Andrew Strauss has implored the first-class counties not to fumble the chance to transform elite cricket when they vote on implementing the recommendations of his High Performance Review, which was published on Thursday after weeks of fevered speculation about its contents.
Strauss, the former England captain and chair of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s performance cricket committee, has produced a list of 17 recommendations, all but two of which can be approved and imposed by the ECB.
He believes “the ECB board and executive are unanimous in their support”, but the final two proposals, which deal with the reorganisation of the schedule, must be accepted by the counties.
Strauss conceded that his proposals include “elements that certain people [will] feel are not in their interest” but encouraged the game’s stakeholders to embrace them. “We can do a lot of good without those final two [recommendations], but those final two are a good demonstration of the hard decisions we need to make as a game and how serious we are in trying to achieve this ambition,” he said.
“We need high-quality cricket, everyone knows that the current schedule doesn’t work, so we need to make those decisions now.”
Among the changes is a complete overhaul of central contracts – though Strauss has not decided what this will look like – and the transformation of county funding to make it less equal. “We’re very keen on making sure counties are rewarded and incentivised for producing great things on the pitch and producing great players who go on to play Under-19, Lions or England level cricket,” he said.
“That’s very much one of the central recommendations of this review – that counties that play their part should be well rewarded for doing so.”
There will also be a trial of a new County Championships points system with one point for a draw, three for a win and up to two bonus points available if the winning team scores more than 325 in any innings. There will be experiments with a Kookaburra ball in the County Championship to find out if bowlers unable to rely on the more exaggerated swing and seam of the Dukes ball are forced to develop new skills.
Strauss’s proposals have not come in time for the next year’s schedule to be changed, with 2023 likely to be a repeat of this year’s widely criticised format. “This whole review we’ve been in a race against time and we’ve run out of time on that unfortunately,” Strauss said.
“But it’s worth saying that these are important decisions and the last thing people need to feel is time pressure. Sometimes you’ve got to understand that it’s better to walk to the right solution than jump off the edge of a cliff.”
The reshuffled schedule would have a 50-over tournament starting the season in April, while a remodelled County Championship – with one six-team first division sitting above two feeder leagues – would start in May and end in September. It would take a break in August because of the number of players involved in the Hundred, during which time first-class matches will continue to be played “in a format determined by competing counties”.
The T20 Blast would start in late May and take two months, with most games being played in peak weekend slots. Overall, there would be a 15% reduction in cricket, Strauss’s committee having discovered that the average county plays on 45% of days during a season, compared with an average of 31% for first-class teams in other leading Test nations, and finding strong support in player surveys for such a change. Under their proposals, counties would move from playing 79 days on average, to 68 days.
“Anything in our domestic structure is very contentious,” Strauss said. “What I would say is that the status quo is sub-optimal and people want a different solution. That’s what we’re providing.
“We think it’s a very complete package, but there are going to be elements of it that certain people feel are not in their interest and we understand that. That’s the reality of the domestic structure – you can’t solve one thing without unsolving another thing.”
Strauss said the success of the England Test side this summer had removed some of the urgency from a review commissioned after the team’s humbling in the Ashes last winter, but that the goal of the team leading the sport across all formats remained distant.
“That’s why our job is not to be reactive, it’s to take a step back and go, ‘What is the ambition and where are we relative to that?’” he said. “The emotional bit of that was actually really unhelpful.”