How new man Watmore must help English cricket thrive

Look after stars like Moeen Ali, make sure schools are not left behind and remind county fans that you care… how new man Ian Watmore must help English cricket thrive

  • Incoming ECB chairman Watmore faces an incredibly challenging start
  • He manage the uproar from the counties and make less money go further
  • The England team play far too much cricket and so it may be time for a reset
  • England must not force players into self-imposed exile, like Moeen Ali in Tests
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Ian Watmore will replace Colin Graves as ECB chairman in August. With coronavirus wrecking the international and domestic calendar, he faces an incredibly challenging start. Sportsmail’s experts give their views on what the 61-year-old former FA chief executive must do to ensure English cricket survives, recovers and improves.

Be smart and manage this cash crisis 

NASSER HUSSAIN (Former England captain)

The landscape has just completely changed and the new chairman cannot take for granted the money that has propped up the game. Cricket’s finances are now in a perilous state.

There are three main areas of concern to me.

Incoming ECB chairman Ian Watmore faces an incredibly challenging start in August

Firstly, grassroots. State schools do not play cricket extensively anyway and private ones will be hit hard by this crisis. Will sport and cricket be among their priorities in a post-virus world?

And with clubs in danger of going under, where are Ian Watmore, the ECB and the game in general going to find the next generation of players? Whatever money the game still has must filter down to youth cricket.

Then the chairman, who may theoretically be in charge at the ECB but is there to support chief executive Tom Harrison, has to make sure girls’ and women’s cricket is not forgotten.

One of the ECB’s great successes is what they have done for the women’s game and it would be so unfair to cut them off now they are on the path to full professionalism. But the biggest priority must be the professional game and I fear there will soon be a clash between counties, who are now on the brink financially, and the board.

There may not be any county cricket this season, crowds might not be allowed at matches for another year or so and the cash-strapped counties will need all the support they can get from the ECB. And the broadcast deal cannot be taken as a given if the television companies are not getting any product or return for their money.

The likes of Ian Botham and Graham Gooch learned their trade in the county championship

Everyone still wants their share of the financial pot in cricket and that pot has seriously diminished this summer from the biggest to the smallest in the game. Watmore’s challenge is to politically manage the uproar that will come from the counties and make less money go further.

Play less championship cricket… and stage it in the height of summer

DAVID LLOYD (Former England coach)

His biggest challenge will be to devise a structure that’s agreeable to 18 first-class counties and doesn’t marginalise the four-day game to each end of the summer, as it is now. Like it or not, the first-class game is where our best players learn their trade. David Gower, Ian Botham and Graham Gooch came through the system. But the structure has to be meaningful and I don’t think the current set-up works as well as it should.

I’ll give you a head start, Ian. I’d have three divisions of six teams, arranged according to the order they finished the previous season, with each playing the others in the division home and away.

That gives each county 10 four-day matches a season, which in my view is plenty, and you have one up and one down at the end.

You can hold the games in the summer months, when the spectators are most likely to attend, and the pitches will be fairest for everyone.

 The England team play far too much cricket and so it may be time to have a rethink

For anyone who says he’d be devaluing the County Championship, I’d argue it would be bringing it into line with first-class competitions around the world. We’ve always played too much cricket and this is a chance to change that, while still developing players and producing a fixture list that pays the bills.

I’d also reinstate the limited-overs knockout tournament, which is where you play your 50-over cricket.

The Minor Counties can join in, too, competing for the right to join the first-class teams in an FA Cup-style third round.

If you lose your only match of 50-over cricket in a season, so be it. There’s enough Twenty20 around now for players to hone their white-ball skills.

Stop flogging England with constant touring

PAUL NEWMAN (Cricket Correspondent)

Could this crisis have hidden benefits post-virus in a less helter-skelter approach to life and sport?

Could it convince incoming ECB chairman Ian Watmore that, at least as far as international cricket is concerned, less could mean more?

Admittedly, when life finally goes back to normal, there will be huge pressure on cricket to salvage as much money as possible. But Watmore must resist the temptation to do that by trying to cram yet more cricket into a calendar that was already fit to burst.

The England team play far too much cricket and this will be an unexpected opportunity for the domestic game and its new chairman to press the reset button and, in the process, protect the longevity of our best players by guarding against burnout.

England must not force players into self-imposed exile, like Moeen Ali in Test cricket

The introduction of a World Test championship, in theory not the worst idea, only seems to have added to the congestion because England were due to go on no fewer than three tours this winter. And that is at least one too many.

Let’s make each international fixture special. Let’s make sure England can put out their best team for every Test and white-ball match by not flogging them and forcing them into self-imposed exile, like Moeen Ali in Test cricket.

You’re probably thinking that players don’t help themselves by adding to their workload with any franchise contract that comes their way and they will be tempted all the more by the IPL rupee if they are expected to play less for their country.

I am old-fashioned enough to believe that IPL, Big Bash and even Hundred contracts should be the first to go if today’s England players feel in need of a break.

But realistically, with so much money on the table, it is not going to happen.

So Watmore should look after the game’s prize assets and the supporters by ensuring each international sees the very best players performing at their very best. Ian, let’s have less touring, a smaller carbon footprint for cricket in the new world and a manageable amount of top-level cricket.

Reunite a divided cricketing nation

LAWRENCE BOOTH (Wisden Editor)

The new chairman needs to strike a balance between the businessmen and the traditionalists, as both have important things to say about cricket’s future.

Ever since the ECB set their heart on the Hundred, it’s been the businessmen who have held sway, which has alienated huge numbers of cricket-lovers. The ECB like to portray critics of the Hundred as a small, vociferous minority on Twitter. That’s far too simplistic.

ECB must strike a balance between the interests of county fans and launch of the Hundred

Watmore has to find a way to convince county fans that the administrators still care about them and their views. It’s easy to mock the two men and a dog who are said to attend the average Championship fixture, but the aggregate attendance for last summer’s competition was more than 460,000.

By comparison, Tom Harrison suggested recently the ECB had sold 180,000 tickets for the Hundred. That second figure would have grown but for coronavirus, while the first figure is bigger than many would have imagined. Both groups need embracing. It would help if Watmore set about treating the County Championship with respect. This summer had 10 of the 15 rounds of four-day games in April, May or September. Between May 26 and August 22, only three four-day rounds were in the diary.

If English cricket is serious about producing high-quality opening batsmen, fast bowlers who aren’t reliant on early-season greentops and spinners who can exploit drying pitches in high summer, it can’t sustain this lopsided schedule.

Cricket in this country feels more polarised than it should be in a nation that holds the men’s and women’s World Cups. Watmore’s challenge is to reunite it, and persuade sceptics on both sides that it’s a game for everyone.

Share Test wealth with poorer countries

RICHARD GIBSON (Cricket Reporter)

If the crisis has taught us anything, it is to look after each other and I’d urge the new chairman to ‘love thy neighbour’ and look at how English cricket can prosper by doing more for the international game.

It is natural to have an introverted view as sport clambers out of lockdown, but a greater sense of community would serve England better in the long term. The men’s teams occupy top-four positions in all three formats. So they should, when you consider their revenue share.

It remains the case that England, India and Australia dominate financially — India took a £320m share of the ICC’s latest seven-year broadcasting deal, more than three times as much as most of their Test rivals. All major global events between 2016 and 2023 were scheduled to be hosted by the same three countries, too.

Cricket’s international playing field is narrow enough without the distribution of funds diminishing it further.

Lobbying for profit share from ticket sales for such events and rethinking the split of bilateral series revenues would be a start.

Test cricket is popular here but for it to retain its lustre, the strength of opposition and traditional rivalries must be maintained.

Rival boards without their own lucrative TV deals need more cash to keep their leading players on Test cricket’s path and away from career journeys around the T20 stop-offs.

The appeal of a winning England team will be diluted if success comes against second-rate opponents. We would all benefit from a more global perspective.

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