The High Performance Review – Why It’s Bad For (Almost) Everyone Involved

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
Board

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.

Conclusion

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.

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My England Men’s High Performance Review

Last month, I wrote a post about the ECB’s High Performance Review consultation document, written by Sir Andrew Strauss and a consultancy firm called Twenty First Group. My post wasn’t really about the contents of the report itself, but more about how it’s possible to lead readers towards a conclusion simply by altering the titling, scale and orientation of graphs. It’s not an uncommon trick, and you can see it all the time in advertising, politics and business. I honestly thought it would be somewhat boring and esoteric for most readers, which is why I was surprised at how many people liked and shared it. As it stands, it is now the most read post ever on BeingOutsideCricket.com.

Because that post was almost entirely about presentation, it didn’t deal with the conclusions and proposals contained within the report. This post will address each of the suggestions made within the ECB report, as well as my own solutions for the problems which it highlights

It is somewhat ironic that England’s results following the commission of Sir Andrew Strauss’ report have arguably undermined its foundations. Few people would have predicted England winning six out of seven Tests during their home summer, nor losing seven from eleven ODIs and T20Is. At the same time, the success of the Test team seemingly occurred in spite of long-standing issues with the team rather than by addressing them, and the white ball teams’ successes in previous seasons could easily be viewed the same way. Effective leadership, which is able to maximise a team’s strengths and minimise its weaknesses, makes a huge difference with regards to results on the field.

You will notice that this post includes no charts and relatively few statistics, particularly compared to the report written by Sir Andrew Strauss and Twenty First Group. There are two key reasons for this. The first is that a lot of the issues discussed are broadly unquantifiable. When considering a cricketer’s potential in terms of batting or bowling, or how close they are to reaching that potential, you can’t really put a numerical figure on that outside of video games.

The second, more important reason is that statistics on their own offer very little insight into the issues that the England teams are facing and often have counter-intuitive outcomes. One example would be how people understand that the best T20 bowlers often have worse economy rates because they are chosen to bowl in the most difficult portions of the game. Another example would be England Test spin bowling. Here is a table of the best eleven Test bowling averages for English spinners since 1990, with players from the last ten years highlighted in bold:

PlayerSpanAve
DI Gower1978-199220.00
SG Borthwick2014-201420.50
JC Tredwell2010-201529.18
GP Swann2008-201329.96
DW Lawrence2021-202232.33
RK Illingworth1991-199532.36
MJ Leach2018-202232.51
PM Such1993-199933.56
DM Bess2018-202133.97
MS Panesar2006-201334.71
MM Ali2014-202136.66

Over a thirty-two year period, eight out of the eleven bowlers with the best averages were from the last ten years. In purely statistical terms, you could choose to argue that we are in the middle of a golden era for English spin bowling. The reality, as people who watch Test cricket will know, is very different. Outside of Graeme Swann, English spinners have been asked to perform very limited roles and largely protected from the most dangerous batters. However, it is very difficult to quantify this difference in a meaningful way.

Strauss’ Proposals

There are forty three proposals or ’emerging ideas’ contained within the review from Sir Andrew Strauss. They can be placed into three broad categories: Increasing the role of the ECB, expanding on current practices, or failing to consider the knock-on effects which would follow.

Corporate Bloat

In 1999, the ECB had an average (i.e. two employees on a six-month contract would equal one ‘average’ employee over the year) of 96 employees excluding cricketers and umpires. In 2021, this had risen to 305 employees on average, again excluding cricketers and umpires. The average annual wage for these employees rose by 96.8% from £25,458 to £50,104 between 1999 and 2014 (the last year wages were separated by category in the ECB’s accounts). That is close to twice as much as the rate of inflation over this period.

The reason for this is a culture within the ECB which suggests that spending money on a problem is the same as resolving it. Participation is down? Create a new directorship and employ a large staff to address it. Participation continued to fall, but the ECB could point towards the amount of money and resources they were expending as proof of how serious they were with regards to the issue. It’s no way to run a sports governing body, or anything else for that matter.

Place a new High Performance Non-Executive Director on the board – Adding another highly paid role to the upper echelons of the ECB, presumably with a number of extra staff to support them. It does bear saying that there is already a non-executive participant on the ECB board who is supposed to give their expert opinions on how to improve the England team: Sir Andrew Strauss. He has been chair of the ECB’s Performance Cricket Committee since 2019, and part of his role is advising the board on this very subject. In this context, it is very odd that he was chosen to head this review.

Have the existing Performance Cricket Committee singularly focused on England performance/Creation of Performance Advisory Board – This would seem to suggest that the current Performance Cricket Committee, of which Sir Andrew Strauss is chair, should be split in two: One committee focused on the England teams and the other on developing players, each with their own staff. This would have the effect of doubling the number of employees (and cost) involved in this purely administrative process, but wouldn’t obviously lead to an improvement in results.

Research into ‘What It Takes To Win’ (red and white ball), leading to another report – This is the holy grail of consultancy: Make one of the conclusions of a report you write a recommendation to hire you for another report. It is also pretty damning of the ECB, suggesting that they don’t understand what it takes to win a cricket match after twenty five years of existence.

If it helps speed things up, I can summarise What It Takes To Win (or WITTW, as is used several times in the ECB’s review) in six words: Score more runs than the opposition. You’re welcome, ECB.

Annual performance summit bringing together English game (players, coaches, Directors of Cricket, sport science, ground staff etc.) – Aside from the cost, and the disruption to the counties as half their staff decamp to a massive conference, what would this achieve? Apart from anything else, the ECB have historically been very poor when it comes to listening to others so the dialogue for this event would presumably be one way. If that is the case, then its function could just as easily be fulfilled by an email.

Broaden development curriculum (Directors Of Cricket, etc.) – Every English coach in county cricket has an ECB coaching qualification, due to a programme which began in 2000. In fact, every ECB-affiliated club in the country is required to have an ECB Level 2 coach (apparently at a cost of £300 each) in order to pass the Clubmark standard and play in leagues. If that approach has not worked, which the need for a High Performance review suggests, then why would extending the need for ECB qualifications to Directors of Cricket improve the situation?

Coach development to adopt ‘What It Takes To Win’ framework/Practical coaching opportunities, including leadership exposure – On one hand, changing the training framework for English cricket coaches makes a lot of sense when you consider their track record; No English men’s coach has won an Ashes series since Micky Stewart in 1987, and none has ever won an ICC tournament with England. Doing something different at least offers the chance of improvement.

On the other hand, maybe part of the problem is that every coach is being taught to deal with every player in the same way? Perhaps moving away from the ECB training coaches altogether and allowing every team to develop their own approach to improving their own cricketers rather than insisting on a single ‘ideal’ method would yield better results?

North vs South red ball match in UAE during pre-season – What better way to prepare for the County Championship in April, or the One Day Cup, than a red ball exhibition match in Dubai? Whilst theoretically a showcase for talented players to press their case for England selection, it would also seem like it hurts the prospects of a good start to the season for everyone chosen.

Formalise overseas club programme for selected players – As the word ‘formalise’ suggests, this already happens. It would just be the ECB organising it rather than the counties or the players themselves, which doesn’t obviously add any extra to the process.

Clear principles to defined how England want to play and to win/Clear, consistent communication of selection criteria aligned with ‘What It Takes To Win’ – This suggestion will go down like a bucket of sick with everyone involved in the England team. It essentially says that the ECB board will mandate to selectors, coaches and captains the criteria for selection and the playing strategies for all of the England teams. Who would choose to work under those conditions?

More Of The Same

It is said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a sign of madness. If this is true, then I suspect there are a few offices with rubber walls at the ECB.

Exploration of mobile ball tracking – Presumably this would mean the ECB having more data regarding cricketers in non-televised county matches, and particularly the County Championship. The thing about ball tracking data, as well as other statistics, is that it doesn’t tell you anything that watching the match wouldn’t. If every county match is already seen by a scout, and videoed, then it’s questionable whether this could justify its cost.

People who don’t have a firm grasp on statistics often think that they might offer a perfect, flawless means of selecting a cricket team. It is ‘science’, after all, rather than the guesswork of a has-been ex-cricketer who is probably biased towards his former team anyway. This is sadly not the case. For the easiest possible demonstration of this: Cricket analysts disagree with each other. All the time. Every player, every match, every delivery has so many factors involved (The path of the ball, the pitch, the air conditions, the light, the state of the game, the number of balls the batter has already faced, and team strategies, to name but a few) that data analysis has to somehow quantify in order to give a standard numerical value. Each analyst or company therefore has a wide range of data which they can incorporate or ignore in order to produce an output which looks ‘right’ to them, and every single one has come up with a different solution.

It bears saying that the business of cricket analytics is not contingent on results. As far as I am aware, no outside analysis has been performed on the accuracy of predictive services such as CricViz or individual analysts. Their business model is in selling themselves to executives like Sir Andrew Strauss or broadcasters like Sky Sports, and is reliant on not letting people view their ‘proprietary’ systems or auditing their effectiveness. If a company were able to predict cricket matches with any degree of accuracy, they would be able to make a thousand times more money through betting on the outcome of matches than accepting a stipend from cricket teams and broadcasters. A professional gambler is financially dependent on correctly calculating the chances of a team winning or losing a match, which is why I am much more inclined to trust their judgement than that of an analyst.

Roll out ‘What It Takes To Win’ scouting system – Considering that ‘What It Takes To Win’ hasn’t even been defined yet, and apparently needs another review to do so, Sir Andrew Strauss certainly seems to have a strong idea about what it will be. I suspect, given the previous proposal, that it would use ball tracking data to identify county cricketers with similar data profiles to successful international players.

Formal, game-wide communication plan (goals, ‘What It Takes To Win’, feedback etc.) – The ECB publishes strategy documents every few years (Cricket Unleashed in 2016, Inspiring Generations in 2019, etc.), so the next one is due in the coming eighteen months anyway. Presumably this is already in the process of being written behind the scenes.

Proactive scouting of players to transition to performance roles/More quality & opportunity in existing roles, not ‘new’ roles – There are two things which confuse me here. The first is that I can not grasp who needs this. Seeing as every county and England coach I can name is an ex-cricketer, it seems like the path from player to backroom staff is well-established and working fine. The second is the apparent assumption that it’s desirable for coaches to be former professional cricketers. Doing something and teaching something require very different skill sets, and limiting your choice of new coaches to a few dozen retiring players every year doesn’t seem entirely wise.

Review of County Partnership Agreement from 2025/Potential reward based on impact: performance, inspiring generations, talent development etc. to align with English cricket objectives/Meaningful compensation for counties who develop elite players – The County Partnership Agreement is negotiated between the ECB, the counties and the players’ union (the PCA), and fundamentally determines how money flows through the sport. The current agreement runs from 2020-2024 and ensures that every county receives roughly the same amount of money regardless of winning competitions or how many England players they develop. For the ECB to substantially change this policy, to make payments performance-related instead, would probably require at least twelve of the eighteen counties to vote in favour. This is unlikely to happen, because half of those teams would (correctly) say that they would lose out in that scenario. Why would teams such as Glamorgan, Leicestershire or Derbyshire support such a proposal?

Explore warm weather training facility partnerships – Teams already do this now. This year, a quick search confirms that Derbyshire (Spain), Essex (Abu Dhabi), Gloucestershire (Dubai), Lancashire (Dubai), Leicestershire (Spain), and Somerset (Abu Dhabi) all spent time abroad before the season started. This might be linked to the North vs South proposal, as it would be easier to organise if all eighteen counties were training in the same country, but doesn’t offer any obvious performance benefit.

Continuation of the under-19s programme/Reinstate international matches at under-17 level – As the word ‘continuation’ would imply, there would be no change to the under-19s programme. It is therefore strange that the review would include it at all. As for the under-17s, I am very doubtful that touring with a group of sixteen year-olds will have a significant impact on their future playing careers.

Extend role of Lions teams – Name one player who credits a Lions tour with improving them as a cricketer. Just one. I know I can’t. This is not to say that A teams are worthless, as India A has a great record of developing several of their international stars. Playing more, more regular matches would make the Lions superficially closer to the Indian system, but the difference in results between the two programmes might be due more to the personnel involved than the number of games played.

Ways other than wildcards to connect the T20 Blast to The Hundred – This does not have any obvious impact on improving player performance.

Maintenance of fast bowler central contracts/Athlete monitoring system/Improved profiling, screening, and surveillance of athlete workloads – Three fast (as opposed to fast-medium or medium-fast) bowlers currently hold England central contracts: Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone. All three are injured, and haven’t played a single Test or first class match between them this season. Even if you expand this to all thirteen centrally contracted pace bowlers, only four of them (Anderson, Broad, Stokes and Craig Overton) have managed to play in more than five Test or Championship matches in 2022. There certainly needs to be an improvement made, but the broader question might be: Are the methods and philosophies currently used by the ECB fundamentally flawed?

Unintended Consequences

One of the more frustrating characteristics of the ECB is its tendency not to think through the consequences of its proposals. Even when they have a good idea, it almost inevitably either isn’t taken full advantage of or has a negative impact elsewhere.

Trial use of different balls to develop variety of skills/A bonus points scoring system to incentivise better pitches in the Championship – I don’t necessarily disagree with either of these suggestions, except for the effect that it would have on the competition. If the Championship’s rules are changed so that conditions are much more batting friendly, then the obvious outcome will be a lot more draws. As a spectacle for fans, and as preparation for Test cricket, this is not good.

Fewer days of cricket, to aid player performance/T20 Blast schedule optimised to maximise narrative and attendances – The narrative that counties play too much relies on the idea that teams are or should be selecting the same people in every game possible. To take an example from another sport: Liverpool FC played 63 competitive matches last season, but no outfield player started more than 51 of them. Whilst there are certainly debates about whether football teams play too much, or in too many competitions, the clubs and players found a solution which worked for everyone involved: Rotation.

Strongest possible 50 Over competition in April, with a smaller group stage and emphasis on knockouts – The move to April is possibly good, as it would allow all county cricketers to play the fifty over format. It is important that all players get an opportunity to become familiar with the pace and skills needing in that length of match. White ball cricket is also arguably more resilient with regards to wet weather and longer nights than its longer counterpart thanks to DLS and floodlights, and so a move to April might not hurt it as a competition. The smaller group stage with more knockouts might be problematic though, as it reduces the number of guaranteed matches a developing player might be able to experience. It was already the competition with the fewest number of matches (8 group games compared to 14 in both the Championship and T20 Blast), this move could make that difference even greater.

Smaller top division in County Championship – This suggestion appears to be more about reducing the number of total first team county matches in a season in order to allow The Hundred its own window rather than offering any performance benefit.

It also offers an unnecessary complexity to the potential structure, as the proposal appears to be for two Division 2s of six teams each to sit below Division 1. In order to determine which Division 2 winner actually gets promoted, a play-off between the two will be played at the end of September. Which begs the question: What happens if it is a rain-affected draw?

Higher allocation to multi-format players, multi-year deals – Lucrative contracts for multi-format players does make some sense. They have the option of eschewing Test cricket altogether and making as much (or quite possibly more) money on the global T20 circuit, and so it may be worth paying them more if they are an improvement on the red ball specialists who are available. The last part is important, because multi-format players are probably the ones most at risk of burning out due to spending so much time away from home.

The idea of giving players multi-year deals requires a significant level of faith in the England selectors, which is not obviously warranted. To take one example: Rory Burns currently has an England central contract. They are awarded in October, and Burns was in the Test team at that time. By January, his England career was apparently over. In total, he has played in just three of the fifteen Tests in the contract period. There is an argument that central contracts should be made shorter, and more reactive to changes in form, rather than longer.

England match fees to cover higher percentage of pay for red & white ball specialists – You can’t logically complain about player workload and also incentivise them to play as many England matches as possible in order to maximise their pay.

My Proposals

Of course, all of my criticism of the report does not mean that things in English cricket don’t have to change. Here are my own proposals in order to improve the performance of the England men’s teams.

Junior Pathways

It almost goes without saying that the strength and depth of talent within county cricket depends on the efficacy of the counties’ junior pathways, and yet the public release of Sir Andrew Strauss’ report fails to mention this area once. If counties are unable to recruit young cricketers with the greatest potential at the ages of seventeen or eighteen, then the overall quality of county cricket and the talent pool for England selection suffers as a result.

Seek to improve overall junior participation, rather than relying on ECB-led programmes – There are a number of concerning issues relating to junior cricket in England and Wales, but the main, overarching problem could be participation levels. Whilst the ECB has not released official figures in a long time, it would certainly appear to be the case that junior participation has declined significantly over the past twenty years. ECB-led programmes such as All Stars Cricket and Dynamos and the independent charity Chance To Shine have not obviously arrested this decline. Measures could include a new website focussed on directing parents towards local clubs, significant promotion on social media and through the ECB’s media partners from February through April, and resources being made available to help clubs promote themselves locally.

Do not include children from schools with extensive cricket coaching and facilities in county age group programmes before the age of fifteen – The next step in the path to becoming a professional cricketer after club cricket are the county trials. There is widespread anecdotal evidence suggesting that invitations to this greatly favour white children from wealthy backgrounds, predominantly from independent schools. This is a major issue because it severely limits the number of youngsters which English cricket draws on. There is little to be gained from a few hours every week with county coaches as these kids are already receiving a high level of support, and so the coaches’ time could be better spent with children who have less access to training, fitness and nutritional advice. Instead, treat independent schools as self-funding academies and play against them to gauge the abilities of both groups.

Approximately 7% of children in England and Wales attend fee-paying schools, and yet 62.6% of men’s Test appearances between 2007 and 2017 were by former public schoolboys. This appears to at least partly be because they are heavily favoured at the earliest stages of player development. One outcome of this is that most English Test cricketers come from a demographic smaller than the population for any full ICC member, including New Zealand (7% of the England and Wales population being approximately 4.1 million people). This unnecessary limiting of the talent pool would logically lead to finding fewer high quality players.

The reliance on private schools is not necessarily having a positive impact on the England men’s Test team. The four current Test players with the most appearances since 2019 are Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Of these four, Broad was the only one to enter the county system whilst at a fee-paying school (Root gained a cricketing scholarship after joining Yorkshire).

Make all county age group programmes free (or as cheap as possible) for all participants, in order to ensure that no potential England cricketers are discouraged from a career in the sport – Ideally this would also include transport expenses, as most counties cover a large geographical area and even reaching the training grounds on a regular basis might be difficult for many families. The county pathways appear to systemically discourage children from low or average income backgrounds progressing. Some age group programmes expect parents to pay over £1,000 per year for coaching, equipment and travel. This level of expenditure will obviously exclude vast swathes of potential cricketers.

Encourage older children who might have little interest in cricket but physical attributes suited to the game, such as height and speed, to train and play at clubs – If batting conditions in the County Championship were changed so that teams needed a full compliment of rapid fast bowlers in order to regularly take twenty wickets, then there might not be enough players in their junior systems to satisfy that demand. The ability to regularly bowl 90 mph seems so rare in county cricket that it’s possible even junior club leagues could not supply enough for all eighteen first-class counties. If this is the case, then it would be necessary to branch out recruitment beyond kids already playing cricket.

County Cricket

County cricket is different from the other two sections of my suggestions because developing cricketers is not necessarily the primary focus of everyone involved. Whilst teams might want their players to improve, other factors such as winning competitions and making enough money to be financially independent might be considered as important or more so. A majority of first class counties are also nominally controlled by their members who could theoretically obstruct any proposals. Therefore, any changes to county cricket will have to balance a number of factors in order to be approved and effective.

In order to decide how best to change county cricket, it is first necessary to consider what are the current broad strengths and weaknesses within English cricket. In red ball cricket, the main strength is probably medium-fast/fast-medium bowling and wicketkeeper-batters whilst the weaknesses would be batting (and particularly opening), fast and spin bowling, and slip catching. In limited overs formats, the strengths appear to be batting and fielding whilst bowling may not be quite as strong.

There appears to be a broad consensus that making conditions more batter-friendly in the Championship would help improve the development of Test batters. The current conditions certainly don’t seem to discourage the use of medium and medium-fast bowlers, which can be relatively rare in Test cricket. However, such a move would lead to more draws which could hurt both the competition and counties’ ability to attract fans unless other changes are made.

Switch the ball used in Championship matches to one which is less responsive to swing and seam – The Dukes red ball appears to act differently to those used overseas in Test matches, in that it allows seam and swing movement for many more overs. A red Kookaburra ball seems to deviate very little after roughly twenty overs, which encourages a different strategy when it comes to both batting and bowling. Opening batters are even more important for their role of seeing off the new ball, so that the middle order can take advantage later in the innings rather than being exposed to the new ball. Fast bowlers have to learn to take wickets without relying on seam and swing alone, which should encourage them to develop other techniques. The Kookaburra and SG balls might also lessen the gap in effectiveness between medium-fast and spin bowlers compared to using the Dukes.

Incentivise teams in the Championship to produce more batting-friendly pitches by offering batting bonus points only to the home team, whilst encouraging bowling teams to recruit and develop more talented bowlers in these conditions by offering bowling bonus points only to the away team – For example, the reward could be 2 points for the home side reaching 400 runs in the first innings or the away side bowling the opposition out within 100 overs in the first innings.

Play fewer, five-day matches in the Championship – One puzzling aspect of the debate regarding cricket formats in domestic competitions is that the argument frequently levelled against The Hundred or the defunct Pro 40, that they don’t prepare players for international matches, is almost never applied to the first-class game. Playing a red ball match over four rather than five days makes a significant difference to the pace and strategies needed to succeed, as the differences between men’s and women’s Tests could indicate. If conditions become more batter-friendly, then longer games will help reduce the chances of draws. For spin bowlers, longer matches would both increase demand for their use in a holding role in the first innings and as an attacking option on the fourth and fifth days. For batters, it will allow them to stay at the crease longer without being forced to artificially increase their scoring rate for a declaration, as well as offering more opportunities to bat on a spinning pitch. Ten five-day games would require a maximum of 50 days’ first-class cricket, compared to 56 for the current structure.

Introduce a high minimum match fee for all Championship games in the 2025-28 County Partnership Agreement – A core issue which may need to be addressed is that of imbalanced financial rewards for players. A talented young batter within county cricket has the ability to focus on improving themselves in various different ways, and may well consider the career prospects of those decisions. Test cricket is by far the most lucrative format for English cricket as a whole, and yet the salaries for playing in the County Championship are typically less than impressive. The 90th best English T20 cricketer can still expect to receive a £30,000 contract in The Hundred on top of their main county salary, whilst there is no parallel in first-class cricket. A smart player would look at this situation and prioritise improving their white ball skills in order to maximise their earnings over the remainder of their professional playing career. £5,000 per game, for example, could increase competition for places and hopefully lead to more players prioritising red ball cricket.

Propose a limit on the number of matches and/or days’ play any county cricketer can play in the English season in the next County Partnership Agreement, in order to avoid overwork and fatigue. For example: 35 matches or 60 days’ play over six months – It is a matter of great importance for players and their union (the PCA) that county cricketers feel they do not have enough time to rest or train during the English season due to the number of matches. This would address the concerns of the PCA, although it could lead to lower average pay for players if teams require larger squads as a result.

Allow counties to sign a second overseas player in the Championship, with the requirement that they have to be a member of a touring Test team – One proposal being publicly floated in response to Sir Andrew Strauss’ report is to ban overseas cricketers from the Championship. As a broad aim of reforming domestic cricket is to hopefully raise the standard of play closer to international matches, it does seem like an odd choice to reject the services of actual international players. Counties gaining the services of successful and experienced Test cricketers to offer an example and possible mentoring to the rest of their squad appears to have few downsides and should be encouraged, even if it is only for a few games. This will hopefully encourage active Test cricketers to participate in the competition, particularly before their series starts in order to acclimate to English conditions. Depending on the number of players interested, it may make sense to limit this to Division 1 teams.

Poach talented overseas players – This probably won’t be a popular suggestion, but it might well be very effective. The period when England were arguably closest to Strauss’ aspiration of being the top men’s team in all three formats was 2010-12, between winning the World T20 and dropping from the top spot in the ICC’s Test rankings. In that time, 10 out of 37 England cricketers were born overseas. Their inclusion boosted England to being (briefly) the best team in the word (except in ODIs, which was arguably an issue of selection rather than available players).

Playing in and for England would certainly be an attractive and lucrative prospect for players from most countries, particularly if their skills were suited more towards Test cricket. If counties were able to sign prospective international cricketers as home-grown rather than overseas until they gained England eligibility, that would generate an influx of talent within just a few years. Many of my proposals would take ten years or more to feed through to the England team, and so this could potentially operate as a stopgap solution until then.

Change the schedule – This is the kiss of death for a discussion about improving the performance of England and county cricketers. There is absolutely no possible solution which can or will satisfy the ECB, counties, players and fans. It does not help that no one can seem to agree on what the priority of county cricket is. Is it to develop the best possible cricketers for the England team, which provides most of its funding? Is it for counties to become financially self-reliant? Is it for the enjoyment of its fans? In the context of a High Performance Review, it makes sense to try and consider changes which could potentially improve the England teams in some way.

If the county calendar was structured wholly in order to support the England teams, then the ideal schedule would likely be very similar to the international calendar but a few weeks ahead. This would mean that every England player would be able to play three or more matches in the relevant format at the domestic level immediately before the beginning of (as well as during) an international series. However, there would be significant disadvantages in other areas. The T20 Blast and One Day Cup would each have to be split in two across the season, in order to accommodate the two three-match ODI and T20I series that England play every year. Players in particular seem to generally prefer playing formats in single windows. This approach would also mean that the domestic calendar changed drastically every year because a season with a five-Test series has a very different structure to one with two three-Test series, which would make it harder for counties to build an audience for their competitions year-on-year.

Another possible viewpoint would be considering how many games in each competition counties should play. A typical English summer is perfectly balanced between the three formats: 6 Tests, 6 ODIs and 6 T20Is. If you compare that to this season, county cricket had 14 Championship, and either 22 T20s or 14 T20s and 8 One Day Cup matches (excluding knockouts) depending on whether a player was selected in The Hundred or not. It is difficult to justify the need for the ninety best English T20 cricketers playing a minimum of twenty two group games between the Blast and The Hundred, taking up almost half of the season, in this context. However, it is highly unlikely that counties or their members would agree to any reduction in such a popular and profitable competition as the Blast whilst The Hundred is apparently contractually protected until 2028.

International Cricket And The ECB

Another area largely overlooked in Sir Andrew Strauss’ report was how the England team and other elements of the player pathway operated centrally by the ECB helped or hindered the development of world class cricketers. The assumption running through the document appeared to be that the ECB would do a better job than the counties in terms of training and managing young players, an assumption not necessarily backed by their own past performance.

The ECB runs several programmes which are intended to facilitate the step up from county to international cricket. An under-19s team which participates in ICC competitions, the National Cricket Performance Centre at Loughborough, and the England Lions international A team are the ones which run continuously, with others such as spin and pace bowling camps held overseas on an ad hoc basis. Given that a High Performance Review was needed in the first place, it seems fair to suggest that these systems might need significant improvement.

Have more batting coaches for the Test team – One consequence of England’s struggles in Tests has been the selection of younger cricketers, particularly batters. Because no specialist batter to debut for England since 2014 has managed to maintain a Test batting average above 33.00 and selectors have been reluctant to go back to previously dropped players, there have been an increasing number of debutants aged 24 or less chosen. Despite this, the coaching structure of the England Test team seems largely the same as it was ten years ago. Whilst a single batting coach might be fine for a team made up largely of veterans, perhaps more are required when so many players are young and inexperienced?

Start central contracts at any time – We are currently in the weird position where Rory Burns has played three Tests since being awarded a central contract, whilst Alex Lees has played ten Tests in the same time and does not have one (and may not even be on this year’s list). If you are going to play a cricketer, it only seems fair to pay them.

Scrap Lions tours and play more overseas Tests – A decade of consistent failure to develop Test cricketers has rendered the purpose of Lions tours virtually obsolete. If there is a talented batter, spinner or fast bowler, they immediately enter the Test squad. There is no thought of preparing them for the experience or wanting a closer look before giving them a cap, because no one already in the team has nailed down these positions. The success of the India A side might have been in part because India had a strong first XI, meaning that even their reserves still had Test-quality players who simply couldn’t get a game at the time. This is not the case for England. If the players the ECB are looking to develop are already in the Test squad, it makes more sense for them to play extra matches. Because they now have a separate coaching staff for Test cricket, this would be easier than ever to do.

Having a Test team tour has several advantages. It means the host country will be able to sell TV rights for the matches, which will presumably make arranging a tour much easier and less expensive than with the Lions. This extra money would engender good will with other cricket boards, and possibly help the ECB get their way in the ICC. Full TV coverage would presumably mean that the matches have the ball tracking data that so many within the ECB are enamoured with. The opposition teams would be stronger, and offer a greater test of the English players’ abilities. It wouldn’t need the ECB to recruit a second set of coaches, or produce different kits, or (I’m guessing) pay for their own room and board. There would be more pressure on players to perform, including from the media. It would have to be made clear to all involved that the senior players like Stokes, Root, Anderson and Broad are likely to be rested, but I think it is workable.

Routinely review player outcomes – Between the international teams, the Lions, Loughborough and age group cricket, the ECB and its coaches spend a lot of time with players. At least once a year, a report should be written for every player detailing what coaching a cricketer received and how each their ability, form and fitness changed as a result.

One of the most frustrating aspects of being an English cricket fans is the constant repetition of mistakes. Whilst everyone in the coaching staff is obviously doing their best, English cricket seems to be amongst the worst when it comes to keeping their fast bowlers fit and healthy. This is in spite of the ECB being the second-richest cricket board in the world. At the same time, no one ever seems to be held accountable. Through a comprehensive, regular review of how ECB coaching has affected every cricketer, it would hopefully help identify which techniques and coaches are or are not doing their jobs well.

Close the National Cricket Performance Centre at Loughborough – Since 2003, the National Cricket Performance Centre has been based at Loughborough University. It is a state of the art indoor training complex with multiple nets, ball tracking, biomechanics technology and dozens of highly qualified coaches, all dedicated to the production of fast bowlers capable of succeeding anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, like data analysts, the methods used at Loughborough continually promise a future which never comes. Success is always just beyond the horizon.

Over almost twenty years, the staff and methods employed at Loughborough have appeared to ruin multiple promising bowling careers through ‘tweaking actions’ either to gain a little more pace or (ironically) avoid injuries. It is, if anything, getting worse in recent years. If a review of player outcomes found the coaches and techniques at the National Cricket Performance Centre fundamentally harmed the development of England cricketers, there would seem little point in continuing to fund such an expensive facility.

Examine role and composition of the ECB’s Performance Cricket Committee – One running theme within the ECB is a lack of accountability among senior staff. The most important example of these with regards to performance on the field could be its cricket committee, which is dedicated to the management of the England teams and their support structures. If a High Performance Review was needed, raising a multitude of issues which all come under the committee’s remit, then they have clearly not fulfilled their purpose. The ECB’s own review even tacitly acknowledges these shortcomings by suggesting that a second committee should be formed in order to take over many of its existing responsibilities.

To answer the question of whether the interface between the ECB board and the Managing Director of England Men’s Cricket (Rob Key) needs two, one, or possibly zero committees, it would be interesting to learn how other cricket boards operate. As far as I can tell, New Zealand Cricket has one committee to deal with these areas whilst the BCCI and Cricket Australia don’t appear to have any at all. Having two committees would seem like an overly bureaucratic solution if this is the case.

It is frankly bizarre that the chair of the Performance Cricket Committee was placed in charge of a review into the efficacy of his own work. It is a colossal conflict of interest which no one appears to acknowledge.

Conclusion

If there is one change which needs to be made in order to improve the performance of the England men’s teams, it is introducing accountability throughout the ECB. Not just the visible roles of captain and coach, but the highly paid employees in board rooms and behind the scenes who seem to always avoid being blamed for England’s issues but are very happy to accept bonuses for their successes. This would require an enormous cultural shift and, I suspect, a large number of redundancies. Good governance and being able to admit when mistakes have been made will make a huge difference to English cricket, both on and off the field.

Congratulations on making it to the end. This somehow ended up being the longest post I’ve ever written, and that is saying something for me. I have ignored the elephant in the room that is The Hundred. Obviously elements of scheduling would be much easier if it was scrapped, but it has been made abundantly clear that the competition will exist until at least 2028, and take place in August until at least 2026. I tried to limit my writing to what I thought the ECB and counties might agree to, and scrapping The Hundred is not one of them.

I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on everything in this post. I am criticising most of Sir Andrew Strauss’ 43 proposals and making 18 of my own, so it would be pretty bizarre if someone did see things exactly as I do. If you have your own suggestions or feel that I’ve got something wrong, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Lies, Damn Lies, And High Performance Reviews

Sir Andrew Strauss’ review into how to improve the performance of men’s international and domestic cricket is nearing its end, and has released its consultation document to the public. This unusual transparency from the ECB allows us to consider data given to county chiefs before they vote on the issue, and also gives us an insight into the current decision-making process within English cricket.

The actual report itself was written by consultants Twenty First Group, who call themselves a “Sports Intelligence Agency” (I assume this is an allusion to the Central Intelligence Agency, although I cannot fathom how that would be a helpful comparison), with input from a panel of experts across cricket, other sports, and business.

This appears at first glance to be very open, transparent and collaborative, particularly compared to the ECB’s usual modus operandi. However, it should be pointed out that various tricks have been used to direct readers to what you might assume to be the authors’ preferred outcomes.

People Only Read The Title

One very simple trick is just to use the title or description to state the point you want to make, even if the evidence doesn’t necessarily support it. Take this, the first page of evidence in the review:

Now look at just the location of the black dots. According to this graph (and confirmed by a quick check on Statsguru), England have the fourth-best seam unit away from home. They travel better than New Zealand or Pakistan, for example, who both have the reputation of being very good pace attacks. If this graph was presented without comment, what would someone take from it?

I can easily explain why the difference is so great between England’s home and away bowling averages in two words: Chris Woakes. Despite having a very poor record away from home, he has played in 20 Tests abroad (The 4th most amongst English pace bowlers behind Anderson, Broad and Stokes) since 2014. He averages 51.88. No rational person would select him, and even Ed Smith would find it a stretch. The reason he has played so many games in conditions that don’t suit him is because there was often no alternative. Everyone above him on the ‘Test bowlers suited for bowling on a flat/dry pitch with an unresponsive ball’ list was injured. In the same period, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone combined have played in 19 Tests. It’s not that England don’t have pace bowlers capable of thriving in foreign conditions, it’s that they are almost always unavailable due to injury.

By happenstance, one of the High Performance Review panel members is ECB Performance Director Mo Bobat. His job for the last three years has been to oversee the fitness of England players, the bridging between county and international cricket through the Lions and other development programmes, and the Loughborough academy. If talented cricketers are spending more time on the physio table than on the pitch, you could argue that he is the one to blame.

Too Specific

One trick the ECB likes to use, as I have covered in two previous posts regarding The Hundred (HERE and HERE), is showing very specific statistics but using it to present a broader point which the data doesn’t support.

Take this chart, for example:

On the face of it, this looks terrible. Spinners get fewer domestic opportunities in England than the other 8 cricket boards, so how can the England team be expected to develop spinners who can prosper in Asia? Except that this isn’t what this chart actually shows. Instead of (for example) total spin overs bowled, it is a percentage of total overs. To answer why the panel chose this specific measure to illustrate their point, consider this chart:

So England has the lowest percentage of spin bowling, but also the highest number of days’ play for every team. If you take these two numbers and multiply them together, you get this chart:
England are still in the bottom half, but by no means the worst. And, just to be clear, these are values per team. There are only six first-class teams in both Australia and New Zealand, and so the total volume of spin overs bowled in England is almost certainly three times that of the other two countries. No one would argue that English cricket shouldn’t do more to develop spin bowling, particularly in the longer formats, but this data in the report doesn’t provide a convincing argument either for what the problem is nor what the solution should be.

Framing

It is very simple to alter the appearance of a graph in order to accentuate differences between figures. All you have to do is start the numerical axis at a number other than 0. Here’s one example:

Notice how the chart begins at 30 rather than 0 days. This means that the shortest bar is 6 days whilst the longest (England) is 17 days. To a casual observer, it would seem like England played almost three times as much cricket as New Zealand and India. To compare, here is what the chart would look like if it began at 0:

Seen at this scale, the differences between countries seem far less pronounced. English players play 30% more days than those from India or New Zealand according to this data, or 10% more than in South Africa. It suddenly becomes a less obvious factor for why English players might underperform.

Another related trick you can use is taking advantage of the page orientation to maximise or minimise the variation in a chart. Take this example:

As well as beginning at 0 and having a title which calls the averages “consistent”, it is also one of just two bar charts in the report which the bars are vertical rather than horizontal. On pages or screens in landscape orientation, vertical bars are shorter than horizontal ones due to a lack of space. This reduces the apparent differences between two bars even more than before. Here is the same data, but presented as a horizontal bar chart and a shortened X-axis (most other charts in the report are shown this way):

All of a sudden, you would face an argument that first-class cricket cannot be held in August or September. Considering that the rumours are that this (and April/May) is the panel’s favoured time for the Championship to be played, you can see why they made their style choices.

Read The Fine Print

If there is some data which you want to include for completeness (or perhaps to cover your arse, so you can prove you told someone at a later date) but it doesn’t support your argument, you can just hide it using formatting or perhaps hidden in an appendix. If we take another look at the first graph from the previous section, you can see a set of figures written in grey to the right of the chart:

If you put these numbers in a chart, it looks like this:

The major thing that this does is move India from joint last to joint second. India are currently ranked first in both the ICC Test and T20 team rankings, so you would be foolish to argue that the number of matches the best Indian cricketers were in was a detriment to their development.

Conclusion

I found myself utterly unimpressed with the outcome of this review. It’s light on detail and has very little in terms of actual recommendations from the panel itself. Instead, it largely seeks to ask the counties which changes they would make based on the information provided. Although the various manipulations which I have detailed above might point the counties towards certain proposals (fewer matches with greater rest, red ball games during The Hundred, a smaller Division 1), the actual suggestions from the panel are small and largely meaningless.

The one which makes me genuinely angry is ‘Understanding What It Takes To Win (WITTW)’. It say the ECB should “research into WITTW (red + white ball)” in order to produce a “Definitive WITTW report”. Maybe I was being naive, but I thought that was what the High Performance Review was supposed to come up with. Why would you have business leaders and people from other sports on the panel, including famed ‘win at almost any cost’ advocate Dave Brailsford, if not to provide an expert insight into how to succeed? I have to assume that this panel was not cheap to assemble, nor the consultancy firm who collated the report, and yet one of its key recommendations is that you should assemble another panel (and perhaps the same consultants) to answer the question that was basically the whole point of the original exercise? What utter nonsense. But nice work if you can get it.

There are three massive elephants in the room which the report has totally ignored. One is The Hundred. It is hand-waved through with the rather optimistic description of “The Hundred is committed through to 2028, and is a clear best vs. best competition”. How they square “best vs best” with the existence of Welsh Fire as a team is frankly beyond me. The Hundred apparently exists as a giant monolith in the middle of the English season, around which everything else has to fit. The cricket calendar in 2019 was far from perfect, but even the tournament’s biggest fans can’t deny that the domestic schedule is even worse now. The Hundred does aid the development of English cricketers, but almost exclusively towards entering other T20 leagues around the world rather than playing for England.

The second is the county youth system. Development of players ultimately depends on counties hiring those with the potential to play at international level, and it’s not clear that this is currently happening. I’ve written previously about how counties often seem to ignore talented youngsters if their face doesn’t fit or they can’t afford to fund their own training. You can see the almost immediate success of the ACE Programme and the South Asian Cricket Academy in identifying multiple cricketers outside the county system who are arguably better than those currently with contracts as evidence of this. Comparing schedules between countries does not matter if English clubs aren’t capable of identifying the best players available.

The third is how players improve (or don’t) whilst under the direct care of the ECB. It is a tale as old as time: A promising player has a breakout season in county cricket, gets called up to play for England, or a training camp at Loughborough. They start well, but over time their form declines. If they’re a batter, it’s usually their technique which is changed by the specialist coaches into a mess of neuroses where they now can’t keep out a delivery bowled by a twelve year old. They re-enter county cricket as a broken husk of a human being, and are never heard from again. If they’re a bowler, they are typically transformed from a colossus who bowls 90mph thunderbolts to someone with the skeletal structure of a 90 year old with osteoporosis who has trouble tieing his shoelaces. Ironically, this often occurs because the coaches want to alter the bowling action to ‘prevent injuries’. A lucky few become T20 specialists, more or less able to handle 4 overs every few days. Those less fortunate are chucked in a pile behind the bike sheds at ECB’s training centre in Loughborough.

All in all, the report is almost entirely without merit. How it took three months or more to come to this point when the data used in the charts would take an A Level Statistics student about a day to compile and the resulting ‘evidence’ is a mess of conflicting numbers which don’t really suggest any clear ‘solution’ to the problems at hand. As worthless a use of time and money as I can imagine, in all honesty. A fitting tribute to the end of the Tom Harrison era at the ECB.

If you have any comments about the post, England’s Test win, or anything else, please leave them below.

World Cup Match 7: Afghanistan v Sri Lanka

Today sees the game which might, just might, sort out who finishes 10th in the competition. Yes, it’s a bit early to say that, but given their performances on Saturday, worthy though Afghanistan’s was, there is a sense that neither of these two teams will be in the shake up when the group phase ends in about a month or two’s time. The game is being played at Cardiff, and the rain radar looks less than great, so it may be that this is all for nought in anyway. Let’s hope not. Afghanistan look a particularly intriguing team, and in many ways are the poster child for all those, very vociferous, advocates of a larger World Cup (in terms of participants, not games).

Comments, as always, below.

As for yesterday’s events in Nottingham, it was always going to be interesting to see how England fans and media (and soon to see also how the players) would react to the first reverse. It was always going to happen, but maybe it was envisaged that it wouldn’t be this early in the competition, and that the early loss, if there was to be one, would be against South Africa (who may also be scrapping for 10th place if their form is maintained!). The immediate response, judging by Sky and some of Twitter, is that this was a freakishly bad fielding performance, that England will need to improve, but we really are very good at this format and so no worries fellow travelers.

As Lee Corsey on College Game Day (obscure US reference) would say “Not so fast”. Now I know a fellow writer is more sanguine about the loss, but I didn’t get to this point in my blogging life without knowingly under-reacting, and in truth I genuinely don’t think I am. I think the ability of this England team is under question because it has not won the massive game. That’s because they have, really, only had one, which was a semi-final against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy. I might let you have Australia in the opening game of that tournament, if Australia were ever that bothered about the Champions Trophy, which they hadn’t been much previously. I thought, last night, about England football team’s qualifying performance in the lead up the 2010 World Cup, and how we won 4-1 and 5-1 against Croatia, and dropped points in a game that really didn’t matter because we’s already qualified. We then made a horlicks of the main tournament.

It’s always a bit arrogant to say England try their hardest in routine ODIs, and other teams don’t really care that much, but maybe there is a small case to say this is true here. After all, the pressure was put on in 2015 when Andrew Strauss said we would focus more on white ball cricket, and that has certainly been the case – other nations don’t make it so blindingly obvious. The media have, by and large, got on board with this, and perhaps explaining away or excusing some issues with the test team as if there is a trade off for the white ball team’s success. And it has been successful. England have been an entertaining batting side to watch, while the bowling leaves a little to be desired. Indeed, if ever the team plays to a less than full audience on these shores, some of the key media figures exhort the host to lose fixtures because they won’t pay exorbitant prices to watch “the greatest England ODI team ever” (a title I will not anoint them to until they match what the 1992 team did).

There’s always a problem commenting on a game I haven’t watched. But I knew from the outset of the run chase that chasing 349 to win in a World Cup isn’t like chasing it down in the 3rd ODI of a tedious five match series where each squad is chopping and changing its players. The jeopardy of defeat is much, much higher. If you are thinking you can lose just three games to be certain to qualify, England will need to beat two out of India, Australia, New Zealand, and I am going to throw our kryptonite, West Indies, into that mix. And that’s taking for granted Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which may be foolish. This isn’t a bump in the road, but a clear warning sign. England played tightly against South Africa, but had enough to beat them. They got lured into a pace attack and bouncer strategy by Pakistan’s atrocious first game. By the time the messages appeared to get through, Pakistan were off to a decent start, and 348 was possibly reining them in a bit. There’s a lot of positives taken from Root and Buttler making hundreds, but the supporting cast did not step up and that’s a concern. Given the nature of pitches and boundaries, this won’t be the last time we could be chasing 350. It’s not easy, and perhaps the sin of this team is that they’ve made it look like it during the cricket equivalent of the “qualifying campaign”.

Pakistan are a walking cliche for unpredictability, and so losing 11 in a row and then beating the “World Champion Elect” seems like a Ruiz felling Joshua. But it really shouldn’t be. They have talented batting, and the bowling can never be taken for granted. Sometimes they lose their minds, sometimes they put it together. It makes them eminently watchable, and a dangerous foe. For all the beatings England have administered to them in bilateral series, they’ve now played them, as New White Ball England, twice in major competitions and lost. It’s when the game is played that really matters.

So yes, I am concerned for England. Contrary to the views of people who hate this format, this loss does matter. With ten teams, a 5-4 win loss record could be recorded by the 5th and 6th place teams if one or two of the countries fail to raise themselves if they know elimination is certain. England have Bangladesh up next, on Saturday at Cardiff, and then face the West Indies the following Friday in Southampton. We will have a feel for how the qualification is going by then, and if England sit at 2-2 in the win-loss column (and let’s definitely not take Bangladesh for granted) then the alarm bells will be ringing.

One last note. I have to say it. While I’ve made most of my peace with England’s cricket team (as if they give a stuff), the whole long-term problem with what happened in 2014, and what Harrison is doing now, is that these defeats don’t sting like they used to. An England football defeat stings much more, especially under this Southgate team. This doesn’t. They seem decent players, hell, I like quite a few of them. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. We had a word with a media guy a few months ago who thought that if England got on a roll, the country would go mad for this tournament. I said that how could they? They won’t be able to watch it if they don’t have Sky. And some cricket fans like me are so cheesed off with the suits who pick the boots, that we’ll see any victory marred by the ECB patting themselves on the back for coming to the conclusion that the 2015 World Cup was a bit embarrassing. Because we know that this would give Citizen Kane Harrison even more fuel for his ego-driven campaign to destroy English domestic cricket as it exists now. (Oh yes, we saw the Standard article, where Harrison is bathing in overwhelming support none of us have noticed). So while Buttler makes hundreds, Joe Root plays the anchor as the others hit around him (a run a ball hundred is an anchor role these days), and the entertainment is there, the suits have ruined it.

Actually, while I am here, I have one last note. Notice how Australia have seamlessly assimilated Smith and Warner back into the fold, with the media it appears massively behind them, despite them “shaming the nation” and in the case of Warner, reports that he’d been “ostracised” and “made to dine alone by the team” and being the outcast blamed for the sandpaper incident. Notice how prime outlets like ABC are confident enough to have articles using these two to have a pop at England fans for understandable wind-ups (and calling England fans boorish). Notice how the “abuse” is seen as a positive for Warner, that it will make him play better. Notice that picture of Warner taking selfies with Aussie fans? I have. Perhaps our suits, perhaps our hierarchy should stop babbling on about culture and trust, and pick our best players on every occasions. It seems other nations just try harder and don’t hang themselves on managerial and coaching gods, but on players. Who play. And yes, I am talking about Pietersen. Of course I am.

OK, enough from me. Comments below on today’s action…..

Boxing Clever

Christmas Day for a cricket fan is one where the festivities of the season take place with a note in the back of the mind that there is Test cricket to watch later. This year we were rather spoiled, with three Boxing Day Tests scheduled, rather than the one (plus random ODIs or T20s) that has been more common in recent years.

Hagley Oval was the gorgeous sight it always is, perhaps the most welcome addition to the Test roster anywhere in the world. New Zealand appear to have got their venues spot on in recent times, a focus on smaller dedicated cricket grounds that fill, rather than the vast multi-purpose arenas that looked deserted even if there is a vaguely healthy attendance. Of course, in Christchurch there are specific circumstances rooted in natural disaster, but New Zealand cricket deserves praise for turning this into a positive, and in this instance building a ground that every lover of the game wishes to visit.

Perhaps surprisingly after a first day where 14 wickets fell on a very green surface, it made it to the fifth day, albeit the outcome was in little doubt by the third, but Sri Lanka showed some fight in the final innings, despite being doomed long in advance.

In all three matches, the quality of the pitches was an issue, certainly at Centurion which remained bowler friendly throughout, to the advantage of the hosts whose pace attack took full advantage.

At the MCG, another turgid surface led to two days of grind, and rapid deterioration thereafter. Winning the toss was the key to winning that one, and the self-inflicted wound under which Australian cricket currently operates was highlighted in their batting in both innings, but perhaps also in their bowling, which has become oddly ineffective with the old ball in recent times. People can draw their own conclusions on that one, and probably will.

Australia were well beaten in the end, and can at best draw the series. They are a team with problems in batting depth, as any side where a 35 year old is still an unproven performer would be.

Smith and Warner are due to return for the Ashes, and there seems little doubt that whatever the problems of re-integration, they will be selected simply because of the fragility of Australia’s batting. This makes the continued blame game intriguing, as Warner continues to be portrayed as the evil genius taking advantage of naive young players with no one else involved. Cameron Bancroft’s recent interview claiming he did it to fit in is an abrogation of the responsibilities of any player, who is, and should be, more than aware of the difference between right and wrong. If he hoped to garner sympathy, it appears to have backfired.

Equally, the idea that the rest of the team and staff were oblivious remains as preposterous now as it was at the time. The crime itself wasn’t the issue, players have always sought an advantage. The brazenness with which it was carried out was remarkably stupid, the claims of innocence elsewhere, especially among the bowlers, implausible. The idea they neither noticed the condition of the ball nor cared what the batsmen were up to with it ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter, except to say that the discussions post-Bancroft remarks about team culture have all failed to consider this element – faux innocence, back-stabbing and finger pointing are at least as damaging to unity as anything else.

How Warner responds to being portrayed as the arch plotter will be fascinating, for England fans in the crowd will be unforgiving in the summer, creating what could prove to be an entertaining sub-plot to proceedings.

The New Year’s Honours List appointed Alastair Cook a knight of the realm, perhaps the ultimate vindication of being part of the establishment. The response to this has been interesting, the delight in some quarters that their man has got his dues, the bewilderment in others that a 34 year old gets such an award so quickly perhaps being the biggest response. It doesn’t really matter overly, whether for or against it, but it does seem remarkably early given it took Ian Botham until his fifties and a lot of charity fundraising to get the same. Presumably James Anderson will get the same upon his retirement, for if he doesn’t, it will smack of double standards, not for the first time.

Perhaps more than anything it demonstrates grade inflation in sporting honours, Andy Murray receiving his while still playing at the highest level. Anyone can point to oversights in the past, but one favourite for me has always been the lack of one for John Surtees, the holder of a truly unique record in being the only man to win world titles on both two and four wheels.

I can’t get that cross about the whole thing, it’s more amusement at the sense of vindication and the sheer tribalism of it all.

And so we move into 2019. First on the agenda for England is a trip to the West Indies, and yours truly will be heading over to Antigua for the second Test. I’m sure the England team can’t wait. After that, a busy summer awaits, with a home World Cup and (another) Ashes series.

A final word. The Christmas period brought the terrible news that Ruth Strauss had passed away. Nothing brings home the pettiness of cricketing squabbles so clearly as human tragedy. Expressing condolences feels so empty and meaningless, yet it’s all we can ever do.

After Winter, Must Come Spring

Monday night marked the end of England’s antipodean tour, a solid 5 months of overseas failure brightened only slightly by their two ODI series wins. On a personal note, it seemed reminiscent of a fictional never-ending winter like in the Chronicles Of Narnia or Game Of Thrones to me. The persistent cold weather at home during the day, then the depressing feats of mediocrity by the England Test team at night. It might have only been five months, but it somehow seemed like much longer.

In the Test team, it’s hard to think of many players who come out of this winter without a diminished reputation. Jimmy Anderson, and perhaps Craig Overton (although he had a decidedly average average of 42.28 from his three Tests), are the only standout performers. Certainly, you would expect Overton to be pleased that his 2015 ban after racially abusing another player isn’t the first thing that people think of when they hear his name.

For everyone else, it’s been a tour to forget. Joe Root’s captaincy has been questioned by many, although it’s not clear exactly what more he could do. He was England’s top scorer (always a dangerous position in a losing Ashes), and his bowlers were essentially all dire. As the point was often made during Australia’s period of dominance, it’s easy being captain when you have McGrath and Warne in your side. It’s not like a lot of balls were being edged to vacant slip positions by the Australian and New Zealander batsmen, or mis-hit in the air to where fielders should have been. England’s bowlers just didn’t seem to induce many false shots throughout the winter.

Finishing with bowling averages over 60, it’s hard to see how Jake Ball, Tom Curran, Mason Crane, Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali can expect to play for England in the near future. Jack Leach has been receiving plaudits for his performance this week, but they may be premature. Being economical when the opposing team are trying to bat out a draw might not be the greatest test for an international spinner, although I wouldn’t be disappointed if he was picked for the Pakistan series. Woakes and Moeen were also disappointing with the bat, both averaging under 20, which could herald an end to England’s policy of picking three allrounders. In fact, with Stokes’ court dates coinciding with the India Test series, it’s possible that England might play without any allrounders for parts of this summer.

That in turn could badly expose England’s fragile batting lineup. Apart from Root, no English batsman averaged over 40. The tour began with questions about virtually all of England’s specialist batsmen, and it’s ended the same way. Stoneman has averaged less than his opening partner Cook, but also outscored him in 11 of the 18 innings they’ve shared so far. Vince looks great until he plays a loose shot and gets himself out cheaply. Malan did well in Australia, averaging 42.55, but once he was in conditions conducive to swing in New Zealand he seemed to have the same flaws as he demonstrated last summer against South Africa.

All of which leads us to the question: Where do England go from here? So far, the only people to lose their jobs have been the selectors. Certainly this seems overdue. England’s Chief Selector James Whitaker’s last selectorial triumph was Gary Ballance, who was dropped almost three years ago due to a catastrophic lack of form. It’s honestly been somewhat astonishing that he wasn’t fired years ago.

Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace both seem secure in their positions until 2019, having survived this. You’d assume that this is because of England’s ODI form, because otherwise England’s immediate future looks pretty bleak. There hasn’t seemed to be much speculation on Andy Flower losing his position as the ECB’s Technical Director Of Elite Coaching, despite there not being much evidence of any elite players having developed during his tenure. In fact, the more cynical amongst us are speculating that he will move sideways into the vacant selector’s position. It would certainly seem apt, seeing as the ECB hired him for his current job following his team’s abject failure in the Ashes four years ago.

With failures apparently across the whole England team and staff, you would normally expect that the ECB’s Director Comma England Cricket Andrew Strauss should be under fire. When the tragically inept Paul Downton was fired and replaced by Strauss in 2015, England were 5th in the ICC Test rankings on 97 points and even the ECB realised that things needed changing. Today, England are 5th in the ICC Test Rankings on 97 points, and apparently the Director in charge of England’s cricket team is doing a fine job?

Except no one really wants to put the boot into Strauss right now, not least because he left the Ashes tour early when it was revealed that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. He also seems to have a lot more friends in the English cricket media than Paul Downton did. Whilst Downton was outside the English cricket establishment for several years when he was making a living as a merchant banker (decide amongst yourselves whether that’s rhyming slang or not), Strauss has never left the upper echelons of English cricket society since his ascension to Test captain in 2009. He’s well-connected and, for the most part, well liked by the people who could make trouble for him. Sacking Strauss would also be an admission of failure from ECB Chairman Colin Graves, and even making the suggestion that Graves has failed is probably enough for him to sue you.

All of which means that the England Test team is virtually in the same position it was six months ago. And a year ago. And two years ago. And three years ago. And four years ago. They have a weak and brittle batting line up, a below average bowling attack, and there are no immediate prospects of improvement.

Still, at least winter is over now…

As always, please comment below.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

“In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which was mortally wounded at the SCG on 5th January 2014 and then through the greed of its administrators, was finally killed off on the 8th January 2018. Deeply lamented by an ever-smaller circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P.

N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to The ECB’s headquarters and buried in its vault of gold”

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It may just be me, but I remember certain promises of a New England team after the humiliation of 2013/2014 Ashes. The difficult and unpopular South African batsman who had batted at number 4 was removed due to an overwhelming dossier of (soon to be published) evidence. We were promised a new start under the welcome leadership of the darling of English cricket. We were promised that there would be a review and something like that would never happen again. There was a promise of a fresh start with a new, young and exciting team that could unite the nation; plus administrators who acknowledged the pain that the English supporters felt and would take steps to ensure that our voice would be heard and that they would right past wrongs.

At least, that’s what the ECB and many of their complicit associates thought they were saying. Instead, they managed to split a cricketing nation down the middle, insult the fans by saying anyone who didn’t agree with them was from “outside cricket”; who then alienated those fans by hiking up the costs and by refusing to put the interests of the true fans ahead of their own financial lust. Every time they told us they knew what they were doing and to have faith in them, they immediately plummeted to new depths. They first marginalised and then penalised county cricket and many of the counties themselves were soon staring down the barrel of bankruptcy and at the mercy of handouts from their increasingly iron-fisted administrators. Durham were docked 48 points and relegated for having the misfortune of producing a number of young English players whilst having to build an international stadium that the local economy didn’t need or warrant. They’ve seen participation in the sport disappear to an all time low thanks to hiding it away on pay for TV and investing the princely sum of £2.5 million for grass-roots cricket. They’ve turned a significant number of loyal England fans against the team and away from cricket who in all likelihood will never return to the sport.

The ECB did all this and for what? A mediocre white ball team and a Test team that has once again been humiliated in Australia, after being humiliated in India, with a team lacking in basic talent and a future pipeline that resembles a dry well . Well done to the ECB, you’ve achieved so much in the last 4 years that many others who were deliberately trying to destabilise the sport wouldn’t be able to do in 10 years. I hope you’re proud.

So after this embarrassment of a series, those few fans that remain are waiting for what comes next, yet we all know what comes next – nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve seen many of the media say that we shouldn’t ‘sweep this under the carpet’ after this series’ calamity yet that’s exactly what will happen again. Boycott had some good questions at the end of the series but took out his frustrations out on the wrong person in the absence of any management. Instead, if lucky we may get the odd staged interview where Tom Harrison dictates to us why English cricket is in a such a good state of health. We may get the odd dissenting question from the likes of Jonathan Agnew (whose last interview was more Graham Norton than Jeremy Paxman), yet I’m sure Harrison will be allowed once again to gloss over these things and nothing will be said or done, after all it’s not particularly in the interest of the media to shoot the golden goose.

Yes there have been exceptions, George Dobell has posted some fine and cutting articles about administrators both in this series and before, but what about the rest of them? The fact that some of the ‘establishments of the media’ are talking about a need for change only now just makes me laugh. Literally where have you been for the past 4 years? It’s been staring you in the face all that time and you have only just woken up and smelled the coffee? If that’s your idea of hard hitting journalism, then perhaps you should consider a career at the Cricket Paper?

Naturally, there will those that blame the team, the coaches, the selectors and probably  the boogie and yes, all of these need to share in some of the responsibility (well perhaps not the boogie, but it has often proved to be an efficient scapegoat in the past). The best thing that could be said about the team is that they kept trying their best to the end, though the worst that could also be levelled at them is that they are a talentless bunch of egotists who can’t handle their alcohol. The coaches have hardly covered themselves in glory either, Trevor Bayliss couldn’t find most of the counties if you gave him a Sat Nav, let alone identify most of their players. Farbrace seems to appear when things are going well, has a large chuckle with the media and hides when they’re not. Ramprakash has been given a contract extension when half the team don’t seem to know which side of the bat to hold and I’m not even sure who our bowling coach is these days! As for the selectors, well let’s just say you could fill a bag with the name of every cricketer in county cricket and pick the team at random and they’d probably be more successful than most of England’s selection in the past 4 years. It’s a mess and whilst the above should all cop their side of the blame, it’s our four protagonists who deserve the most attention and the most recrimination. It’s these four in particular that have taken our once beloved sport and brought it to its knees.

I’m not going to focus on Strauss too heavily as rightly his focus has to be the health of his wife at the moment. Cancer is an awful illness and looking after her and the whole family must take priority over everything else. Another reason that I’m not focusing too much on Strauss is that he is simply the Company Man, employed by those above him to do what they say and to do it in the correct manner. There was talk before his appointment about the role being one where he would have the opportunity to make changes to the structure of the English game to ensure success in all formats and if that was indeed his mantra, then he has failed spectacularly.  My own personal view at the time was that Strauss was the hired hand: get rid of KP for good and be the face of the regime so that no-one looks too closely at what’s going on behind the scenes.  Not a lot has changed my opinion in that regard.

Sure I dislike Director Comma immensely especially by the way that he is able to embrace leaving his faculties at the door so that he can have a fairly cushy job of giving ‘short buzzword-loaded statements’ that the media will lap up in exchange for being part of the Establishment. In truth though, Strauss was part of the establishment long before he retired. He was from the right type of family, had the right look and was willing to adapt to situations that suited him at the time and then to dump those no longer useful. Sure, the ECB would’ve liked Strauss to have a team performing on the pitch to remove any investigation about what was going on behind the scenes but that never was a mandate. The mandate all along was keep the media happy and get the punters paying whilst saying the ‘the right thing’. It is impossible to tell whether Strauss would have copped much heat after this disastrous series if his personal circumstances were different, but I certainly have my doubts, after all why would the ECB want to remove their head boy?

It can also be rightly pointed out that all of this started way before 2014, under the stewardship of a certain Giles Clarke. Clarke is without the doubt the bogeyman of English cricket, a man who has always been so singular in his own quest for power and the riches that come with it that he isn’t worried about destroying anything in his way. I know a few of the hacks had pieces on Clarke that never made their way to print, such has been the fear of offending him and his lawyers. One can quite easily recall his reaction to Lawrence Booth after a mildly critical piece appeared in the Wisden Almanack alongside his haranguing of former ICC President Ehsan Mani at the same gala dinner. Whilst no-one in the press had the cojones to actually quote what Clarke said to either Booth or Mani (I’m guessing it wasn’t that he was a ‘‘man of great judgment’ unlike Paul Downton); however Mani acerbically commented afterwards that:

‘I’m very used to Giles being utterly irrational. He always thinks it’s just about him when there’s a far bigger picture of three countries sharing 52 per cent of income between them.’

Giles, we know – much like some of those who have followed him into power – was always about the commercials and pretty much stuff everything else. He got into bed with a soon to be convicted criminal – Alan Stanford, strengthened ties with Sky and took more pleasure in boasting that he had increased the ECB’s revenues up to £140 million than he did speaking about on the field success. Clarke created the revenue model whereby counties had to bid for Test Matches rather than the ECB distributing them as this lowered the ECB’s risk and accountability for a poor attendance or rain ruined Test. Indeed it was reported in the Telegraph some time ago:

“Giles’s agenda was all about financial imperatives, keeping the counties alive,” says one former county chief executive, who preferred not to be named. “He was very clever at making sure that he kept at least 10 of the 18 onside, and he was re-elected twice on that platform. Plus, some people became too scared to vote against him. If they did so and didn’t win, he found out, and he was a great one for punishing you.”

“Some people feared he wouldn’t give them a winter cash-flow loan [which many of the counties use to keep the creditors off their backs] or an international match.”

Ah yes, the fear factor the Clarke actively cultivated is well and clearly shown by the above. Back me or I take the money away and give it to someone else who will. It was Clarke’s obsession with money and power that laid the groundwork for the carve up of cricket and the absolutely despicable  “Big Three” revenue agreement, though it seems that Clarke had very little intention of sharing this money with the wider English Cricket community, this was the ECB’s money after all.  Clarke failed to get his hands on the most powerful job of all in world cricket, yet he’s still there, hovering around the halls of the ICC and ECB and no doubt leaning on those in the front line to carry out his mandate. I could write many more words about Clarke, but many of these have been written before and there are some new boys in town ready to take up the mantle.

Then we come on to Colin Graves, either a bumbling fool who has got in far too deep than he thought or some kind of evil genius that the world has never seen before. I’m genuinely torn between the two statements personally because he has shown both sides of this at times, sometimes even in the same press conference. We all know that Colin’s favourite word is mediocre (though surprisingly not when talking about the England Test team), West Indies cricket is mediocre, our current T20 competition is mediocre, I would probably guess that he describes lunch in the long room at Lords mediocre. Surprisingly enough, the reaction to this wasn’t what he had anticipated (i.e. pissing people off and motivating the opposition). However we have also seen a more cut-throat side from Graves, marginalising many of the counties that helped him come to power and survive through his initial appointment when Clarke still had a say on English cricket. He then went completely postal on Durham, a county that had unfortunately no rich benefactor and who were at the mercy of the ECB.  One only has to remember that this certain Colin Graves had helped Yorkshire out of a massive financial hole with a number of loans in the past as County Chairman – conflict of interest, what conflict of interest sir? This is the man, who has single handedly led the charge for a franchise based T20 when there was no support from the fans or the counties and looks to be around 5 years too late to make a major difference. This is the man who has decided to relegate red ball cricket to the very margins of the county season and then wonder why our Test team continues to fall apart when not faced with green seaming pitches. Still Graves is always good for the odd catch-all statement:

‘Everyone is very disappointed. Everyone gave their all, but we have to do things better going forward. There is no specific review.’

‘We have Andrew Strauss as MD of the England team and [ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison in charge, and I trust them completely to make the right decisions. There will be no witch hunt. We have to look at it and see how we can improve, so in four years’ time we are better placed to win [in Australia] than we were this time.’

Ah yes, no witch hunt this time, after all we’ve only been thrashed 4-0 this time with only a dead dog of a pitch in Melbourne saving us from a whitewash and since there’s no Kevin Pietersen to ‘sort out,’ then we can rightly sweep it under the carpet. And Colin, whilst you’re there, I’ve got news for you: if you truly believe that Director Comma and the Empty Suit that is Harrison (more on him later) are deserving of trust to make the right decisions for English Cricket, then you are even more deluded than I even thought. Colin Graves: unfortunate idiot or world class baddie?  I guess the answer will be left to the cricket historians…

Finally this brings us on to the Empty Suit, Tom Harrison – the bean counter, the money man and the dangerous one. Let me just make this abundantly clear, Tom Harrison would organise a game of cricket on the moon, with a basketball and flippers if it made him some extra money. Tom Harrison does not care one jot about the game of cricket, the development of youngsters, grass roots cricket, how the Test team performs and what the future of English cricket will look like. As far as he is concerned, cricket and those who love it are just an unfortunate annoyance that sometimes gets in the way of him making money.  Nothing and I mean nothing else matters. NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Whereas Downton was both incompetent and stupid, Harrison is unfortunately highly competent in his singular goal of making cash and will ruthlessly destroy those who dare get in his way. I have published this a couple of times in the last week or so, but let’s just look at this statement one more time:

The health of the game is more than just Ashes series overseas.  We’ve had a successful entry into the broadcast rights market out of which we have secured the financial future of the game until 2024.

“We are in a process of delivering cricket across three formats. They’re making huge strides across the white-ball game, up to a place where we’re winning 70% or so of our white-ball matches – the ODI side in particular – and the T20 side is making good progress.”

In other words, yes we’re crap but look at the money, just look at it!  Look how much money I made out of Sky and everybody else! Yes, Harrison deserves some credit for selling a pretty crap product to Sky and others for £1.1 billion from 2020 to the end of 2024, but equally it would have been pretty embarrassing if he hadn’t managed to get a significant cost increase bearing in mind his background in selling TV rights.  Still even with the ECB breathing a huge sigh of belief, having postponed the inevitable financial precipice until 2024, Harrison once again let slip his key motivations:

‘You’re not thinking about the deal that you’re doing, you’re always thinking about the next deal.’

Stop me if I’m wrong, but it appears that the future of English cricket has been solely handed over to a greedy, ruthless, ex-car salesman type who has masqueraded as the answer to all of the ECB’s prayers. The snake oil salesman, who has rocked up from nowhere with supposedly all of the answers and none of the nasty drawbacks, does it remind anybody of someone else??

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And there we have it folks, we don’t matter, because once the next generation has finally discovered the note with ‘there’s no money left’ our four protagonists will be long gone with their riches and so will be what’s left of the money.  The game will be up, every single decision that the ECB has made during the last four years has ensured that English cricket in the future will be nothing but a rotting carcass, mourned by the few but largely forgotten by the majority and we have Clarke, Strauss, Graves and Harrison to thank for this.

I thought after 2014 the ECB had reached the nadir, covering up a truly despicable performance, sacking our best player, labelling anyone not employed by the ECB as outside cricket and showing almost no regard for the fans  Unfortunately I was wrong, this was just the start. The ECB have done all of this and more over the past years, and whilst we were furious four years ago, this time there is simply no-one around that cares enough anymore. And this is their most damning failure of them all.

The Blame Game

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It’s been less than a week since what can only be described as a disastrous Test match for England. This coupled with the fact that England have now lost 6 of their last 8 Test Matches has seen the once compliant media turn into circling vultures around the team. Dmitri came in off his long run on Tuesday and covered many of these points with deadly precision, so naturally I don’t want to cover old ground; however once the dust has settled and people have regained their decorum, it does need to be examined why England are in a continuous cycle of mediocrity.

As we have covered in previous posts, the condemnation came quick and fast, after all this is no longer an Alastair Cook team so it’s game on for the hacks, but the two that particularly caught my eye were the reactions of Nasser Hussain and George Dobell, with 2 thoughts on completely different sides of the spectrum.

Hussain was quick to put the boot into county cricket, which is not too much of a surprise considering he probably rarely watches it, stating:

The lads that are coming in aren’t doing anything for them – they won at Lord’s because of Joe Root, not Jennings, Dawson or Ballance.

“You name some lads who have come in – [James] Vince, [Ben] Duckett, [Gareth] Batty, [Zafar] Ansari, [Alex] Hales, Ballance – there is no-one coming in and doing well. “It is a sad indictment in county cricket that they are getting runs there and not for England.” 

Dobell took another line and was keen to understand what Bayliss was actually doing to address these problems:

Bayliss has clearly pushed an ‘aggressive’ mindset (remember his comments about wanting two “attacking-style batters in the top three”?) but, without knowing the red-ball ability of his options – he admits he has never seen Mark Stoneman, outstanding candidate for top-order promotion, bat in the flesh – he has instead tried to turn limited-overs talents into Test players. Jos Buttler was recalled to the Test team despite having played one first-class game in a year and, as a result, being given no chance to correct the faults that led to him being dropped; Alex Hales was promoted to Test opener and Liam Dawson has been selected largely on the grounds of being a ‘good bloke’. By such criteria, Nelson Mandela would have opened the batting for South Africa for 50 years.

Bayliss isn’t much of a technical coach, either. The players refer to him as “a man of few words” who leaves the technical work to others and is more interested in creating a positive, settled environment in which the players are able to perform to their optimum.

That’s important, of course. But if he doesn’t have much say in selection and he doesn’t have much say in coaching, it does rather beg the question: what does he do? If he’s just creating a relaxed environment, he could be replaced by a couple of scented candles, a yucca plant and a CD of ambient whale noises.

 It’s not that I wholly disagree with either of these quotes, it’s just that I think they fail to see the long term issues that England have glaringly had and have been swept under the carpet for so long now. It is easy to have a knee jerk reaction after another England collapse, but it’s far more positive to take a step back at properly look at the underlying causes rather than throwing mud at anybody not named Alastair Cook.

If I look at Hussain’s comments around County Cricket, I feel that he has taken the easy route of assigning blame without doing much research. We all know that County Cricket isn’t perfect, but then show me any national set up that has the quality of domestic league to keep churning out Test quality players (the Australian Shield Cricket in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was the exception rather than the rule). We are also in an era where cricket has become a marginal sport, so to try and find circa 540 professional players across the counties who all play at a high level is mission impossible. Of course it could be argued that by merging counties or introducing 3 divisions (the latter of which I’m actually in favour of) to increase the quality on offer is a nice idea, but even the counties aren’t stupid enough to vote themselves out of existence. This is verging on Mission Impossible. Hussain also argues that players coming through the counties should have had their techniques honed by playing County Cricket, and whilst it is a lovely idea, it is not exactly practical. The County coaches are under as much pressure to win as with any other professional game, so they’re not exactly going to take Ballance or Vince aside when they are plundering county attacks to work on their technique on the off chance that they may get recalled. It would be lovely if they did, but that is purely a pipe dream. It is also worth remembering that the counties often work on a shoestring budget, so they’re not exactly in a place to be able to employ the best coaches in the system and if they did so, then they would probably have to sacrifice players, robbing Peter to pay Paul in other words. Whilst we can all agree that County Cricket isn’t without fault, to lay the full blame on it’s doorstep is lazy journalism in my opinion.

The same could be said about laying the blame fully at the door of England’s coaches; after all they can only work with those who have been selected to play for England. Whilst of course there can be a portion of blame assigned to Bayliss, who fully admits that he doesn’t have a working knowledge of County Cricket (though that doesn’t mean that he can’t watch videos of every English player) and appears to foster a culture whereby there is a lack of accountability amongst the players; it would be foolhardy to hump the blame completely onto his back. Could Bayliss be more forthright, yes certainly and could he stop using phrases such as ‘positive brand of cricket’ (up there with ‘difficult winter’) absolutely yes, but it does feel slightly that his Australian upbringing has upset one or two of the media corp. There are questions around his backroom staff, which Dmitri pointed out in his last post, such as what does Farbrace actually do and why would you employ a batting coach, who was known to freeze in the Test Cricket arena? These are valid questions, but my view is that the England coaches should only be there to tweak techniques and mindsets and not have to start from scratch with players who aren’t either ready or good enough for Test Cricket. My question would be why are we having to pick players with poor technique or subject temperament in the first place? Surely there is a failsafe within the system to guard against this? Yes is the answer; however it is failing in its very basic goal:

According to the Lords website:

Loughborough University has a long tradition and is world renowned for its role in the development of sporting excellence. It is a key site for the new English Institute of Sport – and the ECB’s National Academy. The MCCU allows additional support to be invested in a squad of elite young cricketers, who benefit from Loughborough’s expertise and provision for the development of sports performance.

The Cricket-specific facilities and services are reinforced by access to Loughborough’s wider provision of high-performance sport support services, including fitness testing and development, technical analysis of skill acquisition, physiological and biomechanical analysis, sports nutrition, sports psychology, and sports medicine services.

Loughborough has been a failure on an immense scale. It is the place where aspiring fast bowlers and batsmen go to have their technique ripped apart and changed to what the ECB coaching manual dictates and to be turned from exciting young cricketers into ECB corporate drones. After all, we know that as long as you say the right things and suck up to Mr. Flower, then a Test place is all but guaranteed (more on him a little later). The crux of the matter is that we are not producing enough players of a high enough quality to play Test Cricket; we’re not drilling into them the mindset of protecting your wicket, batting time or bowling line and length instead of promoting the so-called so-called ‘X Factor cricket’. The basics seemed to have been replaced with how fast can you bowl the ball and how far can you clear the boundary by, which is nice for hit and giggle cricket but leaves players totally ill-equipped for the longer form of the game; hence the phrase positive brand of cricket now being bandied about, which roughly translates as our batsman have no clue on how to defend against quality bowling.

So then we dig a little deeper and shine the light on the two individuals who have the keys to the England Development Programme, Andy Flower and David Parsons. There has been very little written about David Parsons, England’s National Spin Bowling Coach, and that’s just probably the way that he likes it. Parsons has been England’s spin coach since 2006 and how many international class spinners have we produced since that time, yes you guessed it, a big fat zero (Swann was playing County Cricket long before Parsons was appointed). This is a clear example about how the ECB rewards those that are ‘inside cricket’ irrespective of the aptitude of said individual. If I had been in a job where I had one task but failed to deliver on it, then I would have been out of a job an awfully long time ago, but there Parson’s is, clinging onto his position for 11 years whilst contributing virtually nothing during this time, no doubt he’ll be knighted soon. My thoughts on Andy Flower are well known, I wrote a piece last year about his tenure with the Lions – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/11/23/englands-missing-lions/comment-page-1/ and very little has changed since then. Flower has never had a particular aptitude of bringing through young cricketers, with only Steven Finn bought into the England set up under the age of 27 (Trott and Bresnan were extremely experienced county operators by this time) and clearly values good personality rather than talent. England are still criminally under utilising the Lions in the red ball format, which is madness, considering this should be the very vehicle where England’s aspiring Test players iron out their techniques, test out their temperaments and play against high quality players. It would naturally be impossible to mimic the England set up, but surely it’s not past the administrators to organise 4/5 red ball games a year for those that have been identified as next off the cab rank?? Surely Director Comma understands that the very definition of madness is doing the same things again and expecting a different outcome? The fact that we have consistently seen white ball cricket favoured over red ball cricket constantly rankles with me but it appears that this decision has come from the top.

We could also easily blame the selectors, whom many of us believe should have been sacked straight after the India tour and some even before that. There have been too many selections where they have tried to put round objects into square holes or have completely misjudged an individual’s readiness for the Test arena. The balance of the side has looked completely wrong for a while now and they continue to jettison those who don’t fit their mould as personified by the media luvvies (see Rashid, Carberry, Compton etc). The fact that James Whitaker still has a job is like the ECB is playing one massive practical joke on the rest of England, hell I’d rather have John Whitaker making the selections.

It is clear that many elements could be blamed for England’s consistently poor decision making and massive inconsistency in the Test arena (though one could argue that losing 6 out of 8 Tests isn’t inconsistency and just the sign of a poor side); however there does seem to be one constant running through all of these gripes. Yes, our purported savior, the Director, England Cricket.

Now many might say that it is unfair to put the blame squarely at Strauss’ door and some will even go further and say that I am purporting an agenda against Strauss, and whilst it’s true that I have little time for Strauss, the one common element is that all roads lead to him. Graves is being kept in a cupboard under the stairs, only allowed out to wine and dine the County chairmen, Empty Suit is too concerned with the TV deals and the Cockroach is still trying to infiltrate the ICC, so that really only leaves us with Director Comma. When appointed, Strauss’ supposed remit was:

Strauss, will will be responsible for “the long-term strategy of the England men’s cricket team” and for developing “the right coaching and management structure to support it”.

Strauss knew that Bayliss was more of a white ball specialist when he appointed him and that he had very little knowledge of county cricket; however it still seems that the key to Strauss’ appointment was to push the white ball game and to ensure a certain South African born player wasn’t picked. If Strauss didn’t know that Bayliss was a hands-off coach, then that is a damning indictment of his research and judgment. Strauss is also in charge of the selectors, so why has there been no accountability with bust after bust coming from Whitaker and co? Any fool could see they’re not up to the job, hell I would make Peter Moores chief selector, he might not be able to coach at International level, but he was the most successful in bringing young cricketers through to the England set up. I would certainly remove Flower from any formal or informal position on the panel, a conflict of interest there most certainly is, but whether Director Comma actually has the cohones to do it, is another matter.

Another damning aspect of all this has been Strauss’ insistence that white ball cricket was more of a focus across all of the age groups, very much at the detriment to the red ball game. We can of course question the mindset and attitude of England’s Test batsmen, but when they and the next generation are not being given proper exposure to the red ball game early in their career against high quality players, then of course we leave ourselves open to being undercooked at this level. It is astoundingly incompetent to have the Lions playing 6 red ball games over a 3-year period, with an England Test line up crying out for new talent. Whilst it would be unfair to directly apportion blame to Strauss for Loughborough’s consistent failure, it doesn’t appear that he is too keen to do much about it, after all that’s Mr. Flowers remit and one doesn’t go about sticking his nose into Darth Mood Hoover’s ‘oeuvre d’art’.

So what have England actually achieved in Director Comma’s tenure, we have a white ball team that is better than it was but still hasn’t won anything, a Test team with the same glaring holes and lack of talent in the system as we had in 2014, which makes it impossible to make England a constantly competitive Test Team, oh and a new domestic T20 competition that nobody wants. It wouldn’t be unfair to surmise in my opinion, that in the three years since Strauss took over as Director, England Cricket, English cricket hasn’t moved forward an iota and that for me is the most damning statistic of them all.

 

Whitaker’s For The Sack – Comma

Well. Here we go again. Scapegoating by “good journalism” after a defeat. We’ve sure been here before.

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I’ll give Paul Newman something. He sure knows how to rouse the media to a story, and he sure has the “sources” to back him up. Naturally, this prima facie case of “good journalism” throws James Whitaker, Mike Newell and Angus Fraser under the bus, keeps Trevor Bayliss on board as the driver who doesn’t quite know his way, and Alastair Cook as the conductor, shouting and barking his words, but being far enough from the action not to be culpable. Meanwhile, stretching this metaphor beyond breaking point, Strauss acts as Bus Inspector Blakey (from On the Buses for you oldies out there) spouting “I hate you Whitaker” and we have, after one defeat, when a player is left out of the team on health grounds, some unhealthy scapegoats to target. Stop me if we’ve been here before.

Oh yes, and if we weren’t perturbed enough already there’s a begging letter from “the greatest England Coach ever” to come back as some all-knowing, all-seeing eye. Funny how that came out on the day Ben Duckett made 163 in a romp for the England Lions.

The Four Journos

Today Selfey and Berry have followed suit with the comments that the current structure is archaic, and that we need a new format for selecting the team. This sort of groupthink, co-ordinated or derived, or both, is the sort we’ve seen for years. Andrew Strauss is still very much in the plus column when it comes to his achievements with Team England, and the Comma Master may well wish to spread his Mindflicking wings and take a good look at a selection process. A process which has had zero scrutiny (in public) once Strauss put it to bed in the immediate aftermath of the I don’t trust KP monologue in May 2015, but out of the blue surfaces when we lose a game quite narrowly, and one of our key players has not played because he was told not to by medical experts – a marginal call some said, but one heeded by the selectors, who were actually doing their jobs.

There’s the rub, and it stinks. Newman tweeted last week, before the test, that Anderson looked fine in the nets, so why wasn’t he in the squad? Former New Zealand bowler Iain O’Brien helpfully pointed out that bowling in the nets was not the same as 20 overs on a flat deck at Lord’s in a test match (in possibly warm weather) and was (maybe temporarily) blocked by Newman on Twitter! (Join the club Iain – but, apparently we are irrelevant and he never reads us, so why he had a fit with me, I don’t know!) My sniffer dog nose for inside tracks was going overboard – why would Newman undermine the selection committee, and medical experts, to the length he’d block a former test bowler for calling him out on it, if there wasn’t more to it? Then it hit you yesterday. This looked like an inside job all right. People running from a decision, and running from their assumptions of a comfortable series win to explain away a surprise defeat. Suddenly Whitaker is in the crosshairs. An inside job.

The same inside job that absolutely looks like has been perpetrated on Nick Compton. Sure, his form merited being dropped, but Newman cites this as another example of the selectors not being fit for purpose. He was “mystified” why Compton was given an extra chance to prove himself at the start of the Sri Lankan series, when that contest against overmatched opposition gave us the chance to blood a new player (ignoring, of course, how successful the blooding of new player James Vince has been) and is now continuing that whispering campaign against Gary Ballance. Both of these are conveniently lumped on top of the non-selection of Anderson in particular as massive errors.

These things do not appear out of the ether. The whispers around Compton was he was a bit of an oddball, a bit intense, a bit “not suited to test cricket”. He fell out with Andy Flower. Rumours were Cook didn’t like opening with him because they were both attritional. Trevor Bayliss never wanted him because he wanted two dashers and a steady one in the top three. Compton was primed to fail. The same whispers about how Ballance refused to change his technique which secured him four test centuries once dropped, which now has him classed as a failure while Hales and Vince await their first. This has all the hallmarks of the impervious inner sanctum of days of yore. You know, the one that there were never leaks from, but plenty of good journalism to go round. You have to wonder who is squawking in the camp, but I don’t think things are as tickety-boo as they were when we were winning overseas series and preparing for a 7-0 summer. For starters, Pakistan were meant to be frail, on the edge, and ready to be steamrollered. Instead, at Lord’s, we got a nasty shock.

The clear inference from Newman, and whoever it is that paints his wagon, is that Whitaker et al took the medical advice that it might be a bit early for Anderson and Stokes, and thought “it’s only Pakistan, Lord’s is a road, let’s save them for next week.” That is now going to be a stick to beat the selectors with, and all of a sudden we have a co-ordinated attack on the make-up of the selection panel. So Selfey comes up with something about camels and drinking brandy with Paul Allott. I’ve not read Scyld. Chris Stocks is on Twitter asking when England’s football team stopped picking by committee. A week ago, no-one was in any rush to condemn the way the England teams are selected. One loss, a player or two missing on medical advice (and remember, Stokes was on a limit of “short spells” this weekend, and Jimmy allowed to play for two days, so there were still doubts), some aspersions cast in James Whitaker’s direction, plenty of people saying “well they looked fine to me” and the selection process isn’t fit for purpose? Pull the effing other one.

Don’t you dare confuse this with me supporting James “GARY BALLANCE” Whitaker. I’ve not been a fan, will never be a fan, and I’m impertinent enough to say he was out of his depth from day one. But he was a useful idiot in the immediate wake of the KP debacle (the car crash interview with Tim Abraham still brings a smile to my face) and then the one later in 2014 with Pat Murphy probably went one better. But he stood there, did his master’s bidding by saying KP was never up for selection and provided a useful bulwark when times got tough. He was certainly less visible than his predecessors, and I’m given to believe he dispensed with the press conferences to announce teams. Probably because he was / would have been rubbish at them. His removal from the position, should it happen, will not be mourned by me. It’s just the way it is being mooted to be changed is classic ECB double-speak.

For Strauss now appears, IF THIS IS TRUE, to want to consolidate power in the Comma. While not quite the same as Ray Illingworth’s legendary One Man Committee, as at this moment in time there are no signs that he wants to be coach as well, the Comma man looks like he wants to become the chief selector if the co-ordinated triumvirate are to be believed. This, I presume, would mean the Comma would need to get out of Lord’s and tour the country watching players. Or, as is being intimated, he watches DVD coverage from around the grounds in the luxury of his office. The selectors do tour the country – if Stocks tries to draw parallels with the England football team, he might remember that the national side does not play at the same time as the Premier League – and get to see players in the flesh, back up what they hear, and maybe get more of a feel for the live situation in a game that sitting in an office doesn’t do. There are good reasons for employing selectors (though two county coaches is probably not the best idea) and not leaving it to a coach who knows naff all about county cricket and a captain who may not have seen all the players (and will have favourites).

We’ve seen Matt Prior’s fall from test cricket. We’ve seen Jimmy’s recent injuries. We’ve seen the mess made of Mark Wood’s recovery. We’ve seen Andy Flower take a litany of unfit or unselectable bowlers to Australia. If a group of selectors take the long view, it is not now a stick to beat them with. For it is the same selectors who picked the winning teams of the last couple of years, and you had little problem with them then. Stop Monday morning quarterbacking, ingratiating yourself with the powers that be, try to rehabilitate Flower, keep Cook’s fingerprints off the weapon, and connect the dots. Because we have here.

Disagree with me? Comment away (I know many of you have). But as someone said on Twitter this morning, there are many reasons to do away with the selection committee, but ignoring medical advice isn’t one of them.

UPDATE – Clive, if I may, I have borrowed your comment on The Guardian BTL:

The thrust of this article is exactly like that of Paul Newman’s in yesterday’s Mail and Scyld Berry’s in today’s Telegraph. I put that down to Sheer Coincidence and the tendency of great minds to think alike, rather than the press having been briefed about the imminent axing of the selection committee and told what view to take.

2015 Dmitris #6 – Andrew Strauss

The next Dmitri is awarded to someone who has, in many ways, defined the England cricket year. On his appointment to replace the incompetent Paul Downton, Andrew, Strauss took the bull by horns, sacked Peter Moores, canned KP and brought in the coach no-one thought was a serious candidate. He set in train a number of events that meant this was a memorable year for the game in England, but also showed that a number of key principles had been put in place.

Strauss Motivator

That Andrew, Strauss has had an eventful year would be a little bit of an understatement. After his retirement from the England cricket team in 2012, he walked into the Sky commentary box for the 2013 Ashes and beyond, and proved pretty much why he should have stuck to the playing side. In a box that contained lightweights like Knight and bores like Warne and Botham, he just did not carve a niche. His whole time in the commentary box was overshadowed when he called a certain someone a certain word when he thought he was off air. In a taste of things to come, the press came to his aid, like Walter Raleigh for Good Queen Bess, and the whole thing was laughed off. Sure, he apologised, but it did rather paint a picture, didn’t it?

When my main source of comedy material was booted out after the World Cup, there became a little bit of a beauty parade to see who might fill the mighty Downton’s boots. Would it be Shiny Toy Vaughan, with his snap judgments, his greatest ever addiction and his “lad” persona on Twitter? Would it be Alec Stewart, a man who carried out the job on offer at Surrey, with a continuous role in the game, gravitas and respect? No, of course not. It was always going to be Strauss. He’d have taken the job at the time Downton took over, but they thought it was too soon. It was Strauss from the moment Downton was ditched. There was no suspense…..

When he was appointed I thought immediately “KP – gone”. While they had appeared to have papered over the cracks in 2012, the bon mot on Sky said that was a lie. I’ve had an independent source confirm to me that the divide runs very deep. That’s not exactly a world exclusive. So when KP scored that 355* there was no doubt it wouldn’t change Strauss’s mind. So while many of us still have grave problems with the way the decision was made, the justification for it, and the premise it was based on (we will not pick our team on merit alone, but on personality and held grudges), it would be unfair to say that’s the only thing he’s done. And I don’t mean the shambolic sacking of Peter Moores, which gave Strauss an early peek at how things work in the ECB Media world. To be fair to them, they’ve tightened up that aspect considerably this year.

Newman Markings
Newman needed convincing on a bit, but clear on his bete noire

Strauss’s clear best move was appointing Trevor Bayliss, which, in hindsight should have been done last year instead of the Moores Mistake. Bayliss has had an immediate impact on the ODI team, so that we have an invigorating, exciting bunch playing cricket we could only dream of. Eoin Morgan’s retention as captain has also been a major plus for Strauss, because received wisdom was that Joe Root would take it on as a dress rehearsal for the big job in a year or so’s time. Under Morgan, Bayliss and Farbrace, faith has been put in Hales and Roy, who both made their maiden ODI hundreds this year, given free rein to Joe Root and Eoin Morgan in the middle order, and allowed Jos Buttler to do his thing knowing he has hitters around him. The bowling looks more tricky, but if the batting is this lethal, some sins can be covered. Strauss has made this a priority and short term rewards have ensued. It does look, though, as if some long-term strategies are now in place, with key players not too old, and a modus operandi being developed for English conditions. That future is bright.

His bonus came in the form of an Ashes win. Now we’ve had some varying opinions on here about this series and its true relevance. The diehard England fan, the sort that thinks this blog is an abomination, believes this to be one of the great triumphs of the modern era, and I’ve even seen it suggested (by one muppet who seems to have disappeared) that it was better than 2005. Those of a more sceptical lean are quick to point out that pitches outside of London were made to suit our attack, and in some cases, to an unfair degree. It is a debate that will linger. To me there should be a balance to the wickets, and that home conditions should be an advantage but not a decisive one. To that degree, although it was slagged off, Cardiff was the best pitch of the series. However, the view of many was that the condition of the wickets were dictated by the ECB and possibly Strauss. He denied it, but there was that thought that England had stacked the deck. I’m not so sure, and even if I was, I’m not so sure I care that much except that no test went five days. Some barely made it to the half-way stage. That can’t be right.

But winning the Ashes gave Strauss important breathing room, an argument to counter the pro-KP faction (there still isn’t a coherent one for not picking him for the T20 team) and the media did their thing by anointing Mr Mindflick as a genius, pouring on aplomb, genuflecting to his genius. Strauss has had a good first year in charge, of that there can be no doubt, but the success of the test team other than the Ashes, and certainly away from home remains elusive. The batting is in a mess, the bowling too dependent on two bowlers with many miles on the clock, the keeper not nailed down, no spin bowler standing up to be counted and no real bright shining lights in sight. They’ve now seen off Bell, and it remains to be seen what happens next. So while the ODI side is full of hope, the test team is a massive work in progress, and quite frankly, not as good away from home as the sum of its parts. An Ashes win, as odd as it was, will only go so far. Strauss has a lot of work to do, but there is no doubt he’s been an integral part of much of this year.