(Photo: Getty Images)
By Chris Stocks
Andrew Strauss, England’s director of cricket, announced last week he is taking compassionate leave to care for his wife, Ruth, who is battling cancer.
Former England coach Andy Flower will stand in for the 41-year-old for the summer. But before he stepped aside, Strauss spoke at Lord’s to share his views on the most pressing issues facing English cricket over the coming weeks, months and years.
Among the topics he spoke about were Ben Stokes, who is missing the Lord’s Test against India in July as he stands trial on a charge of affray following the incident in Bristol last September, England’s team discipline, the revamped scouting system under new chief selector Ed Smith, how to improve England’s away Test form, the future of the County Championship and of course, ‘The Hundred’…
“With regards to the trial, everyone knows it’s happening and everyone knows there is a process. He’s got to go through the trial then there’s a CDC (Cricket Discipline Commission) process that sits behind that. So no one is in the dark about what’s going to happen at the moment.
“I think for the time being it’s worth saying Ben’s spent a long period out of the England team over the winter. He’s missed the Ashes series and I know he’s desperately keen to make his mark while he’s in the England team ahead of that trial.”
“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 this week when I spoke to the players.
“It [curfew] is one thing the players got used to 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.”
“We have appointed Marcus Trescothick, Glen Chapple, Steve Rhodes, Richard Dawson, Chris Read and James Taylor as scouts.
“They will be compiling reports on players of interest to us. But they won’t do so on their own players, if they are involved in a county.
“The idea is for us to get better information on all the players in county cricket. This is not what some people think it is, around loads of data and statistics. This is about getting qualitative information on what England’s needs are.”
“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.”
“It’s been a long-standing problem. So 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. We need to be more flexible and creative both in the way we play and the way we select.
“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 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.”
“One of the challenges with the World Test Championship (coming in next year) 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 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 affect the behaviour of the players and the way they approach their cricket.”
“Schedules are what they are. So our job is to manage our players. Pretty much all of our all-format players had a period off during the winter and most of our staff did, as well. So that’s the way we deal with it. It was a long winter, it was a big challenge but there have been plenty of players who’ve been through that before and there’ll be plenty of players who will go through that again.”
“Players haven’t had much information about it yet. This is a consultation phase. We’ve launched the concept and we’ll be speaking to the players over the coming months. The tournament development team are talking to the England players and obviously the PCA (Professional Cricketers’ Association). There’s a long time between now and the first ball that is bowled in that tournament and the object now is to share the rationale behind it to bring it to life for everyone over the next 12 months or so.”
“There’s no doubt there are unintended consequences that come with two divisions. So the challenge 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.”