Sir Andrew Strauss, chairman of the England Cricket Board, has delivered his annual report. He began by congratulating the England captain, Ollie Pope, on the team’s successful defence of the Ashes in Australia. The series finished level at 2-2 with the Sydney Test drawn. The outcome of each match was still in doubt at tea on the fifth day. The reversion to five-day Test cricket, which coincided with Colin Graves’s departure as chairman of the International Cricket Council, was deemed a success among the four countries still committed to playing Test cricket on a regular basis.
Strauss expressed his gratitude to Pope and his red-ball coaching staff led by Richard Dawson, the former England off-spinner and Gloucestershire coach. He also highlighted the success of the one-day side, now overseen by Eoin Morgan, in the inaugural six-nation European Cup. England won the grand slam but he acknowledged there had been one or two well-publicised blips along the way and he thanked the minister for culture, media and sport, Edward Smith, for his assistance.
When the England team arrived at the Scottish border without their passports it was only the minister’s intervention that allowed them to pass swiftly through customs and on to Edinburgh to fulfil the fixture. The ECB’s administrative staff ensured they avoided the same mistake on the way to the match against Wales in Cardiff. The Dutch side finished second in the table and, although without a victory, Italy showed signs of significant improvement. However, there was some frustration that the press facilities at their ground just outside of Siena were not big enough to accommodate a surprisingly large English media contingent.
Victory in the European Cup consolidated the success of England’s second World Cup triumph in 2027 and the winning of the gold medal in the Los Angeles Olympics of 2028. Strauss also congratulated the women’s team on their silver medal in a T20 competition dominated yet again by the Australian “Invincibelles”.
Strauss confirmed there would be more cricket on FTA television in 2030. The BBC had won the rights to broadcast the Abu Dhabi Super Fours, a 24-ball-per-innings format contested by seven-man teams. A spokesman for the BBC was jubilant. “We have been searching for something to fill the space when the public is casting their vote on Strictly Come Dancing In The Jungle While Baking a Cake, which will be hosted this year by our answer to Ant and Dec, Mike and Phil [Vaughan and Tufnell]. The Super Four clashes, which must be finished inside half an hour, fit the bill perfectly and this confirms our commitment to bringing top-quality international sport to our screens at prime time. Even better, we have secured the services of Craig Revel Horwood as a third umpire, operating from the BBC’s Strictly studios. Horwood is immensely excited by the prospect: ‘I’ve never watched a cricket match before but I was born in Ballarat,’ he said.”
Strauss announced he had set up a cricket subcommittee led by Sir Moeen Ali. They have been discussing a variety of issues. One member, Jimmy Anderson, who is now England’s pace bowling consultant, has pointed out that his withdrawal from professional cricket in 2028 was hastened by the new vegan Duke cricket balls refusing to swing. In his view the game is diminished as a result.
The committee was keen to discover the reasons for the delay in the completion of the South London Astrodome, which will allow short-form cricket to be played in England throughout the year. The issue of salary caps in county cricket was raised but soon dismissed when it became apparent Surrey was the only club with the resources to come anywhere close to the limits laid down by the ECB and the PCA.
Looking ahead Strauss confirmed he would be in Sydney later in the year for the celebrations marking the centenary of the birth of Richie Benaud; he said he would be attending the service of thanksgiving at Randwick, which is to be conducted by the Rev David Warner. Those expected to travel to Sydney for the occasion include prominent broadcasters Stuart Broad and Mark Wood. The MCC president, Ebony Rainford-Brent, will also be in attendance.
Finally Strauss was upbeat about the domestic game in England. The 50-over competition, which was reinvigorated by the 2027 World Cup win, was won by Worcestershire at Trent Bridge. Meanwhile the Championship with its 12-team premier division was won for the third time in five years by Somerset. The reduced second division, comprising six semi-professional teams and only five four-day fixtures, was headed by Derbyshire, who now replace Leicestershire in the top division.
The traditional climax to the season, the Blast final, was another rip-roaring success played out in front of a sell-out crowd at Edgbaston. When Strauss was asked how anyone had ever entertained the idea that the Blast should be threatened or superseded by a competition called The Hundred at the start of the decade, he replied tersely: “I’m not here to talk about ancient history.” One of his aides was more forthcoming at the suggestion of revisiting The Hundred concept. “There’s more chance of getting shit from a rocking horse”.
You may have spotted this contributor to the Spin is none too enamoured by the prospect of The Hundred. That remains the case but one announcement last week from the England and Wales Cricket Board’s unrelenting publicity machine prompted a rare – or should I say unprecedented? – nod of approval.
My argument with The Hundred is not so much about the format. It stems more from the fact that the three prime months of the summer will, in essence, be devoted to short-form cricket. So any young cricketer with a brain will now hone his short-form skills long before anything else. The domestic schedule will become hopelessly unbalanced. However, I applaud the appointment of Moeen Ali as captain of the Birmingham-based team. Having him in charge may attract new fans in a manner way beyond an abundance of press releases, daft team names, inappropriate sponsors and a cacophony of fireworks.
It is none of my business but I do fret about the current path of Moeen’s career. I like the idea of the best players being in the Test squad and if England were taking the strongest possible squad to Sri Lanka Moeen would be in it. The notion that Matt Parkinson will be of greater use is, of course, a nonsense. It seems a bad miscalculation not to have offered Moeen a Test contract on the realistic basis that there are no obvious alternatives out there. If necessary, maybe they could have diverted some cash from the firework budget.
The impetus to have Moeen in the side may be less obvious in the summer, depending upon how his replacements fare in Sri Lanka. So it is not guaranteed that he will return to Test cricket then especially since he is already committed to IPL cricket in April and now The Hundred come July and August. Moeen has 181 Test wickets. Among English spinners he might have gone past Jim Laker (193) by the end of the Sri Lanka tour with power (and wickets) to add in the summer of 2020. Joe Root and Chris Silverwood will regret his absence in Galle in less than a month’s time. I hope Moeen does not feel the same.
“Obviously we’ll cross paths playing against each other, but I don’t have his number” – David Warner had no intention of clearing the air with Quinton de Kock before last week’s T20 series opener, following their stairwell clash during Australia’s last visit to South Africa in 2018.
Jos Buttler is eager to ‘repay some faith’ after his recent Test struggles for England, writes Ali Martin.
Four-day Tests? Not if I have anything to do with it, warns the ECB’s Tom Harrison.
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