Ashes defeat a ‘brilliant opportunity’ to reset domestic game, claims ECB chief

·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Jason O’Brien/PA</span>
Photograph: Jason O’Brien/PA

Tom Harrison, the chief executive who has overseen the last seven years of English cricket, has described the one-sided defeat in the men’s Ashes as a “brilliant opportunity” to “reset and recalibrate” the domestic game.

Speaking before the day-night fifth Test, Harrison expressed a desire that “fantastic” Joe Root remains as England captain and though Chris Silverwood, the head coach, was not afforded the same endorsement, a consolation victory in Hobart and a 3-1 scoreline in Australia would apparently represent “a better story”.

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Ashley Giles, the director of men’s cricket, and Mo Bobat, the performance director, are compiling a report on the tour but Harrison insisted they were “not marking their own homework”. This document will be submitted to the ECB’s cricket committee, chaired by Andrew Strauss, with recommendations then going to the governing body’s board.

But Harrison, who said he drew satisfaction from England simply completing the tour given the various pandemic-related logistical headaches, has also suggested a wider review of the English game that asks “broader strategic questions” should also result from a 12-month period that returned a record nine Test defeats.

“Our priority is Test cricket,” Harrison said. “We want to be successful at white-ball cricket, of course we do. But we absolutely need to be successful at Test cricket.

Ollie Robinson has been told to work harder on his fitness after a back spasm forced him out of the England attack on the first day. Robinson confirmed his ability by dismissing the Australian pair of David Warner and Steve Smith for ducks in a high-class opening spell in Hobart, taking his series tally to 11 wickets at an average of 23.45 and making him England’s most impactful bowler on his first Ashes tour.

There are clear concerns within the camp about his physical conditioning, however, after the 28-year-old sat out the fourth Test with a sore shoulder and suffered pain in his back after just eight overs in Hobart.

England’s bowling coach Jon Lewis spoke for the camp at the end of the day and came prepared with a message for Robinson. “He’s going to have to learn to look after himself probably better than he does at the moment,” he said.

“It’s definitely something to work on and it’s something he needs to improve. He’s got a record of playing a lot of games in county cricket but international cricket is a higher intensity and you play all year round. He’s got to get used to understanding what it takes to be a full-time year-round international cricketer.

“We’re working on it with him. It’s something he will need if he’s going to perform consistently over a long period of time at this level. We’ve been pretty frank with him and now it’s up to him to do the work.” PA Media

“It feels like this is a moment to reset the importance of red-ball cricket in our domestic schedule and for us to recalibrate how we play first-class cricket in the UK. It’s a brilliant opportunity for us to come together as a game and really sort that once and for all.

“There’s been plenty of debate around this, and sometimes the ability to effect change on something as complicated as our schedule is when you have a performance-related issue. And we have one now.

“Let’s have the right balance of red and white ball. Let’s look at when we play red-ball cricket. There is a debate about whether we play more red-ball cricket through the summer. Let’s find a way to be able to do that.

“We are trying to replicate conditions in Test cricket as much as possible. We do it really well in the white-ball game. We are currently not doing the right thing with respect to red-ball cricket. We have seen that play out over the last 12 months.”

This Damascene moment will surprise many given English cricket’s apparent shift towards the white-ball formats under Harrison’s watch, not least the creation of a new short-form tournament, the Hundred, that has been placed on top of an already bulging county summer.

The 50-year-old said he did not accept this interpretation of the ECB’s priorities, however, stressing the volume and scheduling of domestic formats was down to the Professional Game Group, which is made up of county chief executives.

There is also the issue of the international calendar, which has seen a fixture pile-up caused by pandemic-related postponements and seen mental health shoot up the agenda due to quarantine periods and so-called “bubble” environments.

Heather Knight has her "fingers crossed" there will be no more Covid-19 cases in the England Women's Ashes camp after a member of the support staff tested positive. The multi-format Ashes series was brought forward by a week and will start with three Twenty20 matches at the Adelaide Oval, commencing on January 20.

The staff member has been in isolation in accordance with Covid management guidelines and will remain in Canberra when the group travel to Adelaide, the England and Wales Cricket Board has announced. "I guess we're prepared for this, I think it was pretty naive to think we wouldn't be affected by it," said Knight.

A further round of routine PCR tests will be undertaken before the team fly by charter to Adelaide on January 17. England have travelled to Australia looking to become the first team to beat Meg Lanning's side in any series since the 2013-14 Ashes. PA Media

Even if Covid-19 abates, the International Cricket Council has agreed a new broadcast deal with white-ball World Cups every year, while a similar squeeze on windows comes through the expansion of the Indian Premier League from eight teams to 10.

Harrison added: “Less fixtures? Domestically, that’s certainly a debate we need to have. Internationally, when we get out of the immediate aftermath of the wake of Covid, we’ve got to look at how we manage fixture workloads.

“This is something that the chief execs committee at ICC need to tackle in the round. With an additional few weeks of IPL every year and a World Cup every year ... it is a difficult challenge for world cricket.

“I don’t think we’ve lived through a year of a 72-match IPL and a World Cup in the same year. 2022 will provide that and it’ll be interesting how we manage workloads.”

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