ECB boss insists he will walk away when the time is right, as English cricket grapples with crises on and off field
Harrison, who has been in his role since 2015, was instrumental in securing the £1.1 billion rights deal with Sky and the BBC in 2017, and also oversaw the structures that enabled England’s white-ball team to become World Cup winners in 2019.
He was credited, too, for keeping English cricket solvent during the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, when the successful hosting of England men’s home-summer series against West Indies, Pakistan, Ireland and Australia helped to mitigate the board’s multi-million pound losses.
However, more recently, Harrison has come under intense pressure for his handling of the racism scandal that has engulfed English cricket since Azeem Rafiq’s revelations at Yorkshire, including a succession of unconvincing appearances before Parliament’s DCMS select committee.
The fall-out from the Ashes has intensified the scrutiny as well, particularly in light of Harrison’s call for a “red-ball reset” in response to the declining standards of the Test team. As one of the primary advocates of the Hundred, the ECB’s new competition that took place in the prime summer months of July and August last summer while forcing the County Championship ever further into the margins of the season, many critics doubt whether he is the right man to oversee that change of priority.
Other mis-steps include the ECB’s unilateral cancellation of England’s goodwill T20I tour of Pakistan in October – a trip that would have been England’s first to the country since 2005, and which was a factor in the subsequent resignation of Ian Watmore as chair – and the awarding of a £2.1 million bonus pool for the board senior executives off the back of the Hundred’s launch. The pay-out for that bonus scheme is anticipated in April, and comes in spite of the extensive round of redundancies that the ECB underwent last year in the wake of the pandemic.
“I’d like not to be seen to be running away from the challenge of addressing the issues,” Harrison said in a press conference at Lord’s, as he and Andrew Strauss, the interim England director, addressed England’s preparations for this month’s tour of West Indies, which include the retention of Joe Root as captain, but the removal of Graham Thorpe as assistant coach – the third sacking in as many days following the departures of Ashley Giles and Chris Silverwood.
“We’re in a particular moment, we’re looking for an interim coach, we have an interim chair, we’re looking for a full-time chair. We’ve got a lot of discussions underway,” Harrison said. “This is a moment where I think I have the support of the board and it is a very tough moment. And honestly, the toughest moment that I’ve experienced in my career, but I’m not running away.
“I just feel that I have to keep going. I want to take English cricket back to a place where there’s some stability, there’s some calmness, frankly, and a sense that we are heading in the right direction.”
England’s 4-0 Ashes loss was the culmination of a terrible 12 months for England’s Test team, which has now lost 10 of its last 14 matches with a solitary win over India at Headingley. But Harrison was insistent that English cricket’s achievements in 2021 – including record crowds for domestic women’s matches during the first season of the Hundred – were still worth celebrating.
“I know we had a terrible Test summer and no one’s trying to disguise that, but the incredible growth in the women’s game, the impact of the Hundred, going back on free-to-air television and 16 million people seeing a tournament and viewing figures being the best they’ve ever had for Test cricket and for white-ball cricket … there is an awful lot to be building on.
“I know that’s not something to be talking about in the wake of an Ashes defeat and we do have to reflect hard on what happened. But I’m not clinging on for grim death, that is not what I’m doing.
“I’m doing this because I think it’s the right thing for English cricket right now. And as soon as that is not the case, you will not have to push me.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket