The ECB has announced a new range of measures designed to open cricket up to more diverse communities, after Tom Harrison, the chief executive, admitted that the Black Lives Matter movement had revealed some "uncomfortable truths" about the sport's relevance to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) players.
Speaking on the eve of the first Test against West Indies at the Ageas Bowl, where the England team will make a gesture of solidarity towards BLM, Harrison acknowledged recent criticism of the ECB's efforts at inclusion, including from Michael Carberry, the former England opener, who argued that black people are "not important to the structure of English cricket" and the former Derbyshire opener Chesney Hughes, who was left out of contract in 2017 despite averaging more than 50 the previous season.
In 2019, there were just two state-educated British-born black players playing professionally for any of the 18 first-class counties, one of whom featured in a solitary match. Last month, Vikram Solanki, the former England batsman, was appointed as Surrey's head coach, making him the first British Asian to be recruited for such a role.
"Alongside most of society, we have had to confront some uncomfortable truths in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement," said Harrison. "We have listened and will continue to listen carefully to the experiences of black people in cricket and society, and we thank those who worked tirelessly and spoke bravely to open up conversations about the change our sport needs to create.
"We have made strong strides in many areas to become a more inclusive and diverse sport, but we realise there is a great deal more to do."
The measures announced by the ECB include increased representation in leadership roles, a game-wide anti-discrimination charter and a bursary scheme for young black coaches, with a focus on "leadership, education and opportunity". There will also be a further drive to reintroduce cricket in primary schools, with a focus on ethnically diverse areas.
In addition, Harrison said that there would be further pressure on the first-class counties and county boards to adopt the Rooney Rule, which requires at least one BAME applicant to be interviewed for any job opening, and he challenged the sport to reach representation targets that reflect each county's local population by 2022.
"When it comes to governance reform, there is a certain process that you must go through," Harrison said, "but that doesn't mean that we can't inject some real adrenaline into that process to enable us to get to a better place quicker."
Although the ECB board currently meets the Sport England code of 30% gender diversity, Harrison acknowledged that the sport continued to fall short on ethnic representation, in spite of the adoption of programmes such as the South Asian Action Plan in 2018, and added that the ECB's recent AGM - held virtually due to the Covid outbreak - had further highlighted the organisation's "predominantly white elderly male demographic".
"That doesn't reflect the playing base of our game in this country - nor where we really want to be in the future if we're going to continue to grow and continue to be relevant," said Harrison. "When everything's going well in your sport, it's very easy to think all is well beneath the surface. We've got a warning here from the black community now, saying: 'Guys, you're not relevant to us right now.'"
Harrison acknowledged there were alarming parallels between the experience of the Windrush generation of black British cricketers, whose children were not given the opportunities to embrace cricket in this country, and the younger generation of Asian immigrants, who find themselves similarly excluded from English cricket's mainstream.
"I think the reality is that we've never cracked this challenge as a game in this country," said Harrison. "In the '50s, '60s and '70s, Britain was handed a generation of black cricketing fans, people who had a connection with the game through a family connection in the Caribbean. Those communities subsequently found life extremely difficult when coming to Britain and cricket was one of the ways in which they were able to connect and feel part of their community.
"What we have to understand now is that it's not just black communities, but a huge swathe of urban communities and diverse communities that don't feel cricket is making a real connection with them at the moment. That's work that we absolutely need to do. "The danger is that in a generation's time, if we don't get this right, we will suffer the same fate with respect to the South Asian community. In both of these situations, we're finding that there is a pattern here that we absolutely have to address - to change that scenario, to change that sense of disenfranchisement, to get under the skin of it and move forward together."
"In 15 or 20 years' time, if we've got that same problem with the South Asian communities, then you've just lost 35% of your participation just like that. It takes authentic effort, proper understanding of the issues and then a long and committed drive to reverse it. It will take a long time but it absolutely has to happen."