Sir Andrew Strauss has warned that English cricket must not have its "head in the sand" as it adjusts to the expansion of short-format leagues.
Strauss is chairman of the ECB’s cricket committee, and is leading the high performance review into the future of the English game. The former Test captain stressed the need for England to be nimble as the sport undergoes major changes.
“The cricket world around us is changing unbelievably quickly,” Strauss said. “Every day, every week, every month, we're seeing a new example of how that world is changing around us. And one thing that we're having to ask ourselves in this country is where does our game fit into all of that?
“At both domestic and international level what are we meant to be prioritising, investing in, not investing in etc, to make sure that the game remains strong and relevant and that we have incentives there for our players to play both red and white-ball cricket?”
Telegraph Sport recently revealed that IPL franchises hope to have players on 12-month-a-year contracts. Emphasising the threat posed to the international game, Trent Boult, the star New Zealand pace bowler, last week withdrew from his international central contract to free more space in his schedule to play in franchise tournaments. Two major T20 leagues, in South Africa and the UAE, launch next January.
Strauss said that such developments added to uncertainty about the future of the sport.
“It definitely feels like right at the moment, the rate of change is increasing. And the truth is, none of us know what's around the corner so you can all look into the future and go, 'Yeah, we're going to have this situation where players are signed up to franchises for 12 months of the year and there's less international cricket.' We don't know any of that at this point.
“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. I think that's really important that we set ourselves up in this country, we set the game up in a way that allows us to be flexible and adaptable.”
Strauss warned that the number of short-format leagues gave players greater power. He suggested that England had to be more conscious of the need to continue to make Test cricket attractive for players. While central contracts are highly lucrative, the ECB have been considering ways to make focusing on the first-class game more attractive for players outside the full international set-up.
“They [the players] will always look at those opportunities side by side and decide what's best for them and you don't hold that against them," Strauss said.
"And so we need to continue promoting all the brilliant things that cricket in this country offers players - we want to have a strong vibrant domestic game and we want to make sure the players are playing the right balance of formats as well so that it's not all drifting down that white-ball short-form route. There's still plenty of players that want to commit and challenge themselves to be the best Test cricketers they can be.”
Strauss believes that Test cricket around the world can co-exist alongside T20, but admitted that the format faces profound challenges.
“One thing we know in other countries, Test cricket doesn’t pay the bills, like it does here,” he said. “The T20 format is the way that a lot of people get introduced to the game in the first place. I still maintain that they can sit together comfortably, Test cricket and T20 cricket. But the challenge we have is [to provide a] manageable schedule that allows players to do both. That is really complicated. It’s multi-dimensional.”
Strauss was talking ahead of this year’s Red for Ruth event at Lord’s, which will raise money for the Red for Ruth charity, launched in memory of his late wife, who died from a rare form of lung cancer in 2018. The second day at Lord’s, on Thursday, will see Lord’s turn red to raise awareness about the foundation.
“Hopefully, as we’ve said every year, the Red For Ruth day and the Test match adds to the spectacle of the cricket as well and therefore it makes the whole thing a great occasion as well as a fundraising thing for us,” Strauss said.