ECB high performance review – Strauss review proposes smaller Championship top tier, ‘revamped’ 50-over competition

Middlesex chief executive Richard Goatley steps down due to ill health

A revamped 50-over competition and a smaller top division of the County Championship are among the key recommendations made by Andrew Strauss’ high-performance review into English men’s cricket.

The review, launched in response to England’s 4-0 defeat in the 2021-22 Ashes series in Australia, has reached its “consultation stage” which will see the panel’s findings discussed by the PCA, county chief executives, chairs and directors of cricket over the next week, before final proposals are issued to counties on September 9.

County chairs will then meet at Lord’s on September 20 to vote on proposals, with a two-thirds majority required to implement any changes.

The Royal London Cup, the men’s domestic 50-over competition, has been played in tandem with the Hundred for the last two seasons and has been shorn of the country’s leading white-ball players as a result. The situation saw two players – Jake Lintott and Will Smeed – make their List A debuts while playing for England Lions last month.

The Championship has featured a ten-team top division this season, with each county playing 14 games each. As a result, there is an uneven fixture list in which teams play some teams once and others twice, reducing the competition’s integrity. Increasing the number of teams in Division One, a change voted for in 2018 but only introduced this summer due to the impact of Covid, has diluted quality.

In a post on the ECB’s blog, Strauss, the chair of the ECB performance cricket committee, said that the first-class county chairs representative board has proposed that the number of Championship fixtures for each county should remain at 14 in 2023, allowing “more time for the debate about the best long-term structure from 2024 onwards to take place”.

“Our aim is simple – to have a high-performance system for English men’s cricket which enables our men’s teams to have sustained success across all formats, while having a thriving, future-proofed domestic game,” Strauss wrote. “The findings, draft ideas and proposals have been informed by a thorough process including analysis of a range of important research as we consider how best we can achieve these goals.

“Amongst other findings, the research – which covers cricket across the world since 2014 – looks at the areas we can target to reduce the gap between the domestic game and international cricket.

“The analysis tells us that English players struggle more than players from other countries to transition from domestic to international cricket, how domestic spinners get less opportunities than in other countries and how overseas first-class experience is beneficial to Test cricketers.”

A 37-page consultation document, prepared by the sports intelligence agency Twenty First Group, was sent to counties on Thursday evening and is intended to be used as the basis for upcoming discussions. It is available to view in full on the ECB’s website.

“Our research shows that the first-class counties play a higher volume of cricket compared to the rest of the world, while feedback from players is that a reduction in the amount of men’s domestic cricket played is essential,” Strauss wrote.

“Initial options for the game to discuss include a revamped 50-over competition and a smaller LV= Insurance County Championship top division to ensure higher standards and more intense best v best red-ball cricket.”

The review also recommends playing first-class North vs South fixtures in the UAE, “elevating” the England Lions programme through a more consistent schedule and a strong red-ball focus, and offering multi-year central contracts to leading multi-format players.

“We will now debate the panel’s proposals with many people in the professional game,” Strauss wrote. “Between now and then I am looking forward to a healthy and constructive debate over the coming weeks before the men’s high-performance review produces a final report, which will provide the game with a clear and well-researched pathway to sustained England Men’s success and a healthy, vibrant, domestic game.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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