Strauss faces backlash from counties over plans to cut cricket schedule

Andrew Strauss is facing a battle to push through the reforms proposed in his High Performance Review amid widespread criticism for the idea of reducing the number of games played by first-class counties, a key part of the proposals.

The review document, published on Thursday after weeks of speculation, says that “a reduction in the amount of cricket played is essential to ensure quality and intensity”, and claims that 61% of county supporters and 94% of directors of cricket believe there are too many games across the summer. Strauss has proposed reorganising the County Championship into three leagues of six, and also reorganising the T20 Blast, in both cases reducing the number of home games each county would play from seven to five.

In order to be adopted the proposed schedule changes require the support of at least 12 of the 18 first-class counties, with a vote to be held after a further period of consultation. But John Stephenson, the interim chair of Essex, described T20 cricket as “our lifeblood” and said that he could not accept any reduction in matches.

“The original reason for the review was to improve the performance of our Test team,” Stephenson said. “There are obviously different opinions on all of this but in my opinion reducing the amount of red-ball cricket is not the way to produce better Test cricketers … As it currently stands we would not vote in favour of any reduction in red-ball cricket, and we wouldn’t vote in favour of any reduction in home T20s.”

The Sussex chairman, Jon Filby, said: “It has been looked at only through a lens of high performance but we are looking through a financial and commercial lens and through the eyes of our members. In T20 we fill our ground up and we make around £100,000 per match in terms of profit … There has to be a compromise somewhere between what we have now which is unacceptable and what Strauss has proposed which in many ways is equally unacceptable.”

After Surrey wrapped up this season’s County Championship title by beating Yorkshire at the Oval their director of cricket, Alec Stewart, said: “If it was just high performance and you forgot the county finances and the members then yes go for it, but it’s bigger than that. We must respect the members who pay their money to come and support and the finances that make it happen.”

In a statement Simon Philip, chair of Kent, said that counties must “consider the unintended consequences and possibly irrevocable change to the essential nature of county cricket” the proposals would bring.

“Of course anything in our domestic structure is very contentious,” Strauss said. “What I would say is that the status quo is sub-optimal and people want a different solution. That’s what we’re providing. We think it’s a very complete package, but there are going to be elements of it that certain people feel are not in their interest, and we understand that. That’s the reality of the domestic structure – you can’t solve one thing without unsolving another thing.”

Most of the 17 proposals in the review can be implemented without county approval. These include a complete overhaul of central contracts, and the transformation of county funding to reward success on the pitch and the development of international players. There will also be a trial of a new County Championship points system to reward teams that both win and post high scores, and experiments with Kookaburra balls to see if they encourage bowlers unable to rely on the more exaggerated swing and seam of the Dukes ball to develop new skills.

But Strauss’s proposals have not come in time for the next year’s schedule to be changed, with 2023 set to be a repeat of this year’s widely criticised format – in a statement after the review’s publication, Somerset’s board described it as “unacceptable to the club, its members and the south west’s cricketing public”.

“This whole review we’ve been in a race against time, and I think we’ve run out of time on that unfortunately,” Strauss said. “But it’s worth saying that these are important decisions and the last thing people need to feel is time pressure. Sometimes you’ve got to understand that it’s better to walk to the right solution than jump off the edge of a cliff.”