Andrew Strauss reforms for England to reach No1 make sense but threat of franchise cricket looms large

·4-min read
The inexorable rise of franchise cricket across the world threatens Andrew Strauss’ reforms to cricket in England (Getty Images)
The inexorable rise of franchise cricket across the world threatens Andrew Strauss’ reforms to cricket in England (Getty Images)

When England returned from another harrowing Ashes tour Down Under at the start of the year, eyes turned and fingers pointed towards a domestic game deemed not fit for purpose.

“Anyone that’s coming into this Test team at the minute is doing it in spite of county cricket, not because of county cricket,” then captain Joe Root famously said.

All talk was of a “red-ball reset”, a digital phrase for what, in analogue terms, might have been more eloquently expressed as “ripping it all up and starting again”.

Nine months on, however, and after a summer of Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Bazball, of six men’s Test wins in seven, the high performance review published on Thursday morning by Andrew Strauss and his panel is being released into a rather different world to the one it was commissioned in.

“On the back of the Ashes, everyone had an opinion about what should fundamentally change in English cricket,” Strauss said. “I think now, on the back of a really successful summer, some of the urgency maybe has gone around red-ball cricket.”

A dismal summer and the preservation of that vociferous appetite for drastic reform might have helped Strauss’ cause in what could yet prove a tricky mission - getting the final two of his recommendations past the counties - but the former opener believes calmer heads and quieter voices have produced a more rounded set of proposals.

“Our job is not to be reactive, it’s to take a step back and say: ‘Okay, what is the ambition and where are we relative to that?’” Strauss said. “The emotional bit of that was actually really unhelpful, either positive or negative.”

The result is 17 recommendations, 15 of which have already been approved and very few of which could be termed anything other than broadly sensical. Certainly, none are overtly revolutionary.

The elements concerning the structure and schedule of the domestic game are, by Strauss’ own admission, “contentious”, but chiefly because county bosses are obliged to vote on them and will do so in the interests of their specific organisations rather the game as a whole - not because the proposals themselves are especially outlandish.

Strauss, you sense, would like to have been more radical. “There is always a degree of realism, we’re not living in cloud cuckoo land here,” he said. “Is there possibility to be more bold and ambitious? Absolutely, but we’re also conscious that we want to take the game with us.”

Strauss’ reforms make sense, though he would no doubt have liked to be more radical (Getty Images)
Strauss’ reforms make sense, though he would no doubt have liked to be more radical (Getty Images)

As he spoke at the ECB’s offices at Lord’s yesterday, however, the elephant in the boardroom was the question of where the game might take us.

A “shift in tectonic plates” seems to have become cricket’s polite shorthand for the rapid changes occurring in its landscape amid the accelerated rise of franchise cricket, somewhat ironically, given it is players, rather than continents, being dragged (willingly) around the globe in understandable pursuit of short-format coin.

Franchise webs are being weaved across the planet, with IPL owners buying up teams in new UAE and South African T20 leagues launching this winter. The Hundred is itself a goose being fattened for sale to private equity somewhere down the line.

There will be 13 such competitions across the planet next year, and English players - not just England players - are in high demand.

How many of the intended beneficiaries will commit, for instance, to a ‘best vs best’, North vs South match overseas before the start of the county season, or to an enhanced Lions programme, when there are more lucrative gigs on offer elsewhere?

The inevitable feeling is that cricket will come to mirror European football, dominated by a club season with designated windows for internationals

The increasingly inevitable feeling is that cricket, perhaps sooner rather than later, will come to mirror European football, dominated by a club season with designated windows for internationals.

Even if Strauss’ reforms come to fruition in full, the new domestic schedule and format will now not come into force until 2024 - and how long will it last beyond that?

“We’re trying to make sure that as a game we’re more nimble and flexible, that we’re able to tweak things,” Strauss reasoned, insisting his plan has scope to evolve as needed. “There’s a lot out there that we can’t control but we need to be cognisant about that.

“We can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not going on, we need to be adaptable. Hopefully, some of these proposals buy us some time as well, to allow the game to move forward.”

Even the best built structure is unlikely to survive an elephant rampaging through it.