Atherton: County proposals is best compromise

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Atherton: County proposals is best compromise

The high-performance review’s recommendations for English men’s cricket include a six-team County Championship top division from 2024 and a new domestic schedule, with the aim of sustained success for England “in all formats”; 12 of 18 First-Class Counties must agree to structure changes.

By Amar Mehta

Last Updated: 22/09/22 3:54pm

Former England captain Michael Atherton said issues over playing schedules remains the most contentious issue.

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Former England captain Michael Atherton said issues over playing schedules remains the most contentious issue.

Former England captain Michael Atherton said issues over playing schedules remains the most contentious issue.

Sir Andrew Strauss’ high-performance review into English cricket is the best compromise, but some counties will oppose the plans, according to Michael Atherton.

The review, which has been led by the former England captain and endorsed by the ECB, includes 17 recommendations in total for men’s cricket and Strauss says they can help England be the “world’s best team across all formats within five years, for a sustained period of time”.

The most eye-catching proposals regard a domestic reform.

    It suggests a six-team top County Championship division, with two conferences below that also of six teams vying for one promotion place.

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    There is also a drop in matches, from 14 to 10, while the schedule is set for May-September to allow more cricket in the best conditions.

    There are plans for the One-Day Cup to be played entirely in April, with six rounds and a significant knock-out element, while the T20 Blast would be from May to July with a focus on Thursday-to-Sunday “prime slots”.

    Speaking after the announcement on Sky Sports News, Atherton said that there will always be “an element of compromise” with reviews but the proposed changes to the County game will not please certain teams.

    He said: “It is a more coherent schedule than what we have now, but there will be some counties who will bulk at it. Clubs like Kent, Essex, Somerset – those are the clubs that will be fearing for their future.

    “A reduction in county championship games to 10 – the members will have an issue with that, and of course the vast majority of clubs are member-owner organisations.

    “They’ll have to consult with their members. So those are the two sticking points and I don’t know which way the vote will go.

    “County cricket for over 100 years has meandered along on the backdrop of international cricket, and Strauss’s review is looking at that from a very different lens, a high-performance lens.”

    Atherton added that some counties who do not host Test cricket will oppose the plans due to the lack of summer cricket during the school holidays.

    Sir Andrew Strauss says it's important that action is taken on the proposals included in his review of English men's cricket.

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    Sir Andrew Strauss says it’s important that action is taken on the proposals included in his review of English men’s cricket.

    Sir Andrew Strauss says it’s important that action is taken on the proposals included in his review of English men’s cricket.

    Review is ‘fiendishly difficult’

    As part of the review, Strauss and his team would have had to consider two polarising views, according to Atherton.

    He noted that the needs to County cricket are different to what is required from The Hundred.

    “It is fiendishly difficult,” he said.

    “It is a better compromise than what we have now, if it gets through. 15 of them will get passed through, and they are all fairly obvious things to promote.

    “The two contentious things are the future schedule of the domestic game, and that is where it will get sticky.

    “They are trying to find a balance for players, clubs and supporters. There is too much cricket at the wrong times of the season. What they are asking for is a reduction in county champ games, shorter sharper 50 over comp, fewer games in the Blast.

    “County cricket for over 100 years has meandered along on the backdrop of international cricket, and Strauss’s review is looking at that from a very different lens, a high-performance lens.”

    The high-performance review’s 17 recommendations

    High-performance requirement Recommendation
    Focus and alignment on high performance across the game 1. Create accountability for men’s high performance
    2. Improve our shared understanding of ‘What It Takes To Win’
    3. Foster a high-performance community
    4. Develop skills and diversity in performance leadership roles
    5. Reward performance impact
    Players equipped to be successful in all formats, around the world 6. Challenge our bowlers to develop their global skills
    7. Give players access to experiences overseas
    8. Provide earlier international benchmarking
    9. Refocus the Lions
    A thriving domestic game that is best for counties, players, fans and England Men’s teams 10. Produce a coherent domestic schedule
    11. Upgrade the standard and intensity of our competitions
    12. Incentivise higher quality pitches
    13. Provide opportunities for talent and reward counties for development
    England teams that inspire by the way they win 14. Sustain an exciting ‘shop window’ for the game
    15. Enable England players to better manage workloads
    16. Improve physical and psychological resilience
    17. Schedule international matches to allow players to play their best cricket, more often

    Counties oppose schedule changes

    Just moments after the details of the review were announced, Somerset, Kent and Essex released statements opposing the proposals.

    Kent’s chair, Simon Philip, said his country are a “fundamental part of our community”, adding that “we will not allow our club to be rendered irrelevant” and the review has been “prepared through the prism of High Performance only”.

    “We continue to deliver success on the field, produce players for England and support one of the largest recreational and schools cricket populations in the country,” he added.

    Ahead of his appointment as President of the MCC, actor Stephen Fry has compared cricket to the British royal family.

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    Ahead of his appointment as President of the MCC, actor Stephen Fry has compared cricket to the British royal family.

    Ahead of his appointment as President of the MCC, actor Stephen Fry has compared cricket to the British royal family.

    Somerset added that it had requested that there were no changes to next year’s domestic schedule, adding counties should have “ample time” to discuss the changes.

    “Over a season, a diet of cricket across all formats which is satisfying for Members, paying spectators and players is required,” Somerset said in a statement.

    “The current domestic playing programme, which resulted in only four one-day matches being played in Taunton over 43 days in the height of summer this year, with 17 Somerset players unavailable, is unacceptable to the Club, its Members and the South West’s cricketing public.”

    Chief Executive & Interim Chair of Essex, John Stephenson, added: “Protecting the status of county cricket will always be a main priority for the Club, whilst also playing our part in growing the game and developing players for the Test Arena.

    ‘Current schedule is not working’

    The recommendations relating to the domestic structure are for 2024 at the earliest, and require approval from two-thirds of the First-Class Counties (FCC) – meaning 12 out of the 18 must vote in support.

    “The current schedule is not working in the way it should,” Strauss told Sky Sports News. “No solution works for everybody. It’s one big Rubix cube and I think this is the best solution for English cricket moving forward.

    “It answers some of the fundamental issues that have prevented England achieving [sustained success] in the past.”

    Culled from Sky Sports
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