PAUL NEWMAN: Andrew Strauss faces a colossal task attracting budding cricketers to the Test format… why would Will Smeed or any other young star pick the County Championship over the glamour of franchise cricket?
- Andrew Strauss could struggle attracting young cricketers to the Test format
- The Hundred, T20 Blast and IPL have created a buzz around franchise cricket
- The next generation could be put off from the Test game altogether as a result
- England get ready to take on South Africa in a three-Test series on Wednesday
Will Smeed is one of the best and most exciting prospects in English cricket, as he demonstrated by scoring the first ever century in the Hundred.
A huge future in the game looks assured for the 20-year-old, starting perhaps with him gatecrashing the England squad for the Twenty20 World Cup in October.
But Smeed has never played in a first-class match and could conceivably go throughout his whole career without facing a red ball or wearing white clothes. In truth, why would he want to, even though he insisted to Sportsmail after that century for Birmingham Phoenix that he was still keen to play all formats.
Birmingham Phoenix’s Will Smeed hit the first ever century in the Hundred scoring 101 runs
Why would Smeed really want to play in the County Championship for Somerset and, by extension, Test cricket for England when he could spend what is becoming the whole year in the ever expanding, lucrative world of franchise cricket?
Why would any of the next generation put in the hard red-ball yards and deny themselves serious white-ball earning potential?
That is the challenge facing Sir Andrew Strauss, for one, as he continues his high performance review of English cricket that he has promised will bring radical change.
Strauss said this week he wants to incentivise the best young cricketers to play in all forms of the game and ensure a balance so it’s ‘not all drifting down the short-form route’.
The lucrative nature of franchise cricket could lure Smeed and others away from the Test game
Good luck with that. Strauss is one of the very best people in the game, as he showed as a captain in leading England to the top of the Test rankings 11 years ago and then as director of cricket in igniting the white-ball revolution that culminated in the famous 2019 World Cup triumph.
But his task now is akin to King Canute trying to hold back the tide. Or Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill only to find it rolling back down whenever he nears the top.
Hope has been provided by the devotion of Ben Stokes, England’s most important player, to the Test cause and the incredible start to his captaincy reign in conjunction with coach Brendon McCullum.
That partnership makes a welcome return on Wednesday against South Africa at Lord’s.
And a significant boost to the work Strauss is attempting to do will come next month when the excellent Richard Thompson begins one of the toughest jobs in English sport as the new ECB chair. But their task is a hugely difficult one.
Strauss is due to provide an update on his review some time during the first Test and it will be intriguing to hear what he says. It can only be hoped he has a more cunning plan than anything Baldrick ever mustered.
England and Wales director of cricket Andrew Strauss must find a way to promote Test cricket
Now we will discover if the problem with the Dukes balls has been resolved.
Dukes owner Dilip Jajodia told Sportsmail last month he had identified a glitch in the tanning process that had made the balls go soft and out of shape more quickly this season.
And that the batch for the three-Test series between England and South Africa that starts on Wednesday will be much more like the balls that have earned a reputation as the best in the world.
The early signs suggest he is right. ‘The feedback from the Lions game last week was that the balls were better,’ said Jimmy Anderson.
‘If it’s sorted, it will be a huge positive.’ And nobody will be more delighted and relieved than Jajodia.