‘Reset needed in domestic cricket’

Tom Harrison was appointed ECB chief executive in 2014

There is a “very clear” need to “reset” domestic cricket in order to benefit the England Test team, according to England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison.

England are 3-0 down in the Ashes and have won one of their past 13 Tests.

“We’re not making excuses. We should have done better and we have to look at all of the reasons,” said Harrison.

“It’s really disappointing and a real shame for all England fans that we haven’t been able to perform better.”

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Sport, Harrison said he had written to Cricket Australia to request a system where more English players could feature in Australia’s domestic first-class competition, the Sheffield Shield.

He also said he welcomed the “scrutiny” of a parliamentary report into racism in cricket, which recommended public funding should be limited unless the ECB can show “continuous, demonstrable progress” in tackling discrimination.

Red-ball ‘reset’

England were defeated in the first three Tests of the Ashes series to surrender the chance of winning the urn at the earliest possible opportunity.

They have won only four Tests down under this century and England’s wider recent away record is also poor.

Since the beginning of 2013, the have won one of a combined 31 Tests in Australia, India and New Zealand – the three best teams in the world.

In addition, an unbeaten home record stretching back to 2014 was lost in the summer of 2021 with a series defeat by New Zealand.

In the aftermath of the latest loss to Australia, numerous questions have been asked of the structure of the domestic game in England and Wales, particularly a schedule that sees County Championship matches played at the beginning and end of the season, with the height of summer reserved for short-form competitions.

“It’s very clear that we need to do something to reset the role of red-ball cricket in our county environment to better prepare us for the kind of rigours of international competition,” said Harrison.

Following the Ashes, England men’s director of cricket Ashely Giles will deliver a report on the series to the ECB’s cricket committee.

That committee, chaired by Giles’ predecessor and former England captain Andrew Strauss, will then make recommendations to the ECB board.

“I suspect one of those recommendations will be how we reset red-ball cricket across our environments, our domestic cricket environment,” said Harrison.

“For 150 years or more the counties have provided the first-class players for our Test team. We have proved in the past that it can work. We need to look at the structure of first-class cricket in England and Wales to make sure that it is ‘best v best’.”

With four domestic competitions contested in the English summer, Harrison said that the “volume” of cricket needs reviewing.

Counties often employ Australians as overseas players and English cricketers are a regular part of Australia’s T20 Big Bash League, but it is rare for foreigners to feature in the Sheffield Shield.

“We need to be spending a lot more time with players in Australian conditions,” said Harrison.

“I’ve written formally to Cricket Australia to ask them if they would consider allowing us to put players into Sheffield Shield cricket.”

‘Tackling discrimination is the number one priority’

Harrison gave evidence to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) select committee in November on the day that former Yorkshire spinner said that English cricket is “institutionally” racist.

A DCMS report was published on Friday, with committee chair Julian Knight MP describing Rafiq’s story as “typical of an endemic problem across the whole of cricket”.

While a raft of changes have since taken place at Yorkshire, the ECB has also published its own five-point plan to tackle racism and discrimination.

“Tackling discrimination is the number one priority for us,” said Harrison.

“I welcome the scrutiny. We have been through an exceptionally difficult few months where our game has been in the media for the wrong reasons.”

Knight asserted that future government funding should hinge on English cricket “cleaning up its act”.

Harrison agreed that a link to funding is “right and proper”.

“I’m very confident we’ll be able to demonstrate to DCMS how much progress is being made across the country in these areas that matter so much,” he said.

“I’m very confident that in the not-so-distant future we can become an exemplar of the kind of behaviours that promote social integration and understanding.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to demonstrate massive progress in this space.”

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