One-day success shows change is possible

England won the 2019 World Cup just four years after the embarrassment of the 2015 tournament. That proves that the work Andrew Strauss, Eoin Morgan and others at the ECB did to change English cricket’s priorities was a success.

OK, it was franchise cricket across the globe that gave lots of England’s players the experience and skills to succeed, but the ECB still promoted white-ball cricket, gave the short-form competitions the best slots in the English summers and generally supplied Morgan with his strongest squads.

After years of prioritisation of Test cricket, they showed that change is possible and that there is enough talent in England to produce a world-class ODI team.

They did a brilliant job and I’m certainly not digging them out now. But the outpouring of anger towards England’s terrible Ashes defeat over the last few weeks proves that Test cricket is still considered the pinnacle.

It’s now time for some serious change to take place in English cricket so that the Test team can return to its former glories.

County cricket is failing

When I first started playing first-class cricket in England, the intensity of a County Championship match was like a Test match. It was as tough as anything.

I learned my trade against some of the greatest players in the world every week. In 2001, three of the top four run-scorers in Division One were Mike Hussey, Darren Lehmann and Stuart Law, three batters who are remembered as established Australian internationals.

You had Muttiah Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq towards the top of the wicket-taking charts.

Even in Division Two, where I started out for Nottinghamshire, I was coming up against the likes of Stephen Fleming as well as young England prospects like Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood.

The Leicestershire side we came up against in 2003 featured Virender Sehwag, Brad Hodge, Paul Nixon, Jeremy Snape, Phil DeFreitas and Charlie Dagnall.

When I made 355* against Leicestershire in 2015, I would have made 250 without pads on. It was a moment when I realised just how far county cricket had fallen.

With the money elsewhere in the game, the Championship in its current form is not fit to serve the Test team. The best players don’t want to play in it, so young English players aren’t learning from other greats like I did. Batters are being dismissed by average bowlers on poor wickets and the whole thing is spiralling.

My proposal

In The Hundred, the ECB have actually produced a competition with some sort of value.

It is the best against the best, marketed properly, and the audience are engaged with it. They got new people to the games and I can tell you that the players will have improved markedly for featuring alongside other greats. It’s such a valuable experience.

They now need to introduce a similar franchise competition for red-ball cricket, whereby the best play against the best every single week.

They would make money available to attract some of the best overseas players in the world and the top English players would benefit from playing alongside them.

It would be a marketable, exciting competition, which would drive improvement in the standard and get people back through the gates for long-form cricket.

I see it as an eight-team round-robin league in the middle of the summer.

The pitches are monitored by the ECB so that we’re not seeing majorly bowler-friendly conditions like we do now. We have to have good pitches that reward and encourage strong batting techniques, batting for long periods of time, and that require skill from bowlers to take wickets.

The county system doesn’t necessarily need to change. It can be the feeder system below this competition, where players are developed until they’re ready to step up.

I can promise you that the current England team and lots of the best youngsters in the system still see Test cricket, in particular Ashes cricket, as the pinnacle.

But the world’s best players are involved in the IPL, the PSL, the Big Bash, The Hundred, and so on, so it’s no good denying them the chance to make their millions anymore, as I was back in the day.

We need to produce lucrative, high-quality, interesting competitions that reward and improve the best players. This could be one.

No good blaming Joe Root and his team

media

It’s so important that the ECB use this Ashes defeat to read the room, understand that the paying public are angry with the state of the Test team, and make positive change to improve it.

There is no point blaming Joe Root for what’s happened in Australia. He’s the only class batter in that team and has been tasked with leading an underprepared, low-quality team into an Ashes series. It was a hopeless task.

Things aren’t going to change by plucking the next batter from county cricket and sticking him up to open the batting. It’s failed too many times now.

This franchise competition would be a fantastic opportunity to improve the standard of red-ball cricket, make domestic cricket interesting to the masses again (like they did with The Hundred), and I’m sure commercially, in terms of sponsorships and broadcast rights, it would be good news, too.

It is the only way for the ECB to show that they value Test cricket and value the paying customer.

It could also be seen as English cricket leading by example in its efforts to save the longer format. I’ve said in the past that I can only see four or five countries playing Test cricket by 2026 – perhaps a renewed effort to promote the format by one of the most powerful boards in the world could change the direction things are heading in.

They proved that they can change the fortunes of English cricket by prioritising the ODI side when they turned a shambles into a World Cup win inside four years.

This Ashes defeat needn’t be a total failure if they can use it to implement proper change for the Test side.

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