Ashes: Replace County Championship to save England Test team – Jonathan Agnew

As someone who loves English cricket, cares for English cricket and has been involved with English cricket for most of my life, to again stand on the outfield and watch Australia celebrate another Ashes landslide is very bitter.

On every tour bar one since 1987, England have come to Australia and been hammered.

At the end, English cricket looks at itself and says “we’ll do this and we’ll do that”, then nothing happens.

If anyone believes we can carry on doing things the same way and expect different results, they are utterly mistaken. It can’t keep going on like this and it is time for a sweeping change.

How can it be done?

Firstly, you have to understand that the 18 first-class counties essentially control the domestic structure.

For that reason, I wish the 18 county chairmen had been down there on the Hobart outfield with me to see Australia celebrating. That would make them fully understand that something needs to be done.

In the four years since England were last beaten down under, the only major change to the game in England and Wales has been the introduction of The Hundred, a spurious additional format that no-one else plays.

Yes, I know it was the brainchild of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and I understand that it was done to protect the finances of the game.

But the counties get their payout from The Hundred and they make money from the T20 Blast, while at the same time getting little back from first-class matches.

Therefore, I am proposing that we take the eight teams from The Hundred, add two more, and create a new first-class competition that replaces the County Championship.

It would not involve the same players as The Hundred, but you could have the same system of a draft. In one move it ensures that the best are playing against the best, it cuts down on the number of games and it is easier to thread first-class cricket throughout the summer.

It would be lovely if the counties could come up with their own solution, but with 18 of them there are always going to be issues around the number of games and the right format for the competition.

Instead, the ECB should say that this is the way first-class cricket in England and Wales will move into the future.

The counties would still play in the Blast and the 50-over format, and have their own red-ball tournament, possibly with three-day matches, that produces a conveyor belt for the premier first-class competition.

This suggestion might cause anger among county members, but these supporters are usually lovers of first-class and Test cricket. Do they really want to see England lose Test matches, getting thrashed when they go to places like Australia and India?

We must wake up to the fact that if our first-class game is not fit for purpose, then England will not have any Test cricketers.

I know what I am suggesting is radical, but the time has come to streamline the elite level of first-class cricket in the UK.

If this idea will take time to implement, there are other decisions that need to be taken in the short-term surrounding the leadership of the England team, with three Tests in the West Indies coming up in March.

Captain Joe Root says he wants to continue, which solves the problem of there currently being no obvious successor.

Does that mean it is the right decision? Time will tell. Maybe if English cricket wakes up to the fact that the Test team is in crisis, then wholesale changes of leadership are required, including Root. Someone else would step up.

Now we know Root wants to remain as captain, it seems more likely that Silverwood’s position has weakened because someone has to be held accountable.

Whether anyone else could do a better job with the players, the schedule and preparation that Silverwood has had to manage remains to be seen – and Silverwood has loudly demanded change.

It’s doubtful, however, that he will be in place to benefit from that change.

At the same time, England have to alter the role of the head coach, to return responsibility of selection to a head selector.

On this Ashes tour, only Silverwood and Root have been making the decisions. If other voices had been involved, then some of the mistakes might have been avoided.

It was director of cricket Ashley Giles who gave so much power to Silverwood, so he must take responsibility for that.

The ECB is in a tricky position over Giles, who basically got the job by default after Andrew Strauss chose to step down. Giles and Mo Bobat have overseen the planning for this tour and things like the rest-and-rotation policy, which was deeply unpopular with the players. They have questions to answer.

Giles reports to ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, who has a lot on his plate when you also consider the racism scandal that has engulfed the game in the past few months.

He has been in the job for seven years, which is a long time. He now has to put in place measures that will tackle the game’s attitude to inclusivity and ensure Test cricket is restored as a priority.

We will wait and see what he comes up with, but if he does not solve these issues, then he has to go.

England can come back from this humbling down under, but it will take time.

Australia will travel to the UK to defend the urn in 2023 and they are currently favourites to end a 22-year streak without an away Ashes win.

English cricket should not wait 18 months to wake up to the fact that drastic change is needed.

It has to happen now.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport’s chief cricket writer Stephan Shemilt.

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