Joe Root has been told England must play an “exciting” brand of cricket under his captaincy – even if it sometimes leads to defeat. Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, revealed that Root was under orders to entertain as part of the governing body’s strategy to attract more children to the game.
Previous Test captain Alastair Cook was criticised during much of his time in charge for being too defensive but Root has been given a licence to thrill by his employers.
Speaking as the ECB launched All-Stars Cricket, which aims to get 50,000 five to eight-year-olds excited by the game this year, Harrison said: “The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this.
“Joe Root and [one-day and Twenty20 captain] Eoin Morgan understand their responsibility to be playing exciting cricket for future generations to connect with and for fans of the game to get behind us. It’s a very deliberate strategy. It doesn’t work every time you go out on the park. But we understand that it’s more likely you’re going to be forgiven for having a bad day if you’re doing everything to try to win a game, as opposed to not trying to lose it, which is a very key difference in positioning.”
Harrison said it was “100 per cent correct” that growing the game mattered more to the ECB than England winning a one-off Test playing boring cricket.
He added: “We’re in a competitive world now. The reason why T20 blows other ratings out of the park on television and attendances – and this is not just in the UK, this is around the world – is because people want to watch. They know they’re going to go there and see some dramatic cricket, they’re going to see some amazing skill.”
Admitting that cricket had woken up to the fact that it was no longer just competing with football but with esports, and even shows like The Only Way is Essex, Harrison added: “We know that we’ve got a relevance issue with five to eight year-olds at the moment, as many sports do. We know that we’ve got a sport which can appeal to these audiences if we position it correctly and we deliver experiences that makes sense to parents and makes sense to kids.”
Harrison said that the ECB’s controversial creation of an eight-team city-based Twenty20 competition was driven by similar motives.
“We’re trying to connect everything we do with this new audience that we’re trying to attract to the game,” he said, adding that it was about “making sure it’s relevant for mum and the family to go and spend some time at the county ground watching, taking their children along, watching a fantastic, phenomenal, exciting game of cricket”.
The new tournament, the creation of which is scheduled to be ratified at a meeting of county chairmen on Monday, will form a key part of the broadcast rights sold by the ECB for all domestic and international English cricket from 2020.
Harrison revealed that whoever won the rights to the competition would have a say on which eight cities ended up with teams. He also disclosed that the ECB’s various rights would be split into packages, with at least one made affordable for terrestrial broadcasters, who have been starved of live coverage since 2005.
“The last time we went to market, we did not have international T20 as a product which was really packaged in a way that excited broadcasters,” he added. “We’ve got the new T20 tournament, which is designed to grow the sport in this country. And that will excite broadcasters. It is exciting broadcasters.”
Harrison denied that English cricket had become less visible since live coverage vanished from free-to-air, insisting players such as Ben Stokes had “huge profiles”.
But he added: “Do I think this tournament will help build those profiles further? Absolutely.”
Harrison declared the global game to be in rude health but called for other countries to join the ECB in campaigning for cricket to become an Olympic sport. “It doesn’t have universal support at the moment,” he revealed. “There are complications for world cricket with it but nothing, in my opinion, that can’t be catered for.”
Citing the boost rugby union enjoyed from sevens’ debut at last year’s Games, he added: “The advantages that being an Olympic sport bring to the desire to globalise cricket is an important one. If you want to talk about expansions into markets such as the US, China and America, it is going to be a lot easier if you are an Olympic sport.”