English players criticise ECB's 'lack of information and clarity'
The Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) has confirmed reports of disquiet among its members by criticising the "lack of information and clarity" around the new 100-ball tournament that the ECB is set to launch in 2020.
PCA representatives have been touring the 18 first-class counties since March, canvassing opinions from 85 percent of its players. And, in a statement on Wednesday, they revealed widespread misgivings about the "future of the game", ahead of the meeting with the ECB on May 8 in which further details of the new competition will be discussed.
Given that the majority of those opinions were voiced ahead of last week's surprise announcement, the concerns among professional cricketers are likely to have deepened in recent days, although the PCA reiterated that it had not yet had the chance to canvas the views of the "wider playing membership".
The concept of "The Hundred" had been shrouded in such secrecy prior to its announcement last Thursday that only three active professional cricketers had been privy to the details - two England captains in Eoin Morgan and Heather Knight, and Daryl Mitchell, the co-chairman of the PCA, who admitted to ESPNcricinfo last week that he had been "taken aback" by the proposal.
Mitchell had also rejected initial claims from the ECB that it had been "enthusiastically received at all of the meetings", pointing out that he represented 420 players, and until the PCA had canvassed their views, "it's too early to say".
"The major concern of the players is around the lack of information and clarity regarding the new tournament," read a PCA statement. "The future of domestic cricket as a whole was a lead topic with a fear the 50-over competition is being devalued with no clear pathway to one-day international cricket while there is apprehension on how the County Championship will fit into the structure. Restrictions on being released to play overseas is also an area the PCA will seek clarification on.
"While members are very positive about the new broadcast deal with cricket returning to free-to-air television and the influx of extra money coming into the game, players are concerned about the uncertainty on signing county contracts beyond 2019 and want assurances a fair proportion of the money will be spent on player salaries throughout the professional game."
Mitchell, however, remains optimistic that he can help to allay his members' fears. "Over the past two months we have had face-to-face discussions with over 85% of the current playing membership and listened to issues that are directly affecting players," he said.
"We have had extremely open conversations and listened to every viewpoint across the counties. These have all been recorded and we will be feeding these concerns into discussions and negotiations with the ECB over the coming months.
"There are a lot of questions which remain unanswered and this is becoming a concern to the membership. Along with Non-Executive chairman Matthew Wheeler, I will be heavily involved in making sure these concerns are eased as we aim to secure the future of professional cricketers in England and Wales."
On the broader picture of the landscape for domestic cricket in the future, the ECB has set up a working group under the chairmanship Wasim Khan, the Leicestershire chief executive, to examine the structure of the game from 2020.
Wasim will be joined by three county directors of cricket (Keith Greenfield of Sussex, Ashley Giles of Warwickshire, and Yorkshire's Martyn Moxon); two chief executives (Derek Bowden of Essex and Glamorgan's Hugh Morris); Mark Wallace and Ian Thomas from the PCA, plus Andrew Strauss, John Carr and Alan Fordham from the ECB.
"All of us on the working group are united by our passion for county cricket," Wasim said. "These are challenging and occasionally unsettling times for some of the game's most loyal supporters, but there are also huge opportunities. It's an honour and privilege for all of us to play our part in coming up with the best responses to those challenges to ensure that the county game continues to thrive."
Gordon Hollins, the ECB's chief operating officer, said: "At such a significant time for the domestic game, it is crucial that we recognise the unique qualities of our existing county structure, ensure it is protected and that it retains the opportunity to thrive within the context of the changes that are coming in a couple of years time.
"The cricket landscape is changing rapidly, both domestic and international - and the counties are very much at the sharp end of that change.
"A number of subjects and proposals have been raised in various forums over the last few weeks and months, such as a new conference structure for the Specsavers County Championship, and the question of what other cricket should be played during the new ECB tournament later in the summer of 2020."
The working group has been asked to present a report to the ECB's cricket committee later in the season.