Joe Root leads calls for rethink of county cricket schedule after alarming players' union survey

Joe Root leads calls for rethink of county cricket schedule after alarming players' union survey

England batter Joe Root is leading calls for a major rethink of county cricket’s congested schedule, as the players’s union warned change must be made “before something disastrous happens”.

A survey by the Professional Cricketers’ Association found that 81 per cent of men’s players have concerns over their physical health as a direct result of the calendar, while three-quarters are worried about unsafe travel.

There are particular fears over players being asked to drive long distances after matches late at night, either to return home or to fulfil fixtures at different venues on back-to-back days.

Warwickshire, for instance, start their Vitality Blast campaign with a Friday night match away at Durham later this month and are then due back in action at Edgbaston against Nottinghamshire within 24 hours.

Gloucestershire, meanwhile, have a particularly taxing week towards the back end of June, when they are due to play Thursday and Friday night T20s in Cardiff and Bristol, before starting a four-day game in Scarborough on Sunday morning.

“There are players telling us they’ve got back off the team bus and then driven home and forgotten how they’ve got there, almost on autopilot,” Daryl Mitchell, the PCA’s chief operating officer said.

“We want to pre-empt it before something disastrous happens. That driving late does concern me.

“Our CEO, Rob [Lynch], is really hot on that and he’s worried about getting a call in the early hours to say someone’s driven off the M1, or whatever it might be. It’s something that scares us and worries us.”

As well as calling on the ECB and first-class counties to “strongly look” at reducing the amount of cricket player each summer, the PCA is demanding a minimum three-day window between County Championship matches and at least one day between limited-overs games.

“Having space to recover, prepare and improve your game during the season is crucial and the creation of minimum standards to protect travel windows and player welfare is non-negotiable,” said Root, who is currently playing for Yorkshire in the Championship ahead of the Test summer.

County cricket scheduling has become an increasingly divisive topic in recent years, with the introduction of the Hundred in 2021 meaning there are now four major men’s competitions to be squeezed into the English summer.

In 2022, former England captain Andrew Strauss proposed a significant reduction in the number of both County Championship and Vitality Blast fixtures played, but his High Performance Review was rejected by the counties.

“We know there is a genuine feeling from inside the game that the schedule does not work,” said PCA chair and Glamorgan bowler James Harris. “We cannot accept these words with no action for any longer.”

According to the PCA survey, which spoke to players across all 18 first-class counties during preseason, two-thirds of male professional cricketers believe the schedule is not conducive to high-performance.

During his time as England Test captain, Root infamously claimed the country’s best players were succeeding "in spite of county cricket, not because of it” and believes reducing the volume of domestic cricket played would help raise its level.

“You’re trying to find a way of getting the standard of first-class and county cricket as close as you can to the international game,” he added. “If we can find a way of making that gap smaller and the product’s better then in terms of stakeholders, members, everyone is going to be winning.

“By reducing the amount of cricket played, with more recovery time and more preparation time, you’d like to think the standard would go up.

“If there’s any way of finding a middle-ground, where players are safer and the product or output of the games is of a higher quality then English cricket is going to be winning full stop.”

An ECB spokesperson said: “As the PCA recognises, the men’s domestic schedule is a complex issue. The players have an important voice in discussions around this, and we are committed to working with them and the First Class Counties to discuss the best ways of overcoming some of the challenges.”