The proposed changes to English cricket are “exactly what the game needs” – but at the same time “not viable”, says John Philby, president of Sussex County Cricket Club.
The high-performance review of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), led by Sir Andrew Strauss, proposes several changes to improve test cricket.
County Championship Matches and Twenty20 Blast can be cut.
“Strauss’ assessment of high performance is equally impractical with regard to county cricket,” said Philby.
“When we look through the lens of high performance, that is exactly what the game needs. But we don’t just look through the lens of high performance,” he told BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.
“We look through a financial and commercial lens. We look through the eyes of our members who have the cricket they want and we often look through a variety of angles that are not just about high performance.”
New plans will also see Division One reduced to six teams and windows dedicated to the Day Cup, T20 Blast and Hundred.
They came after Ashes’ disappointing campaign in England, as Australia clinched a landslide 4-0 win.
How will the new schedule create better players?
Stephen Fane, a former English bowler, told the BBC he believed the recommendations could be improved on the “global stage”.
“I hope it means that there is an uptick in the level of cricket,” he said.
“Sometimes you can drift through matches or weeks because it comes off so intense and fast at times with the contractions of the season.
“There has to be a rise in quality. There may be a decrease in quantity but quality is most important for a game to compete more on the global stage, which is what this report is ultimately about.”
And while unwilling to limit the number of boycott matches appropriate for players, Alec Stewart, director of cricket at Surrey, agrees that reducing playing time can improve players.
“Once the power goes down, your performance goes down, so you’re trying to maintain high performance, which is what the review was all about, so it’s getting that balance right,” he told BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.
Warwickshire cricket director Paul Farbris said he was in favor of “taking a really good look at the best English cricket structure” but “we just have to be careful”.
“If we want to be the best test country, we have to make sure our players play enough red ball cricket,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“My personal view is that I’d like to see the three groups of six – that would be a really good way to go,”
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that in Warwickshire we will vote this way. There is a lot of work to do to get to this point, but I like the best versus the best because that’s the only way we’ll be competing to be the best testing country in the world.”
However, Essex CEO and interim president John Stephenson believes the proposed changes will not improve England’s cricketers.
He told BBC Essex: “There are different opinions about all of this and you can have huge discussions about what makes a better test player.”
“In my opinion, reducing the amount of red ball cricket is not the way to produce better test cricketers.
“Certainly from an Essex point of view, we don’t want to see a drop in the amount of the cricket tournament.”
The boycott is funding a case
Surrey’s Stewart said he should be aware of his club’s finances when evaluating new proposals.
“If the performance is only high and you forget about members and finances, you should do it,” he said.
“But it’s a little bigger than that. In my opinion, we should respect members who pay membership money to come, watch and support. The financials that make the game happen, does it all balance out well?”
Sussex’s Philby added that cutting T20 cricket on their home ground would hurt their revenue.
“At Sussex, particularly the T20 competition, we fill the floor,” he said.
“In 2018, we had a sale and that obviously has financial benefits for us, close to £100,000 for each of those eight games in terms of profit.
“But also the 6,500 people who attend each game get a chance to really enjoy an experience in cricket.
“It can’t be accepted that we in Sussex have closed our grounds for a few matches when we know there are desperate people to come and watch and enjoy some of the world’s great cricketers playing at Hove.”
Stephenson of Essex agrees with Philby and told BBC Essex: “I don’t think the club is in a position to vote on any reduction in T20 cricket.
“This is the blood of our lives, and this is what brings revenue to the club. But not only that, it’s something our members love to come and watch.”
Surrey’s Stewart criticizes playing the County Championship while running Hundred.
His team lost “12-14 players” to 100 in August and questioned if it could be a “fair and equal competition” because every county doesn’t lose the same number of players.
He would have preferred to play ‘meaningful’ cricket in August, saying the 50-plus matches during the month this year were preferred as it allowed him to bleed fresh talent.
Philby agrees that over-50 competition would be more favorable, and added that his county would not be able to sell tickets for the proposed Red Ball Festival.
“We played [Test] World champions at Hove during the bank holiday in May [in a First Class fixture] – It’s a very good time to get an audience and people didn’t want to come and watch it,” he said.
“We couldn’t sell it. So if we couldn’t sell New Zealand, the chances of us selling some random red ball cricket in August are none.”
Philby said the festival was one of the “red flags” of Strauss’ proposal and the other to be a “reduced T20 blasting games”.
Stephenson of Essex said: “I think we have to start from the premise that we can’t play cricket during the 100, and we can’t jeopardize the integrity of that competition by playing less red ball competition during the 100.
“I hope that the 50-plus year competition will be seen by the European Central Bank as a reward for high performance.”
What would that mean for the player’s well-being?
The Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) Players Committee said it would welcome the review, after several players – including England Test captain Ben Stokes – criticized the sport’s busy schedule.
“The Permanent Jury and the majority of professional players agree that the current schedule is unsustainable and requires reform,” the statement read.
“PCA and the players stand behind the vision to make England the best team in the world in all ways.
“For this to happen, players must be given space to grow and develop with appropriate rest and recovery to maximize performance and protect player well-being.”
It added that it would discuss “the merits of the review findings and further details are needed” and work “to achieve a positive outcome for the players and the game.”