Wisden calls on ECB to return £2.1m bonus pot after ‘annus horribilis’ | Cricket

Wisden has suggested that the senior executives of the England and Wales Cricket Board who are due to share a £2.1m bonus pot should return or refuse to accept the money after an “annus horribilis” for English cricket.

Cricket’s annually published reference book says in its latest edition that the “ethics of the bonus scandal were as bad as the optics” amid job losses and a variety of sporting and administrative failures.

Elsewhere the English domestic game is labelled “tone-deaf” on racism, the nation’s attempt to win the Ashes is described as “hapless”, the players involved were “knackered”, and public optimism about the team’s prospects was “completely delusional”.

But the 159th edition of the Almanack, published on Thursday, will not be miserable reading for everyone involved in English cricket. There is some praise for the inaugural Hundred, said to have “changed the face of women’s cricket in England”, while despite the failures of the men’s Test team one of their players is named the leading cricketer in the world for the third successive year, with Joe Root following Ben Stokes, who received the accolade in both 2020 and 2021.

The Almanack’s 1,536 pages will be difficult reading for many at the ECB and beyond. “Can there ever have been a bigger gap between what English cricket hoped to be and what it was – between reality and fantasy?” Lawrence Booth, the Wisden editor, writes. “Early in 2022, a long-planned assault on the Ashes ended with all-out surrender. Before that, a racism scandal brought to light by the courage of Azeem Rafiq made the game look unwelcoming, and worse. There was little to cherish.”

The most savage criticism, however, is reserved for Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief, and the other executives whose £2.1m bonus pot was exclusively revealed by the Guardian last year. “As the annus horribilis took shape, this felt more and more wrong,” Booth writes.

“Harrison, remember, had presided over 62 job losses; he had used procedural excuses to defend his failure to intervene [in the racism scandal] at Yorkshire; and, the Ashes up in smoke, he had blamed the domestic structure on the (usefully anonymous) Professional Game Group, and the international calendar on administrators in faraway lands. Of his own shortcomings, he had less to say.

“The ethics of the bonus scandal were as bad as the optics. But there was an exit strategy, if only Harrison would recognise it: the bonus should either be returned, allowing the ECB to re-employ some of the staff whose work still had to be done, or used to broaden the game’s diversity. If, by now, he has resigned or refused the money, we applaud. If not, there is still time to undo at least part of the damage.”

Ollie Robinson, the English bowler who only nine Tests and 10 months into his international career is named among Wisden’s five cricketers of the year, is also mentioned in the editorial on the racism crisis after his Test debut last June was marked by a tearful apology for historical tweets.

“For the ECB, scrambling to be on the right side of history, the timing was horrific,” Booth writes. “As Yorkshire’s mishandling of the Rafiq affair went from bad to abysmal, the scale of the crisis became clear not through solecisms from the past, but clumsy attempts to navigate the present.

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“Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell told the DCMS committee in January that diversification of the dressing-room had been hampered by an Anglo-Caribbean love of football, and Anglo-Asian preference for education. The effect of all these comments was insidious, and the message to those on the game’s margins unambiguous: cricket’s mainstream remained tone-deaf. And if they weren’t paying attention on a subject as important as this, what else had they missed?”

Devon Conway, the New Zealand batter who made his Test debut alongside Robinson at Lord’s last June and scored a double century in his first innings, is named among the five cricketers of the year, alongside India’s Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma and Dane van Niekerk, the South African who led the Oval Invincibles to victory in the first women’s Hundred. Van Niekerk’s compatriot Lizelle Lee, who scored 632 runs at an average of 90 across 11 one-day internationals in 2021, is named the leading female cricketer in the world.

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