(Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
By Chris Stocks
Now in the fourth year of his job as the England & Wales Cricket Board’s chief executive, Tom Harrison is in Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test, where, among other things, he discussed the disappointing Ashes series for Joe Root’s team, future of coach Trevor Bayliss, county cricket and the new domestic T20 competition scheduled to start in 2020…
How will the ECB react to England’s Ashes defeat?
TH: It’s a pity that we’re not in a position to take the Urn home with us, but there’s a lot more to play for over the course of this winter. The health of the game is more than about Ashes series overseas. This is not the moment for kneejerk reactions or rash decisions in respect of performance.
We have a plan. We’re making progress on that plan. England have been very competitive for large parts of the Ashes series. Those marginal periods of play where you can turn a game, we haven’t been able to do it which has been the difference between the teams in each of the Test matches.
We understand that it’s extremely disappointing. But this team will be learning from every experience they have on the field and we’ve got a lot more to play for over the course of the one-dayers and the Test series in New Zealand (starting in March).
Is Trevor Bayliss’ future as coach secure?
TH: We’re in a process of delivering cricket across three formats. They are making huge strides in white-ball cricket up to a place where we’re winning 70 per cent or so of our matches. And in Tests we are finding it’s very difficult to win overseas. We did win a series in South Africa (in 2015-16) which is a significant achievement. We found it difficult in the UAE against Pakistan, in India and here. We’ve got to take a look at that.
Are you worried about England’s team discipline in the wake of the Ben Stokes incident in September and the various off-field issues on this Ashes tour?
TH: Obviously what happened in Bristol (with Stokes) was a very bad thing for the game. It clearly changed the level of scrutiny on player behaviour and since that moment we’ve reminded players of their responsibilities.
This is a very good group of players. This is the same group that have been commended for the way in which they approached the first few weeks of this tour, the way they reached out to the Australian public, and I think that’s important to remember.
I think what we did was send a message back to the players reminding them that the world we’re living in is a bit different post-September and I think that message has been heard.
We’ve had the longest home international summer, ending on September 29. Are you worried England play too much international cricket?
TH: We play a lot of cricket because of the nature of the way our seasons fall. People want to play against us and our structure depends on us playing a certain amount of cricket because it is a survival method for county cricket in terms of the revenue it generates. So, I think what we’re going to have to get better at is getting players to play in specific formats and manage player workloads better. But I remember certain situations not long ago when we were (criticised for) resting players in certain games – Ben (Stokes) in Durham for example. Managing player workloads is something we are going to have to manage strategically over the next few years.
Has the focus on white-ball cricket and winning the 2019 World Cup cost England’s Test team?
TH: I don’t think there’s any evidence that the way in which we’re playing red-ball cricket or Test cricket is being impacted by that. We are seeing in the county game there is an emphasis on blocks now – we’re trying to improve the calibre of both white-ball and red-ball cricket by playing across blocks. Feedback from players has been that it has meant they’ve been able to concentrate more on a particular format.
But those blocks have shifted the County Championship to the start and end of the summer. Has that negated the need for genuine pace and spin bowlers in the domestic first-class game? I don’t think you negate the need for pace ever – who knows what the weather’s going to be like in April or May? You’ll know if you’d played in July last year or the year before you’d have been washed out completely so it is a bit of a lottery.
We need to be getting the best red-ball cricketers playing against each other more often and make sure that our first-class cricket is the highest calibre it can be, the wickets they are playing on are the best-quality wickets even if they are much harder to get wickets on – maybe that’s no bad thing.
Why is there a lack of international-class English pace bowlers?
TH: It’s one question we’ve been striving to find the answer to. We obviously have a fast-bowling programme at Loughborough that delivers excellent results for the guys that go through it. There are questions about whether the wickets we are playing on at home reward that extra pace to the extent that it does in Australia.
But I also think it’s important to remember it’s not all about winning Ashes series. County cricket is not there to deliver that every four years. I think it’s really important to make sure we work out how we can get to a place where we arrive with the right kind of firepower to compete in these conditions.
But the talent is there. You’ve seen young George Garton here (practising with the squad in Australia), we’ve seen guys like Mark Footitt, Mark Wood. They’re all that level, but for one reason or another they’re not coming through because of injury, consistency – whatever it is. But I don’t think this is again an alarm bells situation. It’s a complex question that goes into the kind of cricket we want to play, the conditions that we play in.
Ultimately, this is about looking at the situations you can find yourself in on tours overseas. Sometimes they can require different skill sets than your own conditions. We need to look at that, understand wickets, structures, whether that is helping us deliver the right kind of preparation for Ashes series.
What about progress on the new T20 franchise tournament from 2020?
TH: It is about recruiting a new audience for the game – a younger audience, a more diverse audience. It’s a big moment for T20. We’ve got two big areas of work going on. One is all about discussing and collaborating with the counties in terms of understanding the deal around hosting matches. We’ve got the host venue panel starting in February-March (2018). The panel will meet to discuss the recommendations to the ECB board to allocate both international matches and host venues.
On the back of that we will be nailing the deal with counties to host games. Then you’ve got the marketing challenge on the other side of it which is very much an internal thing all about creating a competition brand and then the team brands behind it.
Have the teams been finalised?
TH: No, that’s all subject to legal process and the host venue panel. We’ve also had submissions from the grounds in terms of their bids to be
part of it and that process is complicated and proper that goes through lots of level of detail to make sure we come out with the right answer.