A new County Championship featuring a six-team Premier League, Kookaburra Red Ball Tryouts and a reduction of T20 Blast fixtures from 14 to 10, are among 17 recommendations made in the men’s high performance review, published by the BCE Thursday.
The review, colloquially described as the ‘red ball reset’, was commissioned following England’s crushing defeat in the Ashes in January, and was led by Andre Strauss – the former England captain who also served as caretaker director of cricket after Ashley Giles was sacked earlier in the year.
The report’s recommendations are divided into four categories, covering the specifics of high performance, the need to equip players to compete in all conditions around the world, creating a national structure that is “best for counties, players, fans and the England men’s team”, and the overriding need to inspire future generations to embrace the game.
Speaking at Lord’s on the eve of publication, Strauss insisted it was now up to first-class counties to digest his recommendations, particularly those relating to the national calendar, and embrace them for the greater good of the game. However, at the request of the counties, no changes will be made to the existing national structure until 2024.
Strauss, who led England to victory in Australia in 2010-11 and whose Test side were the last England side to be ranked world No 1, said the changes were needed both so that England return to the top of the sport across all formats for an extended period, but also to protect English cricket against what he described as the “shifting tectonic plates” of the world game, amid the current proliferation of T20 franchise leagues.
“The game must be united if we are to achieve these ambitions and we must be open-minded to change,” Strauss said. “The most consistent message we received, from players to fans and coaches, was that the status quo is not an option.”
Fifteen of the 17 recommendations can be voted on by the ECB’s Executive Board and implemented without recourse to the counties. The other two, however, concerning the T20 Blast and the restructuring of the county championship, will require a two-thirds majority in an 18-county ballot, and will almost certainly face opposition from members who face a reduction. from the first-class games and executives who depend on income from Blast’s home games in particular.
The proposal as it stands is for a six-team First Division and a 12-team Second Division, split into two conferences, the winners of which will face off in a season-ending promotion play-off. The first-class season would start in May, with matches being held in June, July and September, either side of a window for the Hundred in August.
In an effort to ensure wider coverage of first-class fixtures in the height of summer, the review features an increased focus on Lions fixtures during this August window, as well as a series of fixtures of “festival” involving local rivals which is separate from the county championship. The One-Day Cup, which was taking place this season in the shadow of the Hundred, would be moved to April to become a curtain-raiser for the season.
“I encourage people to consider our proposals as a whole, and I welcome the opportunity for an informed debate on the recommended changes to the men’s domestic structure,” Strauss added.
“There are no easy answers on the men’s national structure. The recommendations prioritized a more cohesive schedule that is more manageable for overstretched players, coaches and staff while delivering the quality and quantity of cricket that fans want to watch and that meets our high-performance goals.
“This includes playing top class cricket every month from May to September, increasing the level and intensity of the LV=Insurance County Championship and providing more opportunities for top players to play in all domestic competitions. .”
A trial of the Kookaburra ball is also offered, in place of the Dukes who tend to swing and sew longer and therefore encourage a proliferation of middle paces in county cricket. Combined with a greater focus on preparing the pitch – a key consideration this week in light of Glen Chapple’s criticisms of the surface in Lancashire’s two-day win at Chelmsford – Strauss hopes this will help mimic conditions overseas and better prepare England’s bowlers for future tours.
To this end, the report also recommends a North vs. South red ball competition to be played abroad in the pre-season, featuring the stars of the previous year’s league, and plans for the fixtures. England Under-17 against international opponents.
Amid concerns that under the new proposal smaller counties will inevitably become feeder clubs for top-performing Division One teams, the report also calls for more incentive payments for counties to produce winning squads , and therefore future English cricketers.
ECB President Richard Thompson said the board and executive unanimously backed the review’s recommendations and urged counties to set aside their concerns for the greater good.
“We are aware of the challenges in many counties regarding the reduction of red-ball cricket in particular,” Thompson said. “These concerns have been taken into account and reflected in the recommendations. If there is a reduction in the volume of cricket for a reasonable and achievable schedule while seeing the best players more often, I think that is a good compromise, especially as it will improve England’s chances of success going forward.
“It is important that as we approach next season, top-class counties know what they are playing for in 2024.”