Ben Stokes’ warning about schedule requirements on top players has been heard “absolutely”, according to England and Wales Cricket Board interim chief executive Claire Connor.
England Test captain Stokes retired from international one-day play last month, in part due to a relentless schedule.
He and Johnny Bristow also opted out of The Hundred to rest.
“We have to listen to those who are expected to serve, entertain and inspire,” Connor said.
The former England women’s captain temporarily stepped up her role as ECB Women’s Cricket Director-General in June when Tom Harrison left his position as chief executive.
Connor will likely be in the temporary position until at least the fall and hasn’t ruled out applying for the full-time position. Separately, the appointment of a new Chairman of the Board of Directors is imminent.
In an extensive interview, Connor told BBC Sport:
- It’s a “hard blow” for cent To be missing Stokes and Bairstow
- The “healing” process began after the racism scandal
- English cricket should brace for further disruption from an independent report on fairness in the game, due later this year.
- Commonwealth Games women’s T20 competition will paint ‘favorable picture’ for inclusion of cricket in Olympics
- ‘Unpopular’ decisions may have to be made on the local structure in order to benefit England’s men’s teams
We listened closely to Ben.
After announcing his retirement from the ODIs, Stokes said: “There is a lot of cricket that people are shocked to play all three formats now.
“We’re not cars, you can’t just fill us up and we’ll go in there and be ready to refuel again.”
Connor, who has won more than 100 caps for England, said she doesn’t have “all the answers” to ease a crowded calendar, but she understands the need to define what players are being asked for.
“We listened closely to what Ben said,” she said. “It’s something we have to deal with – we are with other players, boards, the International Cricket Council and the Professional Cricketers Association.
“The players are at the heart of what we need to do to move the game forward. Without them, we don’t have a game that has the great inspiration factor.”
The hundreds race kicked off Wednesday with defending the men’s champion Southern Brave Comfortably defeating the Welsh Fire.
Although Connor acknowledged the damaging absence of Stokes and international teammate Bairstow, along with injured England captain Heather Knight from the Women’s Championship, she said the competition would not suffer from “Season Two Syndrome”.
Connor noted ticket sales reached 500,000 before the tournament began, just 10,000 less than the total ticket sales for last year’s inaugural event.
“The whole match should be confident that we will have another great month of 100-ball cricket,” she said.
Healing has begun
Connor took over as chief executive after a year that was inundated with racist allegations from former Yorkshire player Azeem Buddy and others in English cricket.
The English Companion called it “institutionally racist”, while a parliamentary report recommended that public funding should be withheld unless “continued, demonstrable progress” is made in eliminating “entrenched racism”.
In response, in November the European Central Bank published a five-point plan, including “12 concrete measures” aimed at tackling discrimination and racism.
“The match came and I was sorry for the people I let down,” Connor said. “We’re not where we want to be but we’re making really good progress.
“I think the recovery has begun. We are fully aware that we are not yet the modern and inclusive sport that we need for everyone to feel welcome in it.
“It’s about cricket being a game for everyone, becoming gender-balanced, and serving the communities that have failed them in the past.”
In June, the European Central Bank brought charges against Yorkshire and a number of individuals in connection with allegations of racism at the club.
One of the accused, former coach Andrew Gill, said he would not be involved in the operation, had not been interviewed by the European Central Bank, and his “life has been defined by baseless allegations”.
However, Connor said “unequivocally” that the disciplinary process, which was spearheaded by the Independent Cricket Disciplinary Committee, was fair to all parties.
“I have no illusion about the well-being challenge that this represents for so many people,” Connor said.
“I am absolutely confident that she is strong and fair and will reach a conclusion that we need to get to in order to move forward.”
Separately from the investigation into racism, the Independent Commission for Equality in Cricket is due to publish a report later this year.
“I don’t think we should be under the illusion that the game may have gone through another period of discomfort to accept and grow out of,” Connor added.
“What they tell us that I trust will be a fair picture of our reality and the truth that cricket still needs improvement. We have to embrace that.”
Possible ‘unpopular’ decisions about the local game
Former England captain Andrew Strauss is leading a “high performance review” that aims to make the men’s national team the best team in the world in all three forms of the game.
Part of the review will likely include recommendations for changes to the local game’s structure.
On Wednesday, The Cricketer reported a poll showing opposition to reducing county championship games, which Stokes then appeared to support on Twitter.
“Very bloody dad,” he wrote.
Although Connor made it clear it was too early to know what the recommendations were, she said “unpopular” decisions could be made if they were for the betterment of the England squad.
“The main mission of the high-performance review is for the England men’s team to be the best in the world by three formats,” she said.
“The local men’s structure is a key part of that in terms of where players are developed and how English cricket as a system plays its part in this overall ambition.
“It’s an opportunity for cricket to move forward and make methodological improvements.”
“50-50” on the inclusion of the 2028 Olympic Games
Connor admitted she was “crying” when she watched the England squad take part in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, with the women’s T20 competition marking the return of cricket to the action after a 24-year absence.
More than 150,000 tickets have been sold for matches in Edgbaston, which means the games will have an average attendance higher than any other women’s world cricket tournament.
Although Connor admitted she’s been “50-50” about whether cricket will succeed in her bid to join the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, she believes the success of the Commonwealth will boost the show.
“Watching the numbers, ticket sales and momentum around women’s sport will paint a favorable picture,” she said.
“Talks are underway with the ICC and the IOC about how cricket will look at the 2028 Olympics and what that will be. Will it be a tournament for minors, men and women, or only women? Trans.”
When asked if she wants to retain the CEO position on a permanent basis, Connor admitted that she was not “delayed” by the temporary time she had in the position.
“It is a great honor to be in this position,” she said. “I’m enjoying it and will see my place in the coming months.”