ECB warns no ‘silver bullet’ can fix red-ball cricket as 2022 fixtures released

The season is set to start on 7 April, with four successive weeks of red-ball matches, and finish on 26 September – with no championship fixtures in A

David Charlesworth
Thursday 20 January 2022 13:00 GMT
England capitulated against Australia Down Under, leading calls for a fresh look at whether county cricket is preparing players for Test level (Darren England via AAP/PA)
England capitulated against Australia Down Under, leading calls for a fresh look at whether county cricket is preparing players for Test level (Darren England via AAP/PA) (PA Media)

England and Joe Root were warned there is “no silver bullet” to remedy the various complaints about first-class cricket that have arisen following a dismal Ashes campaign.

An uncomfortable spotlight has shone on the LV= Insurance County Championship after a 4-0 thrashing Down Under with Test captain Root and England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison calling for a red-ball “reset”.

There will be five rounds of Championship matches in June and July, as opposed to just three last year, as the competition returns to its regular two-division structure following a couple of revamped seasons caused by the pandemic.

But the season is set to start on April 7, with four successive weeks of red-ball matches, and finish on September 26 – with no Championship fixtures at all in August when the second edition of The Hundred will take precedence.

Neil Snowball, the ECB’s managing director of county cricket, admitted that the schedule is far from ideal in striking a balance between the formats but any significant changes will have to wait until at least next year.

“The fixture schedule is a step forward from last year but don’t expect this schedule to be everything that we need it to be to address some of the challenges of red-ball cricket,” Snowball said.

“We know there’s no silver bullet, all of the different things that we need to consider have been talked about a lot – whether it’s what type of ball we use, what type of pitches we play on, the format of competitions, etc.

“It needs a comprehensive review. I think there’s a feeling that we haven’t got the balance right (between the formats) at the moment and that’s what we need to look at.

“We need to get the first-class counties, the ECB, the PCA (Professional Cricketers’ Association) and the other stakeholders together and then work out a plan through this year hopefully so that we can start making some changes from 2023. But there’s absolute commitment to do that.”

Yorkshire’s placement in Division One led to the suggestion relegation will not be part of their punishment for bungling Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations although Snowball was unable to shed little fresh light on the issue.

He rejected suggestions the delay in announcing this season’s fixtures had been down to awaiting what penalties might be handed down to Yorkshire following an ECB investigation, which is still ongoing.

But Snowball said: “I can confirm the fixtures are as published. Yorkshire are in Division One and everyone should work on that basis, that Yorkshire are playing in Division One and plan accordingly.

“If anything changes then everybody will communicate it in due course.”

Yorkshire remain the subject of an ECB investigation following their mishandling of Azeem Rafiq’s racism claims (House of Commons/PA) (PA Media)

A First-Class County Select XI has been created to take on New Zealand and South Africa, the main Test opposition this summer, in one-off matches with the idea of giving England players or those on the margins some meaningful time in the middle after getting scant preparation ahead of facing India in last year’s marquee home event.

There are no plans to stage the curtain-raising Champion County match this year while the Bob Willis Trophy in its current guise has been scrapped – although the ECB is eager to honour the late fast bowler with a match this term and discussions with his family are ongoing.

The Vitality Blast will be played over a seven-week window, beginning on May 25 and ending with Finals Day at Edgbaston on July 16, marking the earliest conclusion to the competition which is entering its 20th year.

Additionally, the tournament will have 10 double-headers alongside the women’s Charlotte Edwards Cup T20 matches, which will be played back-to-back at the same venue, emulating a successful formula from The Hundred last year.

The Royal London One-Day Cup will once again run concurrently with The Hundred but the final on September 17 will revert to a Saturday, having been controversially held on Thursday last year, while the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy’s showpiece on September 25 is set to be held at Lord’s for the first time.

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