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PCA warns county cricket schedule could result in ‘disaster’ without cuts
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PCA warns county cricket schedule could result in ‘disaster’ without cuts

The Professional Cricketers Association has called for a cut in domestic cricket, warning that fixture congestion is compromising performance and could even result in “disaster” on the roads as exhausted players bounce from match to match.

Figures released by the union after a country-wide study at the start of the current season show that 81% of men’s players have concerns about the physical strain of the schedule and the heightened risk of injury, while 62% expressed similar worries about the impact on mental health. Two-thirds of PCA members believe there is too much domestic cricket, with the union calling the schedule “unfit for purpose”.

“There is a large number of players who don’t think the schedule is conducive to high-level performance,” said Joe Root, the former England captain, speaking in support of the findings. “If we can make the players safer and the output of the games a higher quality, English cricket is going to be winning full stop.”

The squeeze on the T20 Blast appears of particular concern, with the PCA noting 55 back-to-back fixtures for teams in 2024, up from 34 last summer. On the back of this comes a call for minimum standards regarding the number of rest days, as well as travel and accommodation provisions to ease late-night turnarounds.

Gloucestershire provide one example in June, with evening Blast games in Cardiff and Bristol on a Thursday and Friday before travelling 270 miles to Scarborough for a four-day match against Yorkshire that starts at 11am on the Sunday.

“Back-to-back games have gone up considerably, and only looked at through a commercial lens,” said Daryl Mitchell, the PCA’s chief operating officer. “We understand that, but there needs to be a balance. There are reports of players who have got off the team bus, driven home and forgotten how they got there, almost on autopilot. We want to pre-empt it before anything disastrous happens.

“Our chief executive, Rob [Lynch] is worried about getting the call in the early hours of the morning when someone has driven off the M1. That scares us. [Our research shows] 76% of players have concerns about safety when travelling. I don’t think it needs to be a massive reduction [in games] but we need to create some space.”

There are 78 days of cricket scheduled for county first XIs this season (excluding white-ball knockout stages), with 14 Championship matches per side, 14 group games in the T20 Blast, and eight in the One Day Cup. (Should players feature in the Hundred, which has eight group games, they miss the latter).

This actually represents a drop from 2010, for example, when teams played 16 four-day matches, 16 Blast group games and 12 in the Pro40. One difference is the arrival of the Hundred, which has pushed the Blast out of the school holidays and seen counties respond with more Thursday and Friday fixtures to boost crowds.

Achieving a further reduction will be problematic, not least after a move to cut the Championship in 2022 was thwarted by county memberships. And this expression of angst from the PCA notably comes while the next County Partnership Agreement – including the split of revenues from the next broadcast deal – is being negotiated.

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At the same time, the England and Wales Cricket Board is forging ahead with a plan to privatise teams in the Hundred, a seismic change to the fabric of the sport but one that is likely to appeal to a county network battling rising costs and saddled with around £200 million of debt collectively.

Enticed by a potential windfall – some projections say as much as £500m could be raised by this process – the 18 first-class counties and MCC have until 10 May to give a “non-binding” agreement to further explore this “direction of travel”.

Under the proposals, the eight host counties would be handed a majority 51% share of their Hundred side to keep or sell as they see fit, with the ECB selling the remaining 49%. The proceeds from the latter would be split between the counties and MCC, with 10% going to the recreational game.

Investors, expected to include those from the Indian Premier League, will be able to buy shares from both sides of the sale to claim a majority stake in a particular Hundred team. In turn they would receive up to 80% of revenues from ticket sales, sponsorship and the broadcast deal.

Source: theguardian.com