Schofield review: ECB all talk, no action on less cricket
Morris 'desperate to change ridiculous schedule' but England may have to consider reducing home Tests to give players a rest
It is traditional in English cricket when things go wrong to establish a review panel. Or a working party, or a study group, or a specialist subcommittee. Something, anything, to relieve the immediate pressure and demonstrate that Action Is Being Taken.
There must have been a temptation last week to set up another ad hoc body. Two losses to New Zealand and the team looked a shambles. But it was too soon. Only 13 months had passed since the Schofield Review was set up, barely nine since its findings were published. Defeat even by New Zealand could not justify such a move.
The moment is at hand not to swear in another panel of the great and good but to try to discover if the most recent recommendations are being acted on. Or, as is the convention with working parties, quietly forgotten until it really is time for the next one.
The England and Wales Cricket Board have not been standing still. There has been a flurry of hirings since the committee led by Ken Schofield gave its views, all aimed at making England the best cricket team in the world with the best support structure and the best system for nurturing young talent.
In addition, last month the ECB announced a £30m programme, almost half of which will go to 2,000 clubs and much of the rest towards floodlights and better drainage at every first-class ground. Nobody could fault this ambition.
A key component of the Schofield Review, however, was that there should be a reduction in the amount of professional cricket being played, domestically and internationally. Schofield was perfectly candid on the point. The report said: "It is essential the ECB act now."
But England are still tiedinto an arduous future tours programme – they will have no substantial break until 2010 – and the counties will this season play more cricket than last year, not less. More worrying still, there remain no concrete plans for dividing the World Cup from the away Ashes series. Playing them so close together has affected England badly.
Hugh Morris, recently installed as managing director of England cricket after previously being the deputy chief executive of the ECB (there is a difference), said: "We've got to make sure we're implementing some of the things from Schofield. Our board have agreed that the ridiculous situation last year of a Champions Trophy, a World Cup and the Ashes in one winter won't happen again. We're desperately trying to space out our Ashes programme from major ICC events.
"As for domestic cricket, we'll have some proposals on board from our domestic structure review group in the next couple of months. We've got to balance the commercial and cricket sides of the game. If we do reduce the number of home Test matches for instance, what is going to be the impact of losing several million pounds?"
This weekend Morris is in Malaysia, venue of the Under-19 World Cup, where he will be involved in initial discussions about the next ICC Future Tours Programme, which is due to start after 2011. There are already signs that the present six-year cycle is considered too short.
This would have serious repercussions for proper home- and-away series on a regular basis. But it might mean less cricket, of a higher quality than at present, with the flagship series, such as England against Australia, given proper room. What it would do for the status of the ICC is another question.
Morris said: "The critical thing is we have to ensure that our players have the right balance between the amount of time they have to prepare, the amount they play and the amount they rest."
The present programme has to be fulfilled, however, which means the Schofield Review recommendations will not be implemented for another four years at least. England will still have "the ridiculous situation" of the Champions Trophy, the Ashes and the World Cup in succession in 2010-11.
The world meanwhile waits to see the effect of the Indian Premier League, the Twenty20 competition which has attractedmost of the world's best players and starts in April. England's are not involved because they are under contract at home, which means they are missing out on potentially huge earnings. Shane Warne, for instance, will receive $400,000 (£204,000) as a signing fee in the first year alone, plus wages and prize money – and this for six weeks' work a year. The IPL will have a dramatic effect.
On other points, the ECB have also moulded the review as they see fit. For instance, the report was categorical that a newly appointed national selector (the former Test player Geoff Miller was chosen last month) should always be on tour. That is not now likely to happen. Morris said what they wanted was consistency of selection method, but that the national selector might be away for 12 weeks doing little but sitting on his backside.
Little has changed in regard to central contracts, but Morris said there were already sufficient incentive-based payments included. Schofield was adamant on the importance of this.
Leadership programmes for potential future captains will be instated by the end of the year. Obvious candidates for this would be Alastair Cook and Ian Bell. The fear is that the next England captain – and indeed the ones after that – will be elevated with no experience of leading a side.
Schofield was also keen on improved relations between the England set-up and the counties. Nobody is quite saying so, but the feeling is that now Duncan Fletcher is no longer the national side's coach, this will happen naturally.
The ECB have taken Schofield and done what they wanted to do. But on the crucial aspect of less cricket, there has been much talking, no action. And England need to start winning again.
It is likely that the Domestic Structure Review Group will come up with a plan for less cricket, but not certain. If they do not, there will be much embarrassment all round.
"I would like to see some significant improvement straight away, really," said Morris. From such a mild-mannered, affable man, that was a warning shot.
Reviewing the review panel
How Schofield's proposalsare working:
1 Reduction in internationals – not for at least four years
2 Reduction in domestic programme – talks continuing, unlikely before 2010
3 Central contract review – happy with existing structure
4 Leadership programmes – by the end of this year
5 National Academy as Performance Centre – done
6 Management structure – done
7 Links with counties – on course
8 Player database – in progress
9 Fielding coach – done
10 International exchanges of Academy players – done
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