An Executive Who Could Not See the Wood for the Trees

Tom Harrison ends his reign as CEO of the England and Wales Cricket Board with the game in disarray. The principal victim of that is cricket in England and Wales, but it is also an unedifying end to the career of a man who brought a great deal to the sport. The TV rights package he negotiated in 2017 for over £1 billion has helped cricket in England and Wales weather the almighty storm that was the covid-19 pandemic, and he also played an important role in England winning two World Cups.

But, and it is a big but, he was not a leading figure in England’s success on the pitch. Rather, he has done a considerable amount of harm to England’s fortunes. The Hundred was at best a hare-brained scheme that ate up considerable reserves of cash and even more in goodwill. The County Championship is not a perfect competition, but it is loved by the stalwart fans of English cricket and pushing it aside to make way for a novelty franchise tournament was never likely to be well-received.

That the advent of the Hundred has coincided with a dreadful run of form for England’s Test side has only added to the opprobrium Harrison’s brainchild has attracted. Of course, he does not bear all of the blame for the Hundred, which a majority of the Counties voted for, but the tournament will almost certainly be his enduring legacy and not a positive one. If that seems unfair, it is worth remembering that Harrison made a rod for his own back with his forceful promotion of such a divisive competition.

In the end, Test cricket remains the pinnacle. That is how it should be. T20 cricket has its place, as does the 50-over game, but cricket is and ultimately should always be defined by the red-ball game. It is the ultimate test. When a bowler sends stumps cartwheeling with the red-ball, that is a far greater achievement than picking up a wicket thanks to a batter holing out in a desperate search for a boundary. Even if it they are third batter to hole out in as many balls.

Equally, every cover drive and square cut sent to the boundary has that much more meaning when the ball faced was red rather than white because it was a shot a batter did not need to play. One need look no further than Zak Crawley for evidence of that. But Harrison, though a former professional cricketer himself, did not seem to recognise that. Perhaps because he was always a salesman far more than he was a cricketer.

One cannot fault him for his performance in that role. But surely the CEO of the ECB must have a broader vision than that. Surely the brain’s trust at the ECB should be able to see that a knock-off of the IPL is not a panacea. Not least because English cricket already had a thriving T20 tournament of its own in the Vitality Blast. But Harrison evidently could not see any of this. Or if he did, he chose to ignore it which is a far more serious crime.

If there is a silver lining, it is that he is gone at last, even if it remains hard to understand how he clung on so long, remaining in his position after Joe Root and Chris Silverwood had surrendered theirs. All the while collecting a monthly salary of £55,000. At any rate, that is a faint silver lining. Particularly because Harrison was a product of his environment. His remit was, above all else, to increase the ECB’s revenues and he largely succeeded in that.

But it is hard to escape the feeling that the short-term gain will cause long-term pain. The Test team has rarely been weaker than it is heading into this summer, participation across the sport is dropping alarmingly (which is hardly a surprise in light of his handling of the various scandals to have engulfed the game), and England will surely only remain so well-supported if they actually start delivering results. Which, in short, means that there is a considerable amount of work to do for whoever is selected to replace Harrison.

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