Sir Andrew Strauss insists his high-performance review will help save first-class cricket despite a proposed cut in County Championship games.
Strauss released the latest in English cricket’s long list of rescue plans, launched on the back of another disastrous Ashes campaign, and risks upsetting traditionalists with what is an expected cut to 10 Championship games from 14.
But, with the introduction of a six-team top division; matches played during the bulk of the summer rather than just at the beginning and end; and extra ‘festival’ games during August, the former England captain believes he can preserve red-ball cricket and hold back the march of the white-ball franchises.
‘Ultimately I think we will be playing more intense red-ball cricket at a higher standard on better pitches and we will be giving people first-class matches throughout the summer rather than just in the margins,’ said Strauss at Lord’s.
It is the reduction in games, though, that might stop Strauss gaining the approval of 12 of the 18 counties he will need to force his restructure through for the 2024 season.
The plan is for the top division of six counties plus two other equal divisions of six to play 10 games during May, June, July and September with a play-off to decide the one promotion place between the top two teams in the lesser groups of six.
Then Strauss has risked being accused of a fudge to appease the dissenters by adding more red-ball games for players not involved in the Hundred during August that could include Roses ‘Tests’, a London Cup and more Lions matches.
‘It will be first-class cricket and I think it can be turned into really compelling local cricket,’ argued Strauss. ‘We know there will be some players unavailable because of the Hundred but a lot will not be playing so it makes sense to have more red-ball cricket then.’
Other proposals include an early season 50-over knockout cup involving first-class and what are now called national counties; a reduction in Blast games; the trial use of Kookaburra balls in the Championship in an attempt to replicate overseas conditions and the use of ball-tracking technology to assess the standard of pitches.
But the Hundred will clearly remain sacrosanct and will be allowed to dominate the prime month of August. ‘We know the Hundred has its window at the moment and that’s there for a number of reasons,’ said Strauss. ‘It is partly because of a commercial agreement with Sky but it is also because the Hundred is fulfilling a different function to our other competitions. It is high performance in its own right but it’s about growing the game.’
Strauss began his review by warning English cricket earlier this year to prepare for radical change but he admits there has been a degree of compromise in the seemingly impossible task of keeping everyone happy.
‘There always has to be a degree of realism,’ he added. ‘We’re not living in cloud cuckoo land here. I honestly feel this set of proposals can make a massive difference to the game. It’s about people genuinely coming together to work in a more co-operative way to achieve our ambitions. Could we have been more bold and ambitious? Absolutely. But we also needed to take the game with us.’