TThe appointment of Richard Thompson as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board after a successful spell in Surrey brings cautious optimism at a time when the sport faces significant challenges on a number of fronts. Although Thompson doesn’t officially begin his five-year term until September 1, there’s a lot waiting for the 55-year-old in his inbox. What are the most urgent points?
Appoint a new CEO and review the ECB
Thompson fills only part of the leadership vacuum at the ECB, as a permanent chief executive is still needed after Tom Harrison stepped down in May and Clare Connor temporarily took over the reins.
It is inevitable that Richard Gould, Chief Executive of Thompson in Surrey, will be linked, given the two’s success in transforming the county into a financial hub with a growing membership. Whether Gould can be lured back to cricket after his move to Bristol City last year is another question.
Johnny Grave, Cricket West Indies officer, and Wasim Khan, now with the International Cricket Council, would be strong candidates, while Durham chief executive Tim Bostock is well regarded. Others will emerge as Thompson begins a process that’s high on his to-do list.
Although the ECB is financially strong, its structures are expected to be reviewed, both culturally and given its current, some would say bloated, size. The ECB employed an average of 458 staff in 2021-22 with an annual wage bill of £54m, up from £221m and £21m respectively over a decade.
Richard Thompson speaks during Surrey’s annual general meeting in April. Photo: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for Surrey CCC
The composition of the ECB’s Executive Board, from which Thompson resigned in 2018, is also likely to be assessed in light of last year’s aborted tour of Pakistan, (mis)handling of the Yorkshire affair and concerns about a lack of cricket experience. A vote for the domestic game will at least return with two top-flight chairmen attending board meetings without voting rights starting next month.
The ICEC report and EDI
Perhaps the biggest iceberg on the horizon comes when the Independent Commission on Justice in Cricket releases its report on discrimination this autumn.
In response to the fallout from Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations in Yorkshire, the English game has already embarked on a 12-point plan to fight racism and promote inclusion and diversity, with a focus on education, dressing room culture, talent paths and governance.
But the ICEC is reviewing more than 4,000 pieces of evidence submitted from all levels of the pyramid and while no conclusions are yet to be drawn, a scathing verdict is expected after Cindy Butts, its chairwoman, said the sport is “facing a reckoning”.
Thompson’s achievements in Surrey include leading the African-Caribbean Engagement Scheme and he has said he will work tirelessly to make cricket the “most inclusive sport in the country”.
The ECB’s response to the ICEC report will be among the first stress tests of that pledge, as will the disciplinary proceedings that have arisen from the situation in Yorkshire and will likely culminate at the same time.
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Thompson voted against the Hundred as Surrey chairman but will now lead a governing body that has set the future of the tournament through to 2028 with a Sky deal extension. Only the terrestrial rights from 2025 are outstanding.
As such, he must make the Hundred work and find a way to heal the apparent division she has sown. Even as a supporter of the counties, his stated desire for “collaboration” and “partnership” has been significantly challenged.
There are positives. Women’s football was given a decent stage – notwithstanding the pay gap – and there were some early indications that a new (or at least previously extinct) audience was being stimulated by the bold coat of marketing paint and terrestrial coverage.
Trent Rockets’ Alana King celebrates her hat trick in the Hundred against Manchester Originals. The increased limelight for women’s football is one of the positive aspects of the tournament, but there are divisions that need to be remedied. Photo: Jan Kruger/ECB/Getty Images
But anger remains that English cricket has twisted into a pretzel for a tournament that should boost the sport as a whole. The previously thriving T20 Blast has been crushed, the Royal London Cup debased and the County Championship still mostly Spring/Autumn; Every convert over the hundred finds himself caught up in a bitter, unresolved dispute.
More harmonization of short-form competitions seems imperative, e.g. B. More player contracts in the Hundred, which depend on the performances in The Blast. Thompson must also address concerns about the financial imbalance in staging revenue for host countries, worth up to £800,000 a year.
The question then becomes whether the ECB will reject or accept outside investment in the Hundreds as Indian Premier League team owners build empires. It’s a weighty decision as there’s no way to put the toothpaste back in the tube once private money enters the equation.
The high performance test
While the Hundred’s continued existence seems certain, there is further fear and revulsion in the counties at the high-performance trial directed by Andrew Strauss and, most importantly, talk of a truncation of the County Championship.
From their current 14 Red Ball games (up from 16 in 2016), could the districts get 12 or even just 10? Nothing has been decided yet and the review will only make recommendations for the future national structure; Changes would still have to be approved by 12 of the 18 top-class chairs in September.
Still, the status quo is unlikely to work for everyone and Strauss has put on record that the recent surge in English men’s Test cricket has not remotely reduced the need for reform. Thompson, who took part in the review, has said in the past: “We cannot allow red ball cricket to decline any further.” Whatever the next configuration, he is expected to increase centralized promotion of the district competitions, to make sure the Hundred isn’t the only showcase.
The global game
Thompson’s tenure comes at a time of existential angst for the sport worldwide. The rise of domestic T20 leagues (including the expansion of the Indian Premier League) and annual global events are shrinking opportunities for bilateral international cricket. However, like Sky’s extension of English cricket coverage, the future tour program for 2023-27 was agreed ahead of Thompson’s start date and means the two spheres are competing for players and space. The big question is what form the sport will take at the end of this period. The recent decision of Ben Stokes to retire from ODI Cricket, Trent Boult stepping down from his New Zealand contract and South Africa canceling an ODI series in Australia to host its new T20 league in January all have the tensions clear did.
Middlesex’s Max Holden during the Vitality Blast game against Surrey this summer. Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images
The ICC rarely takes the lead on such matters, but as a representative of the ECB, one of the more powerful member bodies, Thompson is among those charged with creating a balanced, fairer landscape that prevents cricket from cannibalizing itself and the supremacy of Test cricket protects.
Thompson may also want to assess England’s core contracting system for the men’s and women’s teams to ensure they adequately reflect this.