Tom Harrison: Ashes defeat a 'brilliant opportunity' for England to 'reset' importance of red-ball cricket
Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, has acknowledged the need to "reset" England's red-ball fortunes in the wake of an "exceptionally difficult" Ashes campaign, after insisting that "our priority is Test cricket".
Speaking to reporters in Hobart, Harrison echoed the sentiments of England's Test captain, Joe Root, who had called on the ECB to match the efforts they put into white-ball cricket in the wake of the 2015 World Cup - a focus that, four years later, delivered victory on home soil in the 2019 event.
And while England continue to excel across one-day formats - despite falling in the semi-finals at the T20 World Cup, they are the No. 1-ranked side in that format and No. 2 in ODIs - they are currently rock-bottom in the World Test Championship, and have won just one of their last 13 matches, with nine defeats.
England's draw in Sydney last week was only their second non-defeat in 14 Tests in Australia, dating back to the 2013-14 whitewash, and came after a humiliating innings defeat in Melbourne in which England had surrendered the Ashes in just 12 days.
"Our priority is Test cricket," Harrison said. "We want to be successful at white-ball cricket, of course we do, but we absolutely need to be successful at Test cricket.
"It feels like this is a moment to reset the importance of red-ball cricket in our domestic schedule, for us to recalibrate how we play first-class cricket in the UK. It's a brilliant opportunity for us to come together as a game and really sort that once and for all."
A review of the series is due to be compiled by Ashley Giles, the managing director of men's cricket, and Mo Bobat, the performance director, and Harrison will take the recommendations to the board, after it has been ratified by Andrew Strauss, the chairman of ECB's cricket committee.
With Giles having hinted that cosmetic changes will not resolve the game's deep-seated issues, the recommendations are likely to include the retention of Root at Test captain, even though he has now overseen consecutive defeats on Ashes tours - the first England captain to do so in more than a century.
Harrison's tenure began in the wake of the 2015 World Cup, and he has since staked his reputation on the establishment of the Hundred - a competition that runs at the height of the English summer and which has caused the County Championship to be pushed ever further to the margins of the season.
And despite some attempts to reposition red-ball cricket in the 2022 domestic schedule - which is due to be published next week - England's failure to compete on equal terms at any stage of the Ashes has underlined how critical the Test team's fortunes have become.
Speaking earlier in the week, Zak Crawley blamed the standard of county pitches for England's batting struggles in the course of this series, while the use of the Dukes ball, with its propensity to swing for longer periods than Australia's Kookaburra, is another factor that Harrison said would have to come into consideration.
"Sometimes the ability to effect change on something as complicated as our schedule is when you have a performance-related issue, and we have one now," Harrison said. "This has been an exceptionally difficult tour. I don't think we can get away from the fact that it has been another very disappointing episode in our ongoing attempt to win the Ashes in Australia.
"We have really got to get to the bottom of this once and for all now and make sure the debate is answering the questions we are asking. We must not be afraid of some of these questions. Let's have the right balance of red and white ball, let's look at when we play red-ball cricket, the pitches we play on, the ball we use."
England's recent problems have been exacerbated by factors beyond the ECB's direct control - most particularly the onset of Covid-19 and the need to operate in bio-secure environments - but the crammed international schedule is an aspect of the modern game that Harrison acknowledged would have to be reviewed, even if a reduction in fixtures comes with a financial hit.
"We do have to look at the schedule - everyone knows that," Harrison said. "The way we manage player workloads is clearly going to be a matter of premium concern as we go forward in 2022. Internationally, when we get out of the immediate aftermath in the wake of Covid, we've got to look at how we manage fixture workloads.
"This is something that the chief executives' committee at ICC need to tackle. It is a difficult challenge for world cricket."
The ECB is also dealing with the fallouts of the racism inquiry at Yorkshire, with the department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee concluding that the sport has a "deep-seated" problem, and warning that it needs to "clean up its act" if it is to qualify for future government funding.
"We welcome the scrutiny," Harrison said. "It's been a difficult few months for us. We have the opportunity to come out of this crisis with a roadmap that demonstrates that we are absolutely serious about tackling discrimination in our sport, not just racism."
Despite the heightened scrutiny on his tenure, Harrison would not be drawn on the issue of the £2.1 million bonus pool that the ECB's senior management are set to share among themselves after the launching of the Hundred.
"That is a question about an employment contract," he said. "The board set the criteria on which we are judged and that's a matter for them."