'Not sure cricket's business model is sustainable'
There is a word that crops up frequently in articles about Angus Porter. Whether the subject is match-fixing, drug abuse or player welfare, the word "education" occurs again and again.
Because Porter, who will leave the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) shortly - the exact date depends when his successor starts; interviews have begun and a shortlist has been compiled - after nearly six years as chief executive, understood very early in the piece that prevention was better than cure. He understood, unlike one or two of his predecessors, that the PCA's most important work is not conducted at high-profile events or antagonistic exchanges with governing bodies, but in quiet classrooms and conference facilities where young players can be warned and prepared for the pitfalls that wait.
To that end, the PCA has, over the last few years, ensured that every player - overseas legend or naive youth - undergoes a tutorial into the dangers of corruption before their registration can be completed. Since 2012, when the ECB offered an amnesty on past indiscretions, Porter believes players "no longer have any excuse" should they become involved in corruption or even fail to report a corrupt approach.
Every player has access to a personal development officer - the six full-time PDAs are the PCA's largest cost - to help them with the inevitable problems of the transition into life after cricket and support and advice to help them cope with the challenges of a career in the game and life after it. Helplines encourage those with problems - financial, alcohol, depression - to get the assistance they require.
This will be the legacy of Porter's time at the PCA. He inherited an organisation with a proud history and an important role, but one that had serious financial worries and soured key relationships. He leaves a financially stable organisation - the core organisation has a budget of around £1m a year; the benevolent fund around £250,000 more - that quietly but effectively helps its members avoid trouble and is better placed to shape the game's future direction through improved relationships with the ECB.
There have been some missteps along the way. Porter winces when he recalls the infamous "outside cricket" media release in February 2014 (the PCA was, alongside the ECB, cosignatory to a statement that seemed to suggest that those not 'inside cricket' had no right to criticise the handling of the Kevin Pietersen affair) and, while he maintains his words in the aftermath of the booing of Moeen Ali at Edgbaston were taken out of context - he was quoted as saying that Moeen should interpret the boos as flattering - he admits they sounded crass. He subsequently withdrew his comments and apologised.
"The first was a bad phrase that suggested elitism," he says. "I didn't pick up on it and I should have done.
"Moeen has been a positive addition to the England team in every way. I meant to suggest how he could deal with the situation, but I should have made it absolutely clear that we deplore racism in any form. We didn't cover ourselves in glory that day."
But two such slips in a six-year career that has encompassed much drama and much change might be considered a fine effort. And now, as he reflects on his time in office, he is as well placed as anyone to provide an informed view of the challenges facing the game. His words do not make for entirely comfortable reading.
"I'm not at all sure the game's business model is sustainable," Porter says. "Test cricket is struggling and there is too much meaningless, forgettable cricket. We have to breathe new life into the format or, long term, I'm not sure it can survive. It requires serious reinvention.
"We are asking our players to play too much. The length of tours, the pressure of so much high-intensity cricket has led to problems with physical and mental burnout. And yes, we can split the workload between red- and white-ball squads and build up a larger pool of players, but we are always managing the symptoms without ever treating the illness.
"We're all running faster than ever to keep still. But we should admit the tide is coming in and make decisions that look beyond the next broadcast deal. Yes, we have Test match grounds to fill, but maybe that should be with a vibrant T20 product?
"At present, England is just about the only country trying to fulfil its FTP obligations home and away. I am not sure that we can continue to afford to do that. We are playing more than is sensible."
While there will be be much nodding of heads among administrators at such words, finding a solution is not easy. As Porter puts it, "there is a lot to be said for promotion and relegation in Test cricket. But you immediately run into trouble with broadcasters wanting to know exactly who will be playing, when and what for.
"Day-night matches may well be a component in the answer, but they are not the full answer. We need every game to count for something and we need less cricket.
"Do we really want two tours a summer? Do we really want four- and five-Test tours? The pace of the game has increased in every way except over rates: should we be looking at four-day Tests and should we adopt the points method used in women's cricket where success in T20Is, ODIs and Tests is combined to decide the best side?"
At least the PCA is in a position now where its views are respected. When Porter started, the players' union was seen as "an irritant" - his description - and, as a result, was not fully trusted to play a part in planning for the future.
"About 80% of the time, we are in agreement with the ECB," Porter says of the situation now. "So if you work with them in a constructive way 80% of the time, you earn the credibility and the right to a bloody good argument when you think it is absolutely necessary.
"But there really haven't been many. I've found a lot of good people at the ECB trying to make the right decisions for the right reasons. Andrew Strauss is smart and he gets it. Tom Harrison will prove a very good hire.
"I inherited a relationship with the ECB that was not good. But I found that by being honest, I won their respect and, over time, we all saw that what is good for the game is good for players and we were better looking for solutions together.
"The PCA, in those days, was like an eager teenager, trying lots of different things. We needed to settle down and focus on representing players' interests. Preparing them for the transition to life after cricket is still the most important thing we do."
Tim May, the former CEO of FICA, famously stated that cricket was run "through threats, intimidation and backroom deals" but Porter, who has been treasurer of FICA, hardly recognises that portrayal.
"Tim was operating on the international stage," Porter says. "And against boards that didn't recognise the organisation. At international level, we have little strength. The ICC has been struggling to define its own role and the FTP is a mess.
"So we have to play the long game. We have to focus on our core role - which is player welfare and player safety - and express our views in a constructive manner. We may never succeed in India, but if we prove ourselves over the next five or 10 years, we may make progress."
They have certainly made progress in England over the last six years. Whether it is preparing players for life after cricket, protecting them against the lure of match-fixing and gambling, helping the widows of former players make ends meet or shaping discussions with the ECB, the PCA is better placed than it ever has been to make a positive contribution to the game. Players, past, future and present, have much to thank Porter for.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo