Andrew Strauss has warned those leading cricket in England and Wales they “can’t afford to be slow-moving and have our heads in the sand” during a time of unprecedented flux in the sport.
With the proliferation of global franchise leagues accelerating, T20s offer players and television networks an alternative focus to the longer-format internationals that have traditionally sat at the pinnacle of the game. “The cricket world around us is changing unbelievably quickly. Every day, every week, every month, we’re seeing a new example of how that world is changing,” Strauss said, as the high-performance review he is leading for the ECB prepares to report on the future of the game at elite level.
“We’re having to ask ourselves in this country, where does our game fit into that? We [need to] make sure that we have incentives there for our players to play both red- and white-ball cricket. Of course, the ECB have put a lot of time and attention and effort into [giving] the Hundred the potential to be a global short-form event that matches any of these other leagues.
“One of the things that we need to be conscious of in the game in this country is we have to be nimble and adaptable. And we can’t afford to be slow moving and have our heads in the sand. That’s really important – that we set the game up in a way that allows us to be flexible because ultimately players, if they’ve got many opportunities, will always look at those opportunities side by side and decide what’s best for them.
“We need to continue promoting all the brilliant things cricket in this country offers players – we want to have a strong domestic game and we want to make sure the players are playing the right balance of formats so that it’s not all drifting down that white-ball, short-form route.”
Though some think it will prove impossible for Test and ODI cricket to continue in their current forms given the amount of T20 matches being scheduled – the former India coach Ravi Shastri, for example, suggested last month that the number of Test-playing nations should be halved from its current 12 – Strauss said he feels more optimistic.
“I still maintain they can sit together comfortably, Test cricket and T20 cricket. But the challenge we have is, can we produce a manageable schedule that allows players to do both? That is really complicated. It’s multi-dimensional. It’s like a big Rubik’s Cube.”
After winning their first four Tests of the summer against New Zealand and India, England’s Test side will get another opportunity to demonstrate their recent improvement when the three-Test series against South Africa starts at Lord’s on Wednesday. Spectators at the second day will be invited to wear red in support of the Ruth Strauss Foundation, set up by the former England captain after the death of his wife, Ruth. The foundation aims to assist families facing the death of a parent and to encourage research into non-smoking lung cancers.
“It’s early days and there are still a lot of areas of improvement,” Strauss, who was England’s director of cricket for three years, said of the Test team’s upturned fortunes under the captaincy of Ben Stokes and with Brendon McCullum as coach. “It’s just brilliant to see players playing with a smile on their face, enjoying the challenge, not worried so much about what might go wrong.
“They’re more excited about doing things that haven’t been done before – pioneering, changing the face of the game or however you want to describe it. The more you have that mindset in the dressing room the more confidence builds, the more you are able to do extraordinary things. We saw it with the white-ball team post-2015 and we’re going to see it again with this Test team.”