ECB President Richard Thompson is determined to ensure that the expansion of the international cricket tournament calendar and the growth of franchise competitions do not undermine the importance of the bilateral series.
Just over three months into his new role, Thompson is currently in Pakistan for the first test in Rawalpindi as England make their first tour of the country in 17 years.
The tour follows an ill-received three-game ODI series in Australia which began just three days after England’s T20 World Cup triumph and saw them crumble to a 3-0 loss to the hosts.
This, Thompson believes, is a sign of the overcrowding of the international calendar, and he warned against the world governing body, the ICC, taking too much of a step back and allowing franchise cricket to fill in the gaps too. .
“As much as we talk about the English domestic structure, I would say the international structure is even more difficult,” Thompson told the former England captain and sky sports cricket expert Mike Atherton at lunch on day three.
“If the game is just chasing the money, the game will eat itself and play a very big prize for it. Come here [to Pakistan] is not about the money – the slogan around the pitch of “One game, one passion” sums it up for me.
“What cricket can do, perhaps more than any sport, is cut across geopolitics and unite countries, and it can’t just be about the money. We at the ECB, We have to stand up to this. We have to go support Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries.
What cricket can do, perhaps more than any sport, is cut across geopolitics and unite countries, and it can’t just be about money. We at the ECB must resist this.
“It works on reciprocity; they visit us, we visit them, so how do you sort that out? Otherwise you’ll effectively have five nations playing against each other and the other nations will go down – that would be a mistake.”
At present, the structure of the English domestic season will be the same in 2023 as it was this year, although Thompson is aware of the need to close the debate on the areas of the men’s performance review of the ECB as soon as possible. possible to clarify what 2024 and beyond will look like.
Former Surrey chairman and recently appointed ECB chief executive Richard Gould, formerly of Somerset and Surrey, were both vocal critics of The Hundred when it launched, although Thompson admits his stance has soured. much softened since taking office on the governing body.
Entering its third year in 2023, The Hundred recently attracted a private equity investment bid reportedly in the region of £400m for a majority stake in the tournament. That offer was passed on by the ECB, but Thompson wants to make sure it continues to thrive with the T20 Vitality Blast, contested by all 18 first-class counties.
“Private equity is awash in cricket and sports rights have never been worth more than they are now, so I expect more interest,” Thompson said. “We said ‘thank you very much, we’ll come back when we’re ready’.
“The last two years [of The Hundred] proved us wrong in one area and right in another. What he has done for women’s cricket and the investment Sky has made in The Hundred has been extraordinary.
“The reality of the calendar is the problem, and the reason Richard and I had problems with it is that we recognized three domestic competitions and an increased international calendar was already causing problems.
“Bringing a fourth was only going to make it worse and what I want to make sure we don’t do is sideline the Blast, we don’t want one to succeed at the expense of the other. We want them to co-exist together, so it’s difficult, and we’ll find a solution to that as difficult as it is.”
Thompson believes the need to create a viable domestic schedule is underscored by Will Smeed’s choice to sign a white-ball-only contract with Somerset, having impressed in T20 for his county and The Hundred for Birmingham Phoenix.
The 21-year-old hitter made the decision despite yet to make his county championship debut and Thompson has no doubt it should serve as a wake-up call for the game as a whole.
“Our schedule doesn’t really encourage a player like Will Smeed to play in our national cricket given that the schedule is unworkable,” Thompson said.
“The one thing we all agree on is that we have to set the schedule. It’s a flashing amber light on the dashboard and we can’t let it turn red, which means everything a bunch of players make a decision that they would rather go their own way.
“It’s not the Kerry Packer moment, but it’s in that area and…it’s a good example of these players going through one of the best routes in world cricket only to be lost to English cricket in a way that we can’t control.
“I cannot accept this happening and that we are losing a generation of cricketers playing for England.”