The ECB are set for an uncomfortable afternoon after news that Andy Nash has been called to give evidence to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS).
Colin Graves, the ECB chairman, and Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, had already been called to give evidence to the committee on October 23. They will be asked to justify whether their strategies are capitalising on the success of England winning the men’s World Cup earlier in the year.
In particular, the committee of 11 MPs are keen to investigate how the World Cup can boost participation and increase revenues in the sport. They are sure to examine whether the ECB’s new tournament, The Hundred, is a suitable vehicle for growth and engagement.
But it is Nash’s appearance that promises to be most explosive. The former Somerset chairman resigned from the board of the ECB 18 months ago in protest at “standards of corporate governance… falling well short of what’s acceptable”. He also suggested there was “a move to promote eight counties as the first among equals” which, he suggested threatened the viability of the 18-county system.
While Nash had, as Somerset chairman, voted for a new competition, he had previously chaired a working party which called for promotion and relegation in the T20 Blast as the means to revitalise the domestic game, a plan that was initially backed by the CEOs of the first-class counties.
Since his resignation, however, Nash has been a particularly vocal critic of the ECB and is adamantly opposed to The Hundred. It is believed his main theme will be that the new competition represents what he considers a huge and unnecessary risk.
A representative from the Cricket Supporters Association, Becky Fairlie-Clarke, is also expected to provide testimony and share research given by supporters. There are rumours that the public gallery will be filled with supporters wearing t-shirts calling for The Hundred to be scrapped. Each side – the ECB and the four representatives of supporters – will have two hours to make their case. The format is question and answer.
Clare Connor, Managing Director of Women’s Cricket at the ECB and Lord Patel of Bradford, who is a non-executive director, are also representing the ECB, while Laura Cordingley, CEO of Chance to Shine, and Chris Willetts, co-founder of Platform Cricket – a project aimed at increasing the number of children from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds progressing in cricket – will also be giving evidence.
The potential outcomes of the hearing are unclear but it is possible the committee will call for more cricket to be shown free to air. Certainly that was the implication of Clive Efford’s words when he spoke to The Telegraph during the World Cup final. “Money can’t buy the impact of having these games available to the whole nation,” the Labour MP for Eltham said. “There’s another generation of fans and players that need to be inspired. The time has come for a review.”
At present there is no live cricket on the government’s list of sporting events that are required by law to be shown free-to-air.
2020 will actually see more cricket broadcast free-to-air than for many years. The BBC are showing two men’s and one women’s T20Is as well as around a dozen Hundred games, while several counties are aiming to broadcast their T20 matches on Facebook.
But while the committee may steer short of making such a recommendation – a recommendation the ECB have felt for many years would prove catastrophic for their financial position – any criticism from them may prove deeply embarrassing to the ECB management. Intriguingly, a media release from the DCMS also suggested the committee is expected to “consider whether change is needed in cricketing governance.”