Cricketers demand county schedule scale back before ‘disaster’ happens

Joe Root – Cricketers demand county schedule scale back before 'disaster' happens

County cricketers have demanded a reduction in their “not fit for purpose” playing schedule, which they believe could contribute to a “disaster” on the roads.

The Professional Cricketers’ Association visited all 18 counties before the season began, conducting surveys about the schedule. They are now calling for a reduction in cricket and for the introduction of minimum standards that would force schedulers to place three days between Championship matches and abolish back-to-back T20 matches.

The PCA’s survey showed that:

  • 81 per cent of players say the fixture list causes them physical concerns

  • 76 per cent are worried about unsafe travel

  • 66 per cent say the schedule is not conducive to high-performance

  • 70 per cent say there should be a minimum of three days between four-day games

  • 78 per cent believe there should be at least one rest day between T20s

  • 66 per cent believe too much cricket is played in county cricket across the summer.

The shape and size of the schedule for 2025 is not yet confirmed, but it was discussed at last week’s meeting of the influential Professional Game Committee and is unavoidably linked to discussions around the future of the Hundred – and the sale of stakes in its teams to private investors, which is ongoing.

The PCA expects the volume of cricket to remain the same in 2025, but want a reduction. Teams currently play 14 four-day Championship matches, 14 matches in the Vitality Blast (plus knockouts) and eight matches (plus knockouts) in the MetroBank One-Day Cup, which runs alongside the Hundred (which is also eight matches long) in August. Liam Dawson is a prime example of the busy schedule: last season he played 14 Championship matches, 16 in the Blast, eight in the Hundred and three in the One-Day Cup.

It is highly unusual in T20 leagues for teams to play games on successive days, but pressure on the Blast schedule means that happens on 55 occasions this season (up from 34 last year), often with travel in between. In June, Gloucestershire play T20s on a Thursday (Cardiff) and Friday (Bristol) before starting a four-day match at Scarborough on Sunday morning. Daryl Mitchell, the PCA chief operating officer, believes this is “crazy”.

“Back-to-back games have gone up considerably, and are only looked at through a commercial lens,” said Mitchell. “Trying to ensure counties get as many Thursday and Friday nights to get bums on seats and generate revenues. We understand that, but there needs to be a balance.

“Over 10 per cent of our membership accessed our mental health services last year. It’s difficult to get away from the pressure of professional sport but I think the relentless schedule is a factor.

“There are reports of players who have got off the team bus, driven home and forgotten how they got there, almost on autopilot. Switching off while driving has an element of danger. We want to pre-empt it before anything disastrous happens, we want to make sure we are doing everything from a drive safety perspective. Driving late does concern us. Our CEO, Rob [Lynch] is worried about that, getting the call in the early hours of the morning when someone has driven off the M1 or whatever. That scares us. Seventy six per cent of players have concerns about safety when travelling at some point in the season, which is a high number.

“I don’t think it needs to be a massive reduction. But we need to create some space.”

Joe Root, the England and Yorkshire batsman, said the “creation of minimum standards to protect travel windows and player welfare is non-negotiable”.

“It is apparent the schedule needs to change for a host of reasons to see long-lasting benefits for English cricket,” said Root.

“I am fortunate to play a significant part of the season for Yorkshire this year and looking at the fixture list from a physical, wellbeing and high-performance angle does cause me concern.”

The Championship was last reduced – from 16 matches to 14 – for the 2017 season. Fourteen matches is plentiful by global standards (in Australia there are 10, New Zealand eight and West Indies seven), but none of those competitions have as vibrant a supporter base for domestic cricket, or the same weather concerns.

In 2022, the ECB’s Sir Andrew Strauss-led High Performance Review, which was commissioned in the wake of an Ashes drubbing in Australia, called for a reduction in the schedule, but was roundly rejected by the counties and their members. Fans value the Championship highly, while bosses at smaller counties are reluctant to lose Blast matches, which are their most lucrative days of the season.

“The power constitutionally is with the county chairs,” said Mitchell. “But from our side it needs a really joined-up approach. Our focus is player safety, physical or mental wellbeing. It needs to be collaborative between the ECB, PCA and the counties to come up with solutions.

“We could very easily put out a structure that the players think is ideal, but players also understand the need for the commercial side of the game, the passionate members we have in this country, who are the lifeblood of the counties, who are represented by their chairs. All these stakeholders need to have that approach.”

Whether cricketers would be prepared to be paid less for a thinner schedule is unclear, but Mitchell says county salaries have remained largely stagnant since 2019, with an average salary of around £55,000.

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