I am delighted and thrilled to start as the Chair of the ECB today. I have always felt cricket is the greatest of great games, unsurpassed at its best, and I am humbled to be working here now.
I was interviewed for the role as Chair in February before the Covid-19 crisis became apparent. I said at my interview that the game needs to be led decisively, but I would hope collaboratively and inclusively as well. I said I intended to use the convening power of the Chair to help the game decide its own future, rather than tell it what to do, and that is my promise to all.
I also made a number of specific commitments:
- I believe strongly in the breadth and depth of the Inspiring Generations strategy, from the grassroots of the game right through to the elite end of our sport. I therefore want us all to follow this strategy, deliver results on the ground, build momentum, grow the game and widen participation across the board.
- I want us to oversee a schedule of international and domestic cricket which is exciting to watch and play, accessible and welcoming to all our potential supporters and participants, and sustainable over time.
- I aim to strive for a modern, influential and enabling ECB, which is strategic, diverse, inclusive, transparent and true to its, and the game’s, values.
- I believe cricket already makes a real difference to society at home and overseas, bringing communities together and providing opportunity to those who are more disadvantaged. I intend to champion, and turbo charge this aspect of our game domestically and internationally with Government and through the ICC.
A changed world
Of course, the world changed when the Prime Minister spoke to us on 16 March and the lockdown began. I want to pay tribute to everyone in cricket affected by this dreadful virus, for example, to the friends and family of David Hodgkiss OBE, the late Chairman of Lancashire CCC.
I first met David at my interview in February. Less than two months later he was gone, and it is so sad. I would have liked to know him better; he was clearly a great cricket man.
I have been incredibly impressed by the way cricket has stuck together since the initial Covid shock, made big decisions swiftly and faced up to the challenges.
Behind-closed-doors international cricket has worked amazingly well, the Bob Willis Trophy has been a revelation, the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy likewise, and the pent-up demand for recreational cricket has burst into life once Government allowed it to resume. I have complimented Tom Harrison and his team on the outstanding leadership they have shown, but frankly, everyone has been marvelous across the cricket family to get international, county and recreational cricket played in the teeth of a pandemic.
We are incredibly grateful to our friends in the West Indies (men and women), Pakistan, Ireland and Australia who have all sent international teams to our shores. This solidarity in times of trouble shows the international cricket family at its best.
Nevertheless, despite these heroics, we have not been without significant loss.
The County Championship has been shelved this year, with corresponding white-ball tournaments also severely disrupted. Most of the Test match and ODI/T20 venues have all lost games. The Hundred was deferred for both men and women to next season, so that it can be launched properly and with maximum impact. The men’s T20 and women’s World Cups have also been deferred for a year.
And whilst with Government support, we will be doing everything we can to have a full domestic season next summer, nothing is certain at this time, not least the extent to which crowds will be admitted to venues.
Impacts and challenges
There have been big financial shocks throughout the game – not just at the ECB and our counterparts around the world – but at counties and clubs – who saw impact to every revenue stream, including those beyond cricket.
Many people who draw their living from the game have had to work even harder than ever, taken pay-cuts, been furloughed or lost their jobs altogether, so there is a human as well as financial cost involved.
Fortunately, we benefit from having great broadcast and commercial partners, and members, participants and supporters have been very generous in this summer of much reduced cricket. The ECB has made bold decisions in providing funding assistance and is reassessing every financial aspect of our game with those impacted.
The true cost will only really be known when the domestic season winds down. The game has bridged the financial gaps mostly, on a temporary basis, but they have not gone away and the financial day of reckoning is yet to come.
Our game has been challenged by other factors, such as the Black Lives Matters movement, which has shone a very uncomfortable light on some structural and cultural weaknesses, as well as repugnant behaviours from some within the game and society at large.
There is so much to do here, we must listen to others and then take action to transform this situation.
So, as I start the job, it simultaneously looks so different to the one I interviewed for, yet at the same time has the same objectives.
I’d like to re-enforce that, to me, Inspiring Generations means:
- developing the women’s game, recreationally and professionally
- growing and supporting club facilities and volunteers
- getting boys and girls cricket played regularly in nearly every school
- connecting with our South Asian and Black communities, exorcising racism and discrimination
- expanding disability cricket
- reaching new people – as supporters and/or participants – through a broadly-based culture of diversity and inclusion
- using The Hundred as a conduit to support these changes and create an additional channel to welcome new audiences into cricket
The strategy also means a strong and thriving First Class County network playing exciting and competitive cricket in great grounds across all formats, in a schedule that promotes excellence of red and white ball cricket and develops England players of the future.
And it means an international programme of thrilling men’s and women’s cricket of the type with which we have been especially blessed in recent years.
With less money around, the way we go about implementing all of this will need to change. I am confident we can win through by sticking together, but it won’t be easy, and some of it will be out of our hands.
Finally, the ECB will want to hear from as many people as possible, not just in these Covid days, but throughout the next five years. I have set an early Board meeting to discuss how we best undertake this consultation to deliver continuity of all that is good in our game, and the change demanded by the challenges we, and other sports, now face. More on this in due course.
In closing, I’d like to thank Colin Graves. the outgoing Chair, a man who has served Yorkshire cricket, the ECB and the ICC over many years. Under his leadership, ECB governance has been reformed, we have an outstanding Board and Executive, we are in year one of a record broadcasting deal, and we hold both the men’s and women’s World Cups. Big shoes to fill indeed.