term needs
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Obviously any solution which meets the team’s needs would, by definition, be good for the England team. However, even with this summer’s strong results for the England Test team, the current and medium-term needs are everything. Openers, middle order batters, pace and spin bowlers. This renders the proposal meaningless.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It would seem to imply that Lions selection (which is I believe handled by the Review’s co-author Mo Bobat) has not being aligned with the England teams’ needs up until now, which is pretty damning.
Why it is bad for county cricket: It would have no obvious effect on county cricket, if the same number of players were selected.
Proposal 17: Rebalance the Lions’ schedule to an 80/20 focus on red ball vs. 50 over cricket, with no T20 matches
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: It wouldn’t be. With the proliferation of T20 leagues around the world, many of which are using English players, there is literally no point in paying for extra T20 training camps and matches.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It’s not.
Why it is bad for county cricket: It’s not.
Proposal 18: In the domestic summer, play Lions matches in windows in which there are fewer County Championship matches – June, August, and end of September
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Increasing the use of an A team demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding regarding the role of such a team, and the position England are currently in.
The gold standard for A teams, at least recently, is India. Ten Indian players in the match between India A and England Lions in 2018 have gone on to play senior Test cricket for India. India A has played more matches than England Lions (Seventeen first-class games since 2019, compared to six by the Lions), and so copying that aspect would seem like a no-brainer. However, it is worth considering why that India A team was so strong. The key reason is that their senior side was also good, the number one ranked team in the ICC Test rankings, which meant that Test-quality players were simply unable to break into the side. Therefore, India A allowed the BCCI to keep tabs on their younger cricketers and prepare them for their eventual ascension to Test cricket. This is not the case with England and the Lions team.
No player to make their Test debut since 2014 has secured a place in the side, due to either form with the batters or fitness with the bowlers. This means that any promising players from county cricket are immediately catapulted into the squad, and often the first XI. Consequently, there is not a backlog of talented cricketers waiting on the outside as there was for India. The players that the ECB needs to develop are already in the main Test squad, which makes the Lions team superfluous. The same results (giving young players experience overseas) could be achieved at a much lower cost by simply extending Test tours to include three or four warm-up matches.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: More money being spent, with potentially a full-time Lions staff being needed for the extra games on top of the expenses for paying players and touring costs. Many counties are already angry about losing players in August to The Hundred, and now face losing even more.
Why it is bad for county cricket: More money being spent, with potentially a full-time Lions staff being needed for the extra games on top of the expenses for paying players and touring costs. Playing Lions matches during the season would also weaken county teams in various competitions, therefore punishing counties who develop promising cricketers that the ECB selects. There also appears to be an increased likelihood of bowlers being injured under the ECB’s auspices, which would also harm counties competitively.
RECOMMENDATIONS 10 AND 11: PRODUCE A COHERENT DOMESTIC SCHEDULE AND UPGRADE THE STANDARD AND INTENSITY OF OUR COMPETITIONS
“We are proposing a revised domestic schedule and competition structure which we believe will create a more balanced and coherent schedule for players and fans alike, and result in the best standard and intensity for our competitions in all formats.”
Proposal 19: One Day Cup – The competition to be played in April in a single block. Comprising of six rounds, with a significant knock-out element. We are investigating the appetite to involve the National Counties to create an FA Cup style competition. Counties knocked out during the group stage would have the opportunity to play red-ball warm-up fixtures ahead of the County Championship beginning in May.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: If it is an FA Cup-style competition, then most counties will only play three games (The fourth round being the quarter finals, having at most eight out of the eighteen first class counties). Three fifty-over matches per year is not enough to develop players, and give them experience in the format.
Scheduling all fifty-over games in April, which is an international window due to the IPL, means that they will never be held at the same time (or even close to) England’s ODIs. In 2023, all seven men’s ODIs are due to be played in September. This potentially leaves a four-month gap between matches in the format for every England cricketer, and offers little opportunity to pick county players based on their form.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Perhaps more than any other changes to the county schedule, this proposal exposes the gross stupidity at the heart of the ECB. It fundamentally fails to grasp how a FA Cup-style competition works, why it works, and how to apply such a concept to cricket.
The FA Cup is not, and never has been, played in a ‘window’. The key reason for this is logistics. You can’t sell tickets, arrange hotels and transport for a game until you know where and when it will be played, which relies at the very least on your team winning their match. The gaps of a few weeks between each FA Cup round allow teams and their fans to organise themselves and consequently maximise attendance and revenue for the teams involved. With the One Day Cup appearing to have six rounds in four weeks or less, this would make it virtually impossible for away fans (as well as many home fans) to attend games.
It is true that FA Cup matches generally garner more interest amongst neutral and casual football fans than Premier League matches, and its structure plays a large part in that. Every match is a ‘must-win’, there are rare match-ups, and organic narratives such as a ‘David vs. Goliath’ contest. The problem that the One Day Cup would have in comparison is that this interest is heavily reliant on television coverage which Sky simply will not provide. The competition will clash with the IPL, which Sky have the rights for, and so there is little incentive for them to pay production costs for a second concurrent cricket tournament. The best-case scenario is for them to re-broadcast the streaming coverage, as they did with the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy 2022 final, but that would be of significantly lower quality than their regular cricket output.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Before The Hundred was introduced, the One Day Cup matches were regularly shown on Sky Sports. This increased the value of county cricket within the previous TV deal, and therefore moved counties towards being financially self-reliant and way from being considered a necessary expense for developing cricketers for England and The Hundred. Having this competition scheduled at a time when Sky would never show a match, whether during the IPL or The Hundred, weakens counties politically within the ECB.
Proposal 20: County Championship – The County Championship schedule to begin in May and run
through until September. The competition will consist of a 6-team first division and a 12-team second division split into two conferences. The winners of the two conferences play each other in a play-off game to determine who is promoted. Each county will play a minimum of 10 Championship matches with the possibility of one play-off match and up to three additional first class matches (through the festivals of red ball cricket, described below).
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: It wouldn’t be. I’m not sure any successful Test team in the history of the sport has had every domestic team playing fourteen matches in a season. It is clearly not necessary in order to develop quality cricketers. There are arguments about whether England’s temperate climate might mean more washouts, and therefore the need for extra games as redundancy, but the improved drainage at grounds has generally reduced the impact of weather in this way.
This is not to say that having fewer matches would automatically lead to an improvement, but rather that it probably isn’t one of the most significant factors in the success of the international team. The reduction from sixteen to fourteen matches in 2017 has never been cited as having had a positive effect on the development on Test players, for example.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: More than any other proposal on this list, this one has riled the base of county members. The ECB can only continue its functions with the support of a majority of the first-class counties, and fifteen of those counties are ultimately controlled by their members. Whilst many of the rules of those counties seem pretty outdated, there is at least the potential for county members to directly affect ECB operations in ways far beyond just the county schedule. In that context, it seems like this was an unnecessary risk for them to take.
Why it is bad for county cricket: If the ECB has incited a battle between themselves and the county members, then it is the counties who are the battlegrounds. It is not ECB representatives who are defending the High Performance Review and its proposals to angry county members, but county chairs and chief executives. They are the ones being attacked, and having to defend something they had virtually no role in writing. It is frankly not fair to them.
Proposal 21: T20 Blast – The Blast’s window to begin in late May and run through until July with the quarter-finals and Finals Day played before The Hundred commences. The First-Class Counties to play 10 matches in blocks in the group-stage with a focus on more prime slots (Thursdays to Sundays). The current Hundred “wildcard” process, where undrafted players from the Blast can enter The Hundred based on their Blast performances, will be extended with more places available per Hundred team.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Again, it quite possibly isn’t. If you consider The Hundred as a T20 competition, which it is in all but name, then most top English T20 cricketers will still play in at least eighteen T20 matches. That is more than enough in order to ensure the development of players.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: If reducing the County Championship angers county members, then this proposal is the one which will anger county chairs and chief executives. The T20 Blast offers the most profitable home games for counties, and that income then goes to funding other aspects of the organisations. Reducing the number of group matches (and therefore income) by 28% will have a significant negative impact on county finances., which will then prompt the counties to oppose these proposals with every fibre of their being.
Why it is bad for county cricket: It makes every county less able to raise money themselves, through a reduction in their most profitable matches, and therefore more reliant on the ECB for funding. This will make them weaker in future negotiations and unable to oppose changes which the ECB might suggest.
Proposal 22: The Hundred – The Hundred will be played during a four-week window during July/August to balance the high-performance aspects with the commercial and audience growth it provides.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: The absolute priority given to The Hundred in scheduling English cricket, even above international matches, severely restricts the ECB’s ability to adjust when England games and domestic competitions are played in order to improve performance.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It has generally been agreed that playing the same formats domestically and internationally are a positive for aiding the development of England players. This logic was responsible for changing the domestic one day format from forty to fifty overs, and is also used to suggest that using a red Kookaburra ball will help cricketers improve overseas. If that thinking has changed, then the ECB has done a very poor job in communicating how or why.
Why it is bad for county cricket: The creation of The Hundred has directly led to the ECB proposing that every county competition needs to be shortened.
Proposal 23: First-Class Cricket Festivals – First-Class matches played between counties in August alongside The Hundred, in a format determined by competing counties, for example: An annual London Cup , played in a round robin format, an annual Roses ‘Test’ series, tri-series and final between Western counties. At this time we could also look to schedule Lions and U19 matches.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: It is the contention of the High Performance Review that must-win games are essential for player development, and yet it also suggests that three friendlies be played in the middle of summer as opposed to Championship matches which lead to trophies, promotion and relegation.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: This is a fairly transparent move to reduce the county season by a month in order to fit in The Hundred.
Why it is bad for county cricket: As well as losing players to The Hundred, there will also be Lions (and possibly age group) matches at the same time. As many as 120 English cricketers would be unavailable for their county teams.
RECOMMENDATION 12: INCENTIVISE HIGHER QUALITY PITCHES
Proposal 24: To implement a pitch review system that is objective – enabled by ball-tracking technology – and have teeth to reward or penalise counties based on these objective measures.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: This proposal has absolutely nothing to do with High Performance. Rather, it is an attempt to provide uses for ball tracking data beyond scouting, to further justify the expense.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Installing ball-tracking equipment at eighteen grounds requires a massive amount of money. Penalising counties solely on the basis of ball-tracking data overlooks mitigations such as a sustained period of inclement weather. Such a system would also be incredibly arbitrary if a 9.9% variation in bounce received no punishment whilst a 10% variation merited a points deduction. If mitigations are considered, there are no benefits as the same biases will remain (ie Durham will get points deductions, whilst Middlesex will get a warning for the same offence).
Why it is bad for county cricket: It will likely not change anything, and yet cost a massive amount to do so.
Proposal 25: A County Championship bonus points scoring system, below, implemented in both divisions for one season as a trial to understand its impact on pitches.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: It’s not, but the likely effect will be limited. Surrey CCC have had the reputation of providing perhaps the most batting friendly pitches in the County Championship, and they have also helped develop a number of England batters to make their debut in recent years. Those players have struggled once in the England team, with none having a Test batting average above 33.00. This would suggest that pitches might not be a key factor in England’s batting struggles.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It’s not.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Changing competition formats every season is not healthy for any sport.
RECOMMENDATION 13: PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR TALENT AND REWARD COUNTIES FOR DEVELOPMENT
Proposal 26: Implement a structured county-to-county player compensation mechanism, where counties are rewarded for the development of players that then sign for other counties. This compensation should be proportionate to the value of the player’s contract.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: This proposal would make it more difficult for English players to move counties in order to get more game time, new coaches or just a fresh start. Given the choice between two equally good cricketers, an English player who would merit an extra payment to a rival team or an Australian with an English passport who wouldn’t, most counties would pick the latter. This is not obviously good for developing English players.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: This could provoke conflict with the PCA, if it causes county budgets to be spent on transfer fees rather than player wages. If a county has an budget of £100,000 to sign a player, but would have to pay their former team £20,000, then that only leaves £80,000 to pay the player.
Why it is bad for county cricket: If lucrative, it could cause richer teams to ‘poach’ talented youngsters from other counties in order to earn a payoff down the line.
Proposal 27: Regulate that Under-21s players can be loaned for free to another county, meaning the parent county covers the entirety of the player’s salary.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: It’s not, although it is odd that it is limited to under-21s. Why is the ECB preventing players being loaned at their parent club’s expense? Who loses out in that situation?
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It’s not.
Why it is bad for county cricket: It’s not.
RECOMMENDATION 14: SUSTAIN AN EXCITING ‘SHOP WINDOW’ FOR THE GAME
Proposal 28: Create a clear style of cricket for England, aligned to What it Takes to Win, that everyone understands, buys into, and knows their role in.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: As nice a thought as it is, you can’t mandate a style of play for a team to use in all circumstances. The success of ‘Bazball’ this summer can be seen as coming from not asking players to do something they aren’t good at (blocking the ball, for example) and following a high risk-high reward approach to both batting and bowling. This is an attractive style of play, but also highly pragmatic. A better Test team with better batters wouldn’t need to take such risks, unless they are behind in a game, and so it is a strategy typically best employed by a weaker team.
The ultimate goal of this review, and the ECB generally, is to create great England teams. Part of what defines a great team is that they aren’t limited to a single style of playing, a single path to victory. They can smash you out of the park in two days, or grind you into dust over five. They have multiple players capable of adapting their own game, depending on the circumstances, in order to best help the team win. To demand a single style of cricket, a monolithic approach to an immensely varied game, quite frankly shows a singular lack of ambition.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: This proposal highlights a serious issue with the running of the ECB. A panel of twelve people wrote this review, and not one of them has ever coached a professional cricket team. Despite this, they are looking to mandate to coaches that they have hired for their experience and expertise how they should do their jobs. This would then be enforced by a permanent committee featuring most of the same people. There is a large (and expanding) bureaucracy of highly paid and yet broadly unqualified and utterly unaccountable executives and committee members working at the ECB who are seeking to justify their continued employment through a constant cycle of reviews with outside consultants followed by crushing micromanagement. That micromanagement inevitably has a negative effect on recruitment. What coach worth their salt is going to work there when told “You don’t just have to win matches, but also satisfy this committee that you are doing so in the correct way”?
Why it is bad for county cricket: It would have no effect on county cricket.
Proposal 29: Create inclusive culture so everyone feels welcome – both new and existing players and staff – giving players the psychological safety to express themselves.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Obviously a more inclusive culture would be very welcome in virtually every workplace. However, professional sport is still a results business and both players and coaches should at times be put under pressure by their superiors to perform and improve. Knowing how and when to do this without harming the team culture or the individual player’s confidence is a skill rarely found in English cricket. Just as it would be foolish to mandate a single style of play, it would be just as foolish to mandate a single approach to player management. It cannot just be scented candles, a yucca plant and a CD of ambient whale noises all of the time.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: This is the second time that a proposal can potentially be reframed as ‘don’t be racist any more’. That this needs to be said in a review about team performance, twice, is highly damning of the ECB.
Why it is bad for county cricket: It would have no effect on county cricket.
RECOMMENDATION 15: ENABLE PLAYERS TO BETTER MANAGE WORKLOADS
Proposal 30: Contracts that relieve the pressure on players’ physical and mental wellbeing by providing assurances of workload management from England through the right balance of retainers and match fees.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: The ECB already has a near-total level of control over the workloads of their centrally contracted players. As county fans will already know, whether these cricketers play for or train with their county teams is entirely up to the ECB. The same applies to whether players take part in overseas T20 leagues (although they seem reticent to do so with the IPL). This has not prevented a spate of workload-related injuries, most notably stress fractures of the back in pace bowlers. If anyone has faith in the England medical staff to look after their physical and mental wellbeing, they are idiots.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It implies that the current central contracts don’t relieve the pressure on players’ physical and mental wellbeing by providing assurances of workload management, when that is the whole point of them. If they aren’t providing this, should they be scrapped altogether?
Why it is bad for county cricket: When counties and their fans hear ‘workload management’ with relation to England cricketers, they know what that means: Not playing for their counties. The players will be driven into the dirt playing three formats for England, play in the IPL and any other T20/T10/Other leagues, and miss out on almost the entire county season.
RECOMMENDATION 16: ENABLE PLAYERS TO BETTER MANAGE WORKLOADS IMPROVE PHYSICAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL RESILIENCE
Proposal 31: Investing in a digital athlete monitoring system, which brings together a range of datasets on England players to help gain a more complete understanding of their physical status.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: Not unlike ball tracking, this is collecting data for data’s sake. You could more or less do this now with a Fitbit, but you can bet that the ECB’s preferred approach will be significantly more expensive and convoluted.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: It seems likely that this ‘investment’ will require a lot of money to implement, with both additional employees and new technology needed.
Why it is bad for county cricket: More money taken out of the game, with virtually nothing to show for it.
Proposal 32: Improving profiling, screening, and surveillance of player workloads.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: The vast majority of injuries to England cricketers occur when they are playing or training with the England team. If they don’t know what the player workloads are when they are right in front of ECB coaches, how can they possibly hope to improve their ‘surveillance’?
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: At this point, those tasked with writing this review might as well be dressed in hot dog costumes, standing next to a hot dog car in a wrecked shop saying “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this!“. It’s not like players are sneaking off to secret hardcore gyms where they’re trying to lift two tonne weights. The injuries are happening whilst under the ECB’s care, in front of ECB coaches and medical staff. So long as they refuse to acknowledge this and take responsibility, nothing will change.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Given how little England players play for their counties, it is hard to see this having any effect.
Proposal 33: Having a greater focus on long-term and individualised player programming (training, match and rest).
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: It’s not.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Once again, this is a proposal that is most damning because it implies that the ECB were not already adapting player’s workloads on an individual basis in order to maximise their long term playing time and utility to the England teams. This was what I thought the main job of the England coaching and medical staff was. What is it they have been doing up until now?
Why it is bad for county cricket: It’s not. In fact, if the ECB manage to stop injuring their bowlers then they might be available to play in more county matches.
Proposal 34: Having a greater focus on recruiting and retaining top expertise.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: ‘Recruiting’ top expertise would be a great move for the ECB. ‘Retaining’ makes it sound like they think they have top experts already there, when they are possibly the only ICC full member which has had to spend a vast amount of money investigating why they suck at developing players in a High Performance Review.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: Presumably this ‘focus’ on retaining backroom talent will take the form of increasing the budget to pay the existing coaches and other staff more, taking money out of the game with literally no improvement in terms of staffing.
Why it is bad for county cricket: Likely to mean an increase in wages and recruiting costs in existing ECB positions, taking more money out of the game.
RECOMMENDATION 17: SCHEDULE INTERNATIONAL MATCHES TO ALLOW PLAYERS TO PLAY THEIR BEST CRICKET, MORE OFTEN
Proposal 35: Commercial, operations and England Men’s captains and coaches to collaborate on an ongoing basis throughout the construction of the summer schedule. Attempting to allow for appropriate minimum preparation time before series, and gaps in between matches.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: If it could be done, then it wouldn’t be. But it can’t. The English summer lasts six months. Of those six months, at least three are blocked off due to international windows: April and May (plus some of early June) for the IPL, plus August for The Hundred. This leaves just ten or eleven weeks for the ECB to schedule seven Tests, twelve ODIs and twelve T20Is across both the men’s and women’s teams. There is no possible way way to pack this number of matches into such a condensed window in a way which also allows adequate preparation time in the gaps in between. There are no gaps. There have to be scheduled international matches on roughly two-thirds of the days through June, July and September just to meet the commitments made to Sky Sports.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: The Hundred window in August clearly makes this proposal very difficult to deliver, which will in turn increase pressure on the ECB to either schedule international matches during the competition or move The Hundred to April/May during the IPL.
Why it is bad for county cricket: The schedule for England matches probably has little effect on county cricket.
Proposal 36: Build domestic schedules that enable Test players to play first-class cricket around Test matches, and white ball specialists to be able to play both international white-ball cricket and major domestic white-ball cricket during the English summer.
Why it is bad with regards to High Performance: This is just reinforcing the point regarding the schedules proposed earlier, but it is interesting to note the difference between white and red ball cricketers. For Test players, this review sees it as important for counties to be playing four-day games before and during a series. However, this is not considered an issue for ODI and T20 specialists who are instead playing as many matches as possible. This is presumably because the example 2023 schedule shown in the review had the One Day Cup in April and England’s ODIs in September, as far apart as you can get in the English season. In order to be logically consistent, the ECB needs to decide either that both county white ball competitions need to be played during ODI and T20 series or that the County Championship doesn’t have to be scheduled during Tests.
Why it is bad with regards to the ECB generally: This states that the counties and the interests of county competitions shouldn’t be a factor in deciding the schedule. This is a position likely to start a fight between the ECB and the counties, a fight which the ECB would not win.
Why it is bad for county cricket: This proposal would appear to make the counties wholly subservient to the perceived interests of the England teams in scheduling their own competitions.
Of the 36 proposals listed, barely any of them would logically lead to improving the short or long-term performance of the men’s England teams. The vast majority are either expanding current practices with increased budgets and new technologies, or entirely unworkable and counterproductive.
Almost half of the proposed actions will cost the ECB more money to implement, whilst none of them appear to save any money on present spending. It is no exaggeration to say that following Sir Andrew Strauss’s High Performance Review to the letter might require tens of millions of pounds extra every year. That hurts virtually all of the ‘stakeholders’ in English cricket. With the 2025-28 Sky TV deal reportedly worth the same as the current one and the significant increase in UK inflation, there is no realistic prospect of English cricket raising extra money until 2029 at the earliest. This means that funding dozens of extra full time staff members, swathes of cutting edge technology and the consultants to decipher the resulting data can only occur if severe cuts are made elsewhere. It seems likely that reductions would have to be made to the payments counties receive from the ECB, which in turn would lead to the downgrading of player contracts.
There are also implications for the ECB’s stated commitment to equality and equity in the sport. If cuts have to be made elsewhere in order to fund ball tracking at every men’s match, will the ECB be able to continue increasing investment in women’s cricket? Will women’s wages in The Hundred be increased so that they are fair and proportionate to their popularity? Will more counties be ‘forced’ to follow Sussex CCC’s example and treat their youth systems as a source of revenue and entirely target white, privately-educated children?
Given that the potential performance benefits are highly questionable, and the money involved likely harms both counties and players, it begs the question: Who benefits? (Or, for the privately educated among you, ‘Cui bono?’) The answer, unsurprisingly, is the people who wrote the review. Five from the twelve co-authors of the report work for the ECB: Sir Andrew Strauss (Chair of the Performance Cricket Committee since 2019, and Director of Cricket from 2015 to 2018), Mo Bobat (Performance Director since 2019, and employed in various other roles by the ECB since 2011), Vikram Banerjee (Director of Strategy since 2017), Neil Snowball (Managing Director of County Cricket since 2020) and Rob Key (Managing Director of England Cricket since April).
Running as a thread through the whole review is the implication that those currently in positions of power within the ECB should not be held responsible for the issues which led it to being written in the first place, and continue not being held responsible going forwards. The very first proposed action in the very first recommendation is to hire someone new, a non-executive director in charge of performance, in order to bear any such liability. It is possible to infer from the review that they believe the issue was not their management, but a lack of resources and information at their disposal. This is patently ridiculous, as England is at the very least in the top three in terms of money spent developing international cricketers and many of the suggestions (such as ball tracking at every domestic match) go far beyond what any other ICC member has ever done (or had to do). Other countries are doing a lot more with a lot less, and the review does nothing to address how or why that is. There is even, in Proposal 34, the suggestion that the ECB needs to pay its executives and coaches more in order to stop them leaving.
There is a sense that those involved are seeking to push as many of the measures through as quickly as possible. Maybe they feel interim chief executive Clare Connor is more amenable to the recommendations than incoming CEO Richard Gould, or perhaps they (rightly) fear that the forthcoming Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket report and funding its conclusions will take precedence over everything that they have suggested. For whatever reason, county chiefs and the ECB board both seem inclined to vote in favour of everything bar the changes to the county schedule. As this post hopefully shows, this would be a mistake.
As always, if you have any comments about the post please leave them below.