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.

The Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs

“As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find nothing.” – Aesop’s Fables

It is difficult to over exaggerate how much English cricket relies on Test cricket financially. Perhaps as much as two-thirds of the ECB’s total domestic income comes from the six or seven red ball internationals played every summer. The ticket sales alone for a home Ashes series draws in almost as much income as the entire Hundred (Including TV rights, sponsors, and 34/35 ‘full’ grounds) in a year.

Which is what makes it so surprising that the ECB seems intent on prioritising a competition which is losing money, and seems certain to continue losing money for the next six years without significant changes, to the detriment of their proverbial golden goose.

For a simple indication of the two formats’ relative worth: In 2019, the idea was mooted by MCC members that one Test every season, played at Lord’s, should be shown on Freeview. Sky responded by saying that such a move would cost the ECB £50m per year. For a single Test match. The total revenue for The Hundred in 2021 was £52m.

It has been said repeatedly by supporters of The Hundred that it is vital for the competition is played in August, since more children will be able to attend games or watch them on TV than at any other time of the year. This may be fair enough as an argument if your sole priority is the long term health of this one competition, but it is baffling in the context of English cricket as a whole.

Given that the ECB (and therefore the counties also) are so financially reliant on Test cricket, it would seem like a sensible measure to ensure that as many children as possible were able to watch it on TV, to become the next generation of fans (and, more cynically, customers). Instead, the ECB has chosen to do the opposite.

There is also the matter of attendance. The T20 Blast was shifted from primarily being in August in 2019 to June in 2022, and this appeared to cause a 23% decline in ticket sales. Given the high demand and high price for Test tickets in England, a similar fall in sales might cost the ECB several million pounds every year.

It should be said, in fairness to Tom Harrison and others at the ECB, that they acknowledge the reliance that English cricket has on a handful of Test matches every season. It was a key goal of The Hundred to become a second source of income for the game, to act as a safety net in the event that the commercial viability of the red ball game declined. That is not an unlikely scenario, not least because clowns like Harrison have been in charge of English Test cricket for a long time.

The initial indications from The Hundred this year don’t seem to indicate that the competition deserves this extraordinary level of support from the ECB. Viewing figures on the BBC for the men’s and women’s opening matches appear to be almost half what they were in 2021, suggesting very little interest from the wider public. And, to be clear, this is before the men’s Test series against South Africa has begun. Moving next year’s Ashes to a less favourable slot in the calendar wouldn’t obviously have any positive effect on The Hundred, but could have a severe negative impact on the number of people watching the Tests.

Cricket Australia hosts both a T20 competition and their Test series at the same time, with no obvious harm to either. The idea that it is necessary to sacrifice England internationals in order to ensure the growth and popularity of The Hundred is blatantly false. The whole exercise stinks of some worried executives throwing every possible resource behind a project they are publicly considered responsible for, or perhaps have bonuses linked to the success of, not caring about the wider damage it will cause the organisation and people they are supposed to represent.

The ECB is insulated somewhat from the consequences of their actions, at least for a while. A new Sky TV deal has already been agreed which offers them a similar guaranteed income over the next six years, albeit one that will likely be worth a lot less over time due to high inflation in the UK. The problem will come when they look to negotiate the next contract, from 2029 onwards. If interest in the longest format is diminished, and by extension its commercial worth, then it would lead to a significant devaluation in what Sky and their competitors thought the rights are worth paying for. That would be catastrophic for the ECB, and particularly the counties.

Or maybe I am wrong. But I don’t think I am.

If you have any comments on the post, The Hundred, or anything else, please leave them below.

Why Not Move The Hundred To April?

The Hundred has been a contentious issue for English cricket since it was first launched in 2018. Its supporters, most notably within the ECB and the media, seem to treat it like a sacred object where it would be considered blasphemous to alter any part of it. The appointment of Surrey CCC’s Richard Thompson as ECB chair represents perhaps the first time since its inception that someone in a position of actual power has publicly questioned aspects of the competition, and that represents an opportunity to make The Hundred work for everyone.

One of the most egregious lies told regarding The Hundred is that it would help attract new fans to both watch other teams and play at their local clubs. If The Hundred does excite a kid into joining an All Stars Cricket session, then they would have to wait until May the next year. Someone wanting to see more T20 games has the same issue. There is a reason why you never see advertisements saying “You can buy this product… In eight month’s time!” That reason is because it would be a monumentally stupid waste of resources. After eight months, the excitement and interest will have largely faded.

This would all change if The Hundred was held in April. This would allow the ECB to say “Did you like attending this match? Well, this very ground is hosting seven more matches almost exactly like it starting next month. You can buy tickets now.”, or “Are you interested in playing cricket? Well you’re in luck, because this website will show you a list of local cricket clubs starting junior sessions in the next few weeks.”, and “Like these women cricketers? Here’s the fixture list for the Charlotte Edwards Cup.”. It even allows Sky to say “Did you like watching this match on BBC/YouTube/TikTok/Pick? Here’s how to subscribe to Sky Sports via Now TV, where you can watch cricket almost every day for the next five months.”

It just makes sense.

There are other benefits hosting the competition in April. The international calendar for the England teams is now ridiculously condensed thanks to the ECB trying to avoid scheduling games through either the IPL or The Hundred. With the IPL extending into June now and The Hundred taking up all of August, only September, July and half of June are available for 7 Tests, 12 ODIs and 12 T20Is between the men’s and women’s teams. 58 days of scheduled cricket in a space of roughly 75 days. It’s ridiculous, physically unsustainable, and simply can’t last. Something has to give and, absent a significant change of heart from the BCCI, it has to be the ECB which relents.

Obviously there are downsides to such a move. Nights are a lot colder in April than August, which would hit evening attendance somewhat. It wouldn’t all be school holidays, although the 2-week Easter break usually falls in April. Sky would probably not be too pleased if they wanted to show the IPL but were obliged to prioritise The Hundred instead, although I’d hope that the increased promotion for the rest of their Summer cricket might help mollify them.

Some players wouldn’t be available due to the IPL, including a few England internationals. Going by the squads in 2022, as many as 28 men’s cricketers in The Hundred (9 English plus 19 overseas) would be in India through April. The ECB could force players on central contracts to stay, but it would be massively unpopular with the PCA and might lead to people refusing to sign international contracts altogether. The loss of talent could be mitigated somewhat by the complete absence of international cricket in the IPL window, which would mean that virtually every other cricketer around the world was available. One obvious opportunity would be to recruit Pakistani players, who aren’t chosen by IPL teams for reasons left unspoken. That said, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to hold a T20 league at the same time as the IPL and not look like a second-tier competition. To be clear: The Hundred is a second-tier competition, but the ECB doesn’t want it to be that obvious.

There are undoubtedly other things that Richard Thompson could change in order to improve The Hundred for next season. The amount the women players are paid should be significantly increased, more women’s matches should have the prime nighttime slot, overall costs should be reduced, the on-screen graphics should be fixed, and Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen should be barred from entering the grounds. But none of that would have anywhere near the impact of having The Hundred, the showcase event for English cricket with up to 18 matches on Freeview, starting the season rather than being almost at its end.

If you have anything you’d like to say about the post, Thompson’s appointment, or anything else, please leave them below.

Do You Have To Be Rich To Play Cricket?

“Cricket is the most elitist sport in Britain” – The introduction to Freddie Flintoff’s Field Of Dreams

Flintoff’s programme on BBC One has prompted many questions and articles about whether one of the the show’s central premises, that working class children have virtually no chance of playing for England, was accurate.

I wrote a post here in 2017 which showed that 62.6% of Test appearances in the previous ten years were by players who had attended fee-paying schools, and this increased to an incredible 93.6% of appearances by batters and wicketkeepers. Of the 27 batters to play for England in that time, the only ones who attended exclusively secondary or grammar schools were Tim Ambrose, Michael Carberry, Adam Lyth, Owais Shah, Mark Stoneman, Michael Vaughan and Tom Westley.

When Michael Carberry (All Saints Catholic School, secondary) was abandoned as England opener after a single Ashes tour, despite outscoring Alastair Cook (Bedford School with a music scholarship, £21,945 per year), it is not unreasonable to think that a player who fit the archetype of an English batter (“Well spoken”, “articulate”, “sporting”, etc.) might have been given more chances by England’s chief selector James Whitaker (Uppingham School, £26,406 per year). That unconscious preference for players with similar backgrounds to themselves might well have continued with Ed Smith (Tonbridge School, £35,067 per year) and James Taylor (Shrewsbury School, £27,930 per year).

As easy (and fun) as it to blame the ECB and its’ selectors for a class bias, the simple truth is that there are very few state-schooled batters anywhere close to England contention in county cricket. That isn’t to say that there aren’t biases to be found in selection, but the real problems begin much, much earlier in the professional pathway.

Wealth confers an advantage in terms of playing professional cricket almost from birth. Purely in terms of forming an interest and love of watching the sport, a Sky Sports subscription (£407.88 per year on Now TV) is virtually essential. One noticeable theme from Freddie Flintoff’s Field Of Dreams was how few children in Preston failed to recognise Flintoff, but were also unable to even name any current England cricketers. Learning to play the game has similar barriers, where many public schools have full grass cricket pitches, former county cricketers as coaches and several hours of sport available every week whilst comprehensives are mostly limited to an hour or two of play with plastic bats and balls (if any cricket at all).

Children typically enter the county system between the ages of 10 and 14. By this point, the kids from wealthy families will have already received a significantly greater volume and quality of cricket coaching compared to their state-schooled competitors. This gives them a huge advantage at any county trials, an advantage which can be extended further through building relationships with the county coaches either via their school or expensive one-on-one coaching sessions.

Meanwhile, children without wealthy parents face a slew of obstacles before even reaching the county sessions. Public schools are significantly more likely to be visited by county scouts than an inner-city cricket club, for a start. This is doubly true for any club which is unable to enter the main ECB-affiliated leagues due to a lack of facilities or failing to gain the acceptance of the existing teams, regardless of how well they perform on the field. Most kids are limited to a couple of hours in the nets plus a single game every week, make do with cheap kit from a discount retailer, and rely on parents (often not theirs) for transport to away matches. All of this keeps a vast number of talented youngsters from even making it to the county trials, which are usually held in a different city or town to where they live anyway.

Those who do make it to the trials soon find that that being a part of the county age group squad is a very expensive business. At most counties, parents are expected to pay for a complete branded county kit, bats and other equipment, and also coaching. They are also strongly encouraged to shell out for expensive remedial one-on-one coaching for any flaws detected in training sessions, and sometimes even tours to foreign countries. Matt Prior (Brighton College with a sports scholarship, £20,490 per year) tweeted a few months ago that the cost for his two children in the Sussex CCC county set up was over £1,000 each.

This high cost invalidates the idea that public school scholarships act as some kind of social leveller which means that the statistics showing the dominance of privately-educated cricketers is unrepresentative. The most commonly used example is Joe Root (Worksop College with a sports scholarship, £14,199 per year). What people overlook is that Root joined the Yorkshire CCC youth system at the age of 11, and it wasn’t until he was 15 that he was offered his scholarship. This is the case with virtually all such scholarships; They are typically only offered after a child excels in the county youth teams and is virtually assured of a professional contract. If a family can’t even afford to attend the county’s training sessions, there is absolutely no chance that they will receive an all expenses paid golden ticket to an independent school.

Counties claim that they have little choice but to charge parents. Sussex CCC’s chief executive, Rob Andrew (Barnard Castle School, £15,498 per year), said:

“We all want the game to be as accessible as it can be. We all try to keep the costs reasonable. Where there is genuine hardship, we offer bursaries. We have genuine applications every year. The key thing for me is that in the end there is a significant cost to the counties to run these programmes. In an ideal world, we would offer all this coaching for free. But how do I pay for it? It would cost the club £250,000. We can’t afford to do that. Maybe some of the bigger counties have more resource, but we have to cut our cloth accordingly. If we’re forced to make it free, my fear is that the pathway programmes will get slashed.”

This begs the question: How much are Sussex CCC’s “pathway programmes” costing them now? The surprising answer is that, according to their own 2021 accounts, they are actually making a £17,000 profit from them (£499,000 income minus £482,000 expenses). Far from being a burden, or an investment necessary to improve the quality of the team, Sussex CCC seem to regard their age group squads and academies as a source of revenue to help fund other aspects of the club (such as, for example, their chief executive’s wages).

To put this figure of £499,000 in perspective: Sussex CCC’s combined ticket and membership sales in 2021 totalled £530,000. That season admittedly had reduced attendances due to COVID-19 (whilst the 2022 season has had reduced attendances due to the new scheduling), but even in 2019 they only managed to accrue £953,000 from people actually watching them play.

Squeezing parents for every penny they can is good business, but no way to run a cricket club. It is surprising to many outside observers that there are any costs to the parents at all. After all, why would a team exclude vast swathes of people without £1,000+ in their pockets when they are scouring their region for the best cricketers in their region? One reason is a total lack of consequences. Whether Sussex CCC develop all 11 England players or not, whether they use homegrown players or not, whether they gain promotion to Division 1 or not, the amount of revenue they receive is virtually unchanged. So why try?

This is a very different scenario to football, where the rewards for unearthing a star player are so lucrative (either through transfer fees or promotion) that clubs will bend over backwards to ensure any talented youngster signs for them. The idea of charging kids for this, potentially losing millions of pounds by allowing someone to be poached by a rival team, is anathema.

Sussex CCC could easily find ways to reduce expenses if they chose (or were forced) to not treat talented kids like a cash machine. They could just not have a uniform at all and have everyone play in their club/school whites for example. They could use their contracted players to help out in sessions rather than having so many dedicated coaches. It’s even possible to argue that children with access to professional-level cricket coaching and facilities at their (very expensive) schools don’t need to receive any coaching from the counties at all.

If we take the Sussex CCC chief executive’s estimate that completely free youth academies would cost them £250,000, then the total cost for all county cricket might be approximately £4,500,000 (18 x £250,000). The ECB’s Director Of Men’s Cricket, Rob Key (Colfe’s School, £19,125 per year), has proposed that profits from The Hundred should be used to fund age group county cricket in order not to “price half the people out of the market”. This is an interesting suggestion for a number of reasons: The first is that it is the contention of the ECB that The Hundred is already making a profit of roughly £11,000,000 every year. In that sense, the money is already available for this purpose. It has also been reported that the total budget for in-ground entertainment at The Hundred (fireworks, dancers, bands, etc) is over £6,000,000 per year. It is certainly worth questioning whether that is the best use of the ECB’s money.

This does nothing to absolve the counties of any blame, of course. Each county has received an extra £1,300,000 in annual funding from the ECB in exchange for their support of The Hundred, some of which could easily cover free youth coaching. Every club had a choice on what to spend that money on, and almost all of them have chosen not to spend it on their youth programmes.

The former ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison (Oundle School, £27,075 per year), certainly never took any steps to address these issues. Even when it was raised as a potentially racist policy which had the effect of preventing British Asians from becoming professional cricketers, it was just Yorkshire CCC rather than the ECB which acted. It remains to be seen whether the interim chief exectutive, Clair Connor (Brighton College, £20,490 per year), or whoever takes the role next will fare any better.

So to answer the question in the title: Perhaps you don’t have to be ‘rich’ to play county cricket, but you certainly won’t make it if you’re poor.

Any comments or questions about the post, any of the cricket being played, or anything else, leave them below.

T20 Blast Attendance – A Boring Maths Post

In the lead up to today’s finals, the ECB released information about attendance in this year’s competition; A total of approximately 800,000, including the sold out Edgbaston crowd. This was compared to 2019’s figures of 920,000, or a decline of roughly 15 percent. I had two questions upon hearing this news: ‘Weren’t there a massive number of abandoned matches in 2019?’ and ‘How much will that cost the counties?’

To answer the first question: Yes, there were. 24 matches were abandoned due to rain in 2019, as opposed to 7 in 2018 and 6 in 2022. In spite of this, 2019 was (and obviously remains) the season in which the most tickets were sold in the T20 Blast. Which led me to think about how it would be possible to account for this factor and correctly gauge how much attendances had really fallen.

As far as I can work out using ground capacities from Wikipedia, there were a maximum of 1.37 million seats available in the 2019 Blast (having subtracted the 24 washouts), and 1.55 million seats in 2022 (without 6 washouts). This allows us to compare the two seasons’ attendances as the percentage of available capacity: 67.2 percent in 2019, and 51.5 percent in 2022. This would mean that the reduction in ticket sales for the 18 counties isn’t really 15 percent, as has been reported, but 23.3 percent from 2019 to this season.

To put it another way: If the counties had sold the same proportion of seats in 2022 as they did in 2019, the total attendance for the competition would have been 1,040,000 instead of 800,000.

Which brings us to my second question, regarding how much this will have cost the counties. The Cricketer magazine published this useful list of county ticket prices, from which you can estimate how much more money each team would have made if they had sold 23.3 percent more tickets. The answer for all 18 counties combined is just over £5,000,000.

Of course, this simplistic conjecture likely fails to grasp the full scale of losses that the clubs are enduring. It does not account for the lost food, drink and merchandise sales from the grounds, for example. What is clear is that it is the clubs which have the largest grounds who suffer the most damage financially in this situation. Worcestershire CCC stand to lose roughly £100,000 this season (23.3 percent of 5,500 capacity * 6 home matches * £20 ticket price), whilst Surrey CCC’s losses might be over a million pounds (23.3 percent of 27,500 capacity * 7 home matches * £28 ticket price). Worcestershire CCC might feel like they are getting a good deal from the £1,300,000 ECB payment in return for supporting The Hundred. Surrey CCC, and the other hosts in The Hundred, might feel otherwise.

It’s hard to tell whether this season’s figures will have worried those in charge of the county clubs. Their chairs recently voted to support a new TV deal with Sky Sports on broadly the same terms as the current contract, including the continuation of The Hundred. This ties county cricket into a similar schedule for the next six seasons, but also presumably guarantees that each team will receive their extra £1,300,000 ‘dividend’ from the ECB. It remains to be seen if this will be a wise choice.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave them below.

Coda

It has now been confirmed that Tom Harrison finally left the ECB three days ago. In the four weeks since he announced his resignation, I’m not sure anyone outside the ECB has had a kind word to say about him, but neither are they really laying into him.

This upsets me.

The first thing to say is that he has arguably had a greater impact on English cricket in the modern era than anyone else. This is not a compliment. On the field, the men’s and women’s white ball teams are faltering whilst the men’s Test team has almost totally collapsed. Off the field, the sport has descended into a sitcom farce of relentless incompetence, ignorance and a total failure to learn from mistakes.

Most of the press articles about Harrison seem to suggest that he is a nice person who made misguided decisions, or more mistakes than not, but is that really the case? He is at heart a marketing man, and it feels to me like the thing he marketed most during the last seven years was himself. With such people, who treat misleading people as a professional skill, you have to look at what they do rather than what they say. Looking at his actions over the past seven years does not portray him in a good light at all.

Racism within English cricket appears to be the greatest immediate threat to the ECB, with Parliament taking a close interest in the governing body’s reactions to complaints. Harrison has made several strident statements on the subject but the organisation which he runs has done almost nothing.

It is worth reminding people that Azeem Rafiq was by no means the first Black or Asian person to make allegations of racism in public. Ebony Rainford-Brent, Michael Carberry, Dave Burton, Mark Alleyne, Owais Shah, Devon Malcolm, Ismail Dawood and John Holder had all previously spoken about their experiences in the press, and Harrison’s ECB did nothing. Nor did Harrison intervene during Yorkshire CCC’s review which took almost a year to complete. Even after the damning report leaked and the ECB top brass were raked over the coals by a Parliamentary committee, nothing appears to have occurred. Despite over six months passing, neither Yorkshire CCC nor any of its past or current employees have even faced an ECB disciplinary panel.

Some people have chosen to give Harrison some credit for the growth in women’s cricket, but I would argue that he had very little to do with his two purported triumphs: The 2017 World Cup win and the popularity of the women’s Hundred.

It was Giles Clarke and David Collier who were in charge of the ECB when it decided to make its women’s international cricketers fully professional in 2014, and they were also likely the people who applied to host the event. With these two key advantages, three years of full time training plus playing at home, it was Harrison and Graves’ predecessors who had the greatest positive impact on the England women’s team.

As for The Hundred, it was only because of COVID-19 that the women’s competition received so much attention. Harrison’s plan for the first season was for the women’s teams to play the majority of their games away from the eight grounds hosting the men, including several at amateur club grounds. Sky Sports had only committed to showing the eight group stage matches held at the main venues plus the finals, which meant more than half of the women’s competition wouldn’t be televised at all. Once the pandemic struck, it suddenly became untenable for isolation bubbles and testing facilities to be formed at twenty grounds across the country. The decision was made to instead make every match a doubleheader, and the rest is history.

The more pertinent question regarding how Harrison views women’s cricket is: Following these moments of good fortune, what did he do next? After the 2017 World Cup win at a sold out Lord’s, the England women’s team hasn’t played a single match in the nation’s capital, and only one ODI at a Test venue. Despite conclusively demonstrating their popularity, many of the players becoming celebrities in the process, they have been denied access to the larger venues and fanbases that they deserve. Whilst Australia forged ahead with a fully professional domestic structure, England lagged behind in order to tie contracts in with The Hundred. Even now, at least thirty cricketers in the women’s Hundred won’t be paid for eleven months per year. This separates it not only from Australia, but also the men’s competition.

The ECB appear to have failed to capitalise on any momentum for the women’s Hundred too. This year’s The Hundred has been scheduled to clash with the Commonwealth Games being held in Birmingham, which features women’s cricket as an event. This means that the women’s Hundred will have eight fewer group games than the men’s competition. Harrison has also approved a pay rise for both men and women in The Hundred which have increased the average pay gap between the two from £45,000 to £50,000. This is in spite of women’s matches attracting strong viewing figures and women cricketers being used extensively in advertising and sponsorship.

Tom Harrison was himself referred for an internal investigation regarding his behaviour towards former Leicestershire CCC chair Mehmooda Duke in February. Duke resigned in November 2021, just after a meeting led by Harrison to determine the ECB’s response to the devasting claims made by Azeem Rafiq to the DCMS Parliamentary committee. She later told people that she had been “intimidated”, “coerced”, “manoeuvred” and treated as a “token woman of colour” by the ECB. Nothing has since been reported regarding the investigation although, given the glacial pace of the ECB disciplinary procedures under Harrison’s leadership, it’s entirely possible that this is because nothing has happened yet.

Harrison has at best ignored club cricket during his tenure, and at worst manipulated it for his own ends. The creation of All Stars and Dynamos cricket seems, in hindsight, to have had more to do with forming an undemanding target to justify his ‘performance-related’ bonus rather than improving youth participation. Likewise, changes to how Play-Cricket (The scoring platform/website used within amateur cricket) operates have turned club cricketers into data points and commodities for the ECB. Harrison himself has bragged about how they now have “a database of over two million fans”, which they are using to “understand [fans] to an incredible level of detail”. This would be of immense surprise to almost all of those two million fans, which could indicate how ethical his actions have been.

As for the game’s finances, his raison d’être, how much did he really contribute? The TV auction in 2017 was the first and only time in the ECB’s history that two subscription channels were bidding against each other for the rights to English cricket, and so it seems likely that almost anyone would have secured a substantial increase in broadcast revenue. His response to this good fortune was to spend all of the ECB’s reserves trying to bolster The Hundred, the timing of which could not have been worse as COVID-19 struck.

This led to his other purported ‘triumph’, of ensuring England internationals continued largely unabated. Of the twelve full ICC members, only Ireland and Zimbabwe failed to host Tests, ODIs and/or T20Is in the first year of the pandemic. Pretty much everyone in cricket did it, and every other professional sport which I could name too. Was it a stressful, unpleasant, and testing time for everyone at the ECB? Certainly, not least for the 62 employees that Harrison fired. If every professional sport, every team, found a way to make it through, was it really much of achievement? The only reason the ECB faced such financial peril in the first place was because of Harrison’t profligacy with the reserves.

Harrison has been a parasite within English cricket, enriching himself to the detriment of the game. Over the last seven years, he has been paid well over £4m. He has demonstrated clear evidence of being malicious, ignorant, shortsighted and incompetent. His triumphs are few and his failures many. The absolute worst thing is that he has been able to mold the entire organisation in his own image in the past seven years. He has hired or promoted almost every single person at management level within the ECB, and I struggle to name more than one or two who I wouldn’t consider a spiv or empty suit.

The rot isn’t going to end here either. Decisions Harrison has made will cripple English cricket for years to come. Without an almost total clear out of his acolytes within the ECB, no real improvement will come any time soon.

But he’s gone, and that’s a start.

As always, we welcome your comments on Tom Harrison or any other topic (within the bounds of the law) below.

Coach Wanted – Englishmen Need Not Apply

There’s a vacuum at the heart of the men’s England team right now. The question of who should be captain is in flux because there is no coach or selector to make that call. There is no coach or selector because there is no director of cricket to hire them. There is no director of cricket because there is no chair and the chief executive is too busy fleshing out his CV for his next victim employer.

There is a lot of speculation about who will fill these roles though, with a great many names mentioned. What is becoming increasingly clear is that almost no one believes the next coach will be English, and many wouldn’t be surprised if that was also the case for the director of cricket. Indeed, no current English county coach or director of cricket appears to have even applied.

All of which begs the question: If there are 18 county teams with 18 head coaches and (I’m guessing) 18 directors of cricket, how come not a single English candidate is qualified to lead the England team?

It should be emphasised that this is not a new problem. The last (and only) English head coach to win an Ashes series is Mickey Stewart in 1987, and the only English head coach to win a men’s T20 or ODI World Cup is Paul Farbrace in 2014 with Sri Lanka. Trevor Bayliss (Australian), Andy Flower (Zimbabwean) and Duncan Fletcher (Zimbabwean) all came in and won something with the England team. Fletcher is the only one of these three to have spent any time coaching a county side, with two years at Glamorgan.

It’s difficult to look at this record, at the complete absence of high quality English coaches competing for the vacant positions, and not think that something has gone badly wrong within county cricket.

I have to preface this by saying that I don’t really follow county cricket particularly closely. I’ve never lived in a town or city which hosts a county team. I have lived the vast majority of my life outside of any of the eighteen major counties. I don’t pretend to have any expertise on the subject, and what follows may well be foolish generalisations based on nothing more than hearsay and my inherent biases.

All that said, being appointed coach in county cricket (and the England team) seems like it is much more about who you know rather than your skills or past results. Take England’s coaches: Graham Thorpe, Paul Collingwood and James Foster were all England teammates with director of cricket Ashley Giles. Although head coach Chris Silverwood appears not to been on the field together with Giles, they were certainly both in the same England ODI squad in 1997. I get the impression that the majority of county coaches are ex-players from the same teams. These kind of appointments are always popular with the fans/members (see Darren Gough at Yorkshire CCC), but don’t obviously lead to qualified or skilled coaching.

The methods routinely used within county cricket and the England team have to be questioned. The majority of English coaches appear to have a level 3 or 4 (‘Elite’) ECB coaching qualification. If no one who goes through this course appears to be any good at coaching professional first-class cricketers, should it not be changed?

There seems to be an extreme level of conservatism inherent in county (and international) coaching, which the ECB training seems to reinforce. Coaches don’t want to intervene or criticise players, even in private and on matters of basic technique. The emphasis appears to be almost entirely on boosting the players’ confidence. This is no doubt important, particularly on tour, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to fix fundamentally flawed approaches to batting and bowling.

This is exacerbated by English cricket’s almost uniquely insular attitudes to both hiring coaches and gaining experience. A large number of coaches from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies or Zimbabwe have spent a lot of time working outside of their home countries. This is rarely the case in England, where having eighteen professional clubs plus a plethora of highly-paid roles at public schools means that ex-players don’t have to stray outside their comfort zone to make a living. This limits their experience, and means that they never see other methods of helping players develop.

One obvious consequence, if coaching in county cricket is almost universally substandard, is that this would inevitably harm the development of county cricketers. After all, how can players reasonably reach their potential if the people who are supposed to be teaching and managing them aren’t up to the job?

This is why I think that coaching is the key issue regarding the quality of English Test cricketers. There are undoubtedly a great many other factors: The pitches, the scheduling, county youth systems and financial incentives to name just four. They all should be addressed as soon possible, but I don’t believe county cricket will start producing Test-quality batsmen again before the coaching fundamentally improves. In the short term, that might involve the hiring of significantly more overseas staff until English candidates become employable.

If you have any thoughts on this post, or on anything else that crosses your mind, leave them below.

West Indies vs England – Third Test Preview

It’s difficult to know what to write here, since so little has changed in the past week. The series is still 0-0. Wood and Robinson are still out injured. Matt Parkinson is still warming the bench. The only real cause for optimism comes from the photos of the pitch, which at least look like a little grass has been allowed to remain.

With the fragility of both teams’ batting lineups, that should be plenty to force a result. Whilst some people are talking in hopeful tones about a new era for English cricket, with Dan Lawrence and Jonny Bairstow helping Joe Root lead the team to somewhere near basic competence. They have done well, as did Mahmood in his Test debut, but these performances have to be placed in the right context: The pitches were incredibly flat, and the West Indies are not a good Test team.

As it stands, the West Indies are eighth in the World Test Championship table (England are last in ninth), having won just one Test against Pakistan in the current cycle. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a team with England’s financial resources, England’s first-class depth, England’s unique focus on red ball cricket should be able to bat out a draw on benign surfaces. It should be a minimum expectation.

Aside from the players, the individual who has most obviously benefitted from England not losing two Tests in a row is Paul Collingwood. The interim head coach has apparently put his name forward for the permanent role, and not losing a Test series (as Silverwood failed to achieve four times in the past year) is clearly enough to at least be considered by the ECB. One notable aspect of this is that he has never worked as a coach in county cricket. He had several spells as a coach for Scotland, and has been with the England team for the past three years. This means that he has no experience as a head coach, and almost no track record for his potential employers to examine.

This is a very common trait amongst people who the ECB are considering for their vacant senior positions. It was reported today that Rob Key is in the running for the Director of Cricket position. I don’t have anything against him as a person, but he appears to have gone straight from his playing career to the Sky commentary booth. Whilst he might talk a good game (that is his job, after all), there’s absolutely nothing to prove that he can back it up. He has that in common with Andrew Strauss and Ed Smith, who both transitioned directly from punditry to senior ECB positions.

There are six candidates listed for the Director Of Cricket job in this article: Rob Key, Ed Smith, Tom Moody, Marcus North, Nathan Leamon and Mo Bobat. As far as I can tell, the only ones with any experience of coaching or managing a domestic cricket team are the two Australians, Moody and North. Smith, Leamon and Bobat have all only ever worked worked for the ECB as head selector, analyst and performance director respectively.

It is possible to look at this and say that the ECB are disrespecting county cricket by not recruiting people from that talent pool, but I have to question if there are any candidates who obviously deserve a shot with England. After all, Chris Silverwood was appointed by England after his team won the Championship but failed to make any impression in internationals. Peter Moores and Ashley Giles were also both county coaches before their spells with England. There is a long running and active discussion about how county cricket is failing to develop talented Test batters, but very little time is spent looking at the quality of the coaches and other staff. The two issues may well be linked. After all, poor coaching and management aren’t exactly helpful in helping the next generation of cricketers reach their full potential.

I honestly don’t know enough about county cricket to know if this is an entirely accurate picture, or what could be done about it. It doesn’t give me much optimism for any change in England’s fortunes over the next few years though.

If you have any comments about the Test, the ECB’s recruitment, or anything else, please leave them below.