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Richard Thompson: ECB chair on fixing cricket's schedules and Hundred private equity interest

New ECB chairman Richard Thompson spoke to Sky Sports' Mike Atherton at the lunch break on day three of the first Test between Pakistan and England; watch day four from Rawalpindi live on Sky Sports Cricket from 4.30am on Sunday (first ball 5am)

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ECB chairman Richard Thompson joins Mike Atherton to discuss the Pakistan tour, the state of the English county system, the ECB setup and the future of Test cricket

ECB chair Richard Thompson is determined to ensure cricket’s expanding international tournament schedule and the growth of franchise competitions do not compromise the importance of bilateral series.

Just over three months into his new role, Thompson is currently out in Pakistan for the first Test in Rawalpindi as England make their first tour of the country for 17 years.

The tour comes on the back of a poorly received three-match ODI series in Australia which began just three days after England's T20 World Cup triumph and saw them slump to a 3-0 defeat against the hosts.

That, believes Thompson, is a sign of how crowded the international calendar has become, and he warned against global governing body the ICC taking too much of a step back and allowing franchise cricket to fill any gaps as well.

"As much as we talk about the English domestic structure, I'd say the international structure is even more challenging," Thompson told former England captain and Sky Sports cricket expert Mike Atherton at lunch on day three.

"If the game just chases money, the game will devour itself and will play a very big price for that. Coming here [to Pakistan] is not about money - the slogan around the ground of 'One Game, One Passion' sums it up for me.

"What cricket can do, possibly more than any sport, is cross through geopolitics and unite countries, and it can't just be about money. We at the ECB have got to stand up to that. We need to go and support Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries.

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What cricket can do, possibly more than any sport, is cross through geopolitics and unite countries, and it can't just be about money. We at the ECB have got to stand up to that.
ECB chair Richard Thompson

"It works on reciprocity; they visit us, we visit them, so how do we fix this in? Otherwise, you'll effectively have five nations playing against each other and the other nations will fall away - that would be wrong."

At present, the structure of the English domestic season will be the same in 2023 as it was this year, although Thompson is conscious of the need to bring the debate around which areas of the ECB's men's High-Performance Review to a close as soon as possible to give clarity on what 2024 onwards will look like.

The former Surrey chair and the ECB's recently appointed chief executive Richard Gould, formerly of Somerset and Surrey, were both vocal critics of The Hundred when it was first launched, although Thompson admits his stance has softened much since taking charge at the governing body.

Entering its third year in 2023, The Hundred recently attracted an offer of private equity investment reported to be in the region of £400m for a majority share of the tournament. That offer was passed on by the ECB, but Thompson wants to ensure it continues to flourish along with the T20 Vitality Blast, competed for by the 18 first-class counties.

Image: Richard Thompson hailed The Hundred's impact on women's cricket

"Private equity is awash in cricket and sports rights have never been worth more than they are at the moment, so I would expect more interest," Thompson said. "We said 'thank you very much, we'll come back when we're ready'.

"The last two years [of The Hundred] have proven us to be wrong on one area and right on another. What is has done for women's cricket and the investment Sky have put into The Hundred has been extraordinary.

"The reality of the schedule is the issue, and the reason Richard and I had some challenges with it was we recognised three domestic competitions and an increased international schedule was already causing problems

"Bringing a fourth in was only going to make that worse and what I want to ensure we don't do is marginalise the Blast, we don't want one to succeed at the expense of the other. We want them to co-exist together, so that's challenging, and we will find a solution to that however hard it is."

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Take a look at how selection for the Women's Hundred is changing for the 2023 edition of the competition

Thompson believes the need to create a workable domestic calendar is underlined by Will Smeed opting to sign a white-ball only contract with Somerset, having impressed in T20 for his county and in The Hundred for Birmingham Phoenix.

The 21-year-old batter has taken the decision despite having yet to make his County Championship debut and Thompson is in no doubt that should serve as something of a wake-up call for the game as a whole.

"Our schedule doesn't really encourage a player like Will Smeed to play in our domestic cricket given the schedule is unworkable," Thompson said.

"The one thing we all agree is we have to fix the schedule. That's a flashing amber light on the dashboard and we can't let it go red, by which I mean a whole slew of players taking a decision they would rather follow that path.

Will Smeed, Birmingham Phoenix, The Hundred
Image: Up-and-coming batter Will Smeed has signed a white-ball only contract with Somerset

"It's not the Kerry Packer moment, but it's in that realm and... this is a good case in point that those players are coming through one of the best pathways in world cricket only to be lost to English cricket in a way we can't control.

"I can't accept that would just play out and we lose a generation of cricketers who would be playing for England."

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