Ben Stokes’ schedule warning has been heard, says ECB chief Clare Connor

Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes has withdrawn from one-day internationals but will continue to play Tests and T20s for England

Clare Connor, interim chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said Ben Stokes’ warning about the schedule’s demands on top players was “absolutely heard”.

England Test captain Stokes withdrew from one-day internationals last month, partly because of the relentless schedule.

He and Jonny Bairstow also signed off from The Hundred to rest.

“We need to listen to those who are expected to deliver, entertain and inspire,” said Connor.

The former England women’s captain stepped down temporarily from her role as ECB chief executive for women’s cricket in June when Tom Harrison left his post as chief executive.

Connor is expected to remain in the interim role until at least the fall and hasn’t ruled out applying for the job full-time. Irrespective of this, a new CEO is to be appointed shortly.

In a wide-ranging interview, Connor told BBC Sport:

  • It was a “huge blow” for The Hundred Stokes and Bairstow are absent
  • The “healing process” after the racism scandal has begun
  • English cricket should brace for further trouble with an independent report on the fairness of the game due later this year
  • The women’s T20 competition at the Commonwealth Games will paint a “favorable picture” for cricket’s bid to compete in the Olympics
  • “Unpopular” national structure decisions may need to be made to help England men’s teams

“We listened carefully to Ben”

After announcing his retirement from ODIs, Stokes said: “There’s too much cricket in there for people to be able to play all three formats now.

“We’re not cars, you can’t just fill us up and we go out and we’re ready to be filled up again.”

Connor, who has won more than 100 caps for England, said she doesn’t have “all the answers” to ease the busy calendar but understands the need to limit player demands.

“We listened carefully to what Ben said,” she said. “That’s something we have to deal with – that’s us with players, other bodies, the International Cricket Council and the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

“The players are at the heart of what we need to do to move the game forward. Without them we don’t have a game that has the wow factor to inspire.”

The Hundred began Wednesday with defending champions Southern Brave Welsh Fire to defeat comfortably.

Despite acknowledging the disadvantageous absence of Stokes and her international team-mate Bairstow, as well as injured England captain Heather Knight, from the women’s tournament, Connor said the competition will not suffer from “second-season syndrome”.

Connor pointed to ticket sales reaching 500,000 before the tournament began, just 10,000 down from last year’s inaugural event.

“The whole game should be confident that we have another brilliant month of 100-ball cricket ahead of us,” she said.

“The Healing Has Begun”

Connor has taken over as CEO after a year in which English cricket was inundated with racism allegations from former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq and others.

Rafiq called the English game “institutionally racist”, while a parliamentary report recommended public funding be withheld unless “steady, demonstrable progress” was made in eradicating “deep-seated racism”.

In response, in November the ECB published a five-point plan with “12 concrete actions” to combat discrimination and racism.

“The game came together and apologized to the people it had let down,” Connor said. “We’re not where we should be yet, but we’re making really good progress.

“I think the healing has started. We fully recognize that we are not yet the modern, inclusive sport that we need to be for everyone to feel welcome in it.

“It’s about cricket being a game for all, achieving gender balance and serving communities that it has failed in the past.”

In June, Yorkshire and a number of people were indicted by the ECB over racism allegations against the club.

One of the accused, former coach Andrew Gale, has said he will not take part in the trial, was not questioned by the ECB and his “life was ruled by baseless allegations”.

However, Connor said “categorically” that the disciplinary process, which was conducted by the independent Cricket Disciplinary Committee, was fair to all parties.

“I have no illusions about the wellbeing challenge that this poses for many people,” Connor said.

“I am absolutely confident that it is robust and fair and will come to a conclusion that we must reach in order to move forward.”

Separate from the racism inquiry, the Independent Commission on Justice in Cricket will issue a report later this year.

“I don’t think we should be under the illusion that the game will likely have another period of uneasiness to enjoy and grow from,” Connor added.

“I trust what they are telling us it will be a fair picture of our reality and the truth of where cricket still needs to improve. We have to accept that.”

Possible “unpopular” decisions about domestic game

Former England captain Andrew Strauss is leading a ‘high-performance trial’ aimed at making the men’s national team the best team in the world in all three game formats.

Part of the review will likely include recommendations for changes to the structure of the domestic game.

On Wednesday, The Cricketer reported a fan poll showing opposition to a reduction in County Championship games, which Stokes then appeared to support on Twitter.

“So damn loud,” he wrote.

Although Connor explained it was too early to know the recommendations, she said “unpopular” decisions could be made if they serve to improve the England team.

“The main task of the high-performance review is that the England men’s team is the best in the world in three formats,” she said.

“The domestic structure of men is central to where players are developed and how English cricket as a system plays its part in that overall goal.

“It’s an opportunity for cricket to move forward and make systemic improvements.”

“50-50” for Olympic inclusion in 2028

Connor admitted she was “whiny” as she watched the England team attend the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, where a women’s T20 competition marked the return of cricket after a 24-year absence.

More than 150,000 tickets have been sold for the Edgbaston games, meaning the games will have a higher average attendance than any other global women’s cricket tournament.

Connor admitted she was “50-50” about whether cricket will succeed in being included in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics but believes the success of the Commonwealths will boost the bid.

“Viewership, ticket sales and momentum around women’s sport will paint a favorable picture,” she said.

“Discussions are ongoing with the ICC and the International Olympic Committee about how cricket could play a role in the 2028 Olympics and what that would be. Would it be a tournament for minors, men and women, or just women? All of that has to be worked through.”

When asked if she would like to keep the chief executive position on a permanent basis, Connor admitted she wasn’t “put off” by her temporary stint in the role.

“It’s an honor to be in this position,” she said. “I’m enjoying it and will see where I am in the coming months.”

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