Andrew Strauss has urged English cricket to seize a unique opportunity to embrace radical change or accept a role among the also-rans of international cricket.
Strauss, the director of the England team, admitted that England have “a long-standing problem” with their record in Test cricket away from home, but feels that a “reasonably radical” shake-up of both mindset and structure could provide an opportunity to build “sustained success”.
Strauss, who announced on Tuesday that he would be taking an extended break from the game to spend time with his family, has recently completed a review into England’s grim Test form over the last couple of winters. England have not won any of their most recent 13 away Tests and have lost 10 of them. Partially as a result, they have slipped to No. 5 in the ICC’s Test rankings.
But while he admits the team “hasn’t been good enough”, he now feels he has identified areas in which they can improve. Key to those is identifying “point of difference” players earlier in their career and adopting a more flexible approach to selection and gameplan away from home.
“We need to be better away from home,” Strauss said. “Over the last two or three years the performance of our Test team away from home hasn’t been good enough. Actually, it’s been a long-standing problem. Our performances over the last 40 years or so away from home have been below world average.
“If you look at English cricketers since the turn of the century, less than a handful have better records away from home than at home. So if everyone in our team is significantly worse away from home, the likelihood is the team as a whole will be significantly worse.
“The only two times we have peaked above world average is when we got to No. 1 in the world in 2011 and when we got to No. 2 in the world in 2004 under Michael Vaughan. So we need to focus on this long-standing approach and we need a game-wide approach.”
As well as announcing six new scouts – all of them former international players and all of them urged to compile reports on players who could be of interest to the selectors if developed appropriately – Strauss also felt that changes to the domestic structure and the ECB’s relationship with counties provided an opportunity to set in place a system whereby overseas success could be made more achievable.
“If we genuinely want to make a step forwards as regard to winning away from home, we have to be prepared to approach things very differently,” Strauss said.
“We should be far more flexible about the way we play our cricket away from home. We can’t just presume that what works at home will work away. We need to be more flexible and creative both in the way we play and the way we select.
“And we have to have more skilful players who are able to encounter the conditions away from home. When you delve beneath the surface, the areas we are most deficient at this stage is on flat wickets that don’t swing or seam. And that’s both with bat and ball.
“We’ve a very blank canvas to work from. We’re negotiating our relationship with the county game at the moment, there’s conversations going on into what’s the right domestic structure.
“We’ll never have as blank a canvas again so we have to grab that with both hands and recognise that, if English cricket is to have sustained success – which is not something we’ve done up to now – we need to come up with some proposals that are reasonably radical to allow us to win consistently at home and abroad. This is our opportunity to do that.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Strauss also confirmed the midnight curfew would remain in place both home and away and confirmed the ECB would consider splitting the England coaching role into two jobs – a limited-overs role and a Test cricket role – once Trevor Bayliss’s period at the helm ends after the 2019 English season.
“We have learned a lot of lessons over the winter. We have sharpened up with the way we deal with things. Players are clear about what is expected of them while on England duty and I reaffirmed that today when I spoke to the players. The players got used to the curfew over the course of the winter. We are a high-performance environment and guys being professional about how they prepare for games is not something that should be frowned upon. It should be expected of players. They’re comfortable with it.
“I think there is definitely an opportunity to look at that a bit more creatively. It is very hard for one coach to coach all formats. It is possible and most other teams go down that route. But we play more cricket than anyone else, and that is something we will definitely be looking at as part of that process.”
“The fact that other teams also struggle away from home is an opportunity. If we can do slightly better than our opposition, it’s the difference between being No. 1 in the world and No. 5. It’s your form away from home more than your home form. I don’t think it’s related to warm-up games. There have been times teams have been on tour for six months and still had the same results we’ve had recently.”
“One of the challenges with the World Test Championship is that teams are going to be increasingly desperate to win away from home, so the ICC need to think carefully about what they can do to mitigate that. But there are two sides to that argument and one thing we don’t want is for Tests to descend into very boring, long-winded draws. We want exciting cricket and people on the edge of their seats. What we’ve seen with the toss in this country is that you can shake the game and in some ways affect the behaviour of the players and the way they approach their cricket.”
“So we have to identify players in and around the county game who can offer something different away from home. We have to identify players who have a point of difference and work with them to help them develop. They won’t necessarily be ready to play for England, but if we can identify guys who can bowl 90 mph, guys with unique talent as a spin bowler, left-arm seamers and bowlers with reverse-swing skills and then get our lead coaches working with them, getting together with their counties to put in place a joint program.”
“The schedules are what they are. So our job is to manage the workload of our players. Pretty much all our all-format players had some time off over the winter and most of our staff did, as well. And, if you have specialisation between red- and white-ball cricket, it gives you more flexibility to do that.”
“Players haven’t had much information about it yet. This is a consultation phase. We’ve launched the concept and we’ll be talking to the players over the coming months. There’s a long time between now and the first ball that is bowled in that tournament.”
Promotion and relegation in the County Championship:
“There’s no doubt that there are certain unintended consequences that come with two divisions. So the challenge for the group looking at the domestic structure is to work out the positives and negatives and which outweighs the other. We should always be open-minded about how we can make the domestic structure better and my focus is how we can develop young England players and make sure they get an opportunity to play. And the skills at domestic level have to match the skills at international level. If they’re two different games then that’s a problem for us.”