I don’t like being unkind on this forum. However, on this occasion I feel compelled to give a visceral, and totally authentic, reaction to Tom Harrison’s departure from the ECB. The headline above summarises my feelings succinctly and honestly. And, because I’m not a paid cricket journalist, I don’t have to pretend to be objective. Sorry if my blunt approach below offends you.
Tom Harrison joined the ECB seven years ago. And, as far as I’m concerned, it was seven years too long. He was a wrecking ball that badly damaged things I care deeply about. He was such a wrecking ball, in fact, that the structure underpinning the England Test team is now hardly standing: we haven’t produced a single Test class batsman since Joe Root and the county championship has been criminally weakened. Sadly, it’s going to take a long, long time to put solid foundations back in place and rebuild this thing.
Teflon Tom, as some liked to call him, was appointed because of his background in media. He was brought in to deliver a bumper TV deal – further nailing the ECB’s colours to Sky’s mast – and he duly delivered. He then used his expertise to secure an even bigger TV deal, which included The Hundred, before stepping down. One just hopes that he hasn’t managed to put in place (behind the scenes) an even longer commitment to hide both Test cricket and 50 over cricket behind a pay wall before he slung his hook.
Harrison, of course, always claimed that cricket needed to attract a broader audience. But he never explained how hiding the purist forms of the game from the broadest audience possible would achieve this stated goal. Instead, he only wanted to spoon-feed his own peculiar 100-ball vanity project. Even if you thought The Hundred was a success (which is highly debatable), it’s hard to deny that exactly the same level of success couldn’t have been achieved with T20 and existing clubs rather than totally new franchises. English cricket’s rebrand / fresh pitch to the public, would’ve been far more successful had existing fans actually been onside.
So what was Harrison’s legacy? For me, it’s simple. He’s the man that oversaw a reduction in participation at grass roots level, sold cricket’s soul, crippled the first class game, undermined the counties, brought the England Test team to its knees, and also damaged the game’s reputation by handling the racism scandal at Yorkshire ineptly. Want to make cricket more inclusive, Tom? Then maybe don’t make the sport look like it’s sweeping racial abuse under the rug.
Although some may argue, quite rightly, that Harrison helped to save cricket from financial ruin during the Covid-19 crisis, we shouldn’t forget that English cricket wouldn’t have been in such a perilous financial state had he not squandered the ECB’s reserves on the needless Hundred. What’s more, he lost a lot of goodwill by then doing the dirty on Pakistan, one of the teams lined up to play in England during that difficult summer of 2020, by pulling out of a reciprocal T20 tour in Pakistan later on. Nice touch, Teflon.
There will be some, of course, who will point to what he’s done for women’s cricket. And that’s a good point. As someone with a young daughter, I’m delighted that there will be more opportunities for her to play the game I love. However, let’s not pretend that the Hundred was specifically designed to boost women’s cricket. That was just post-rationalisation when the tournament proved to be more divisive and, if we’re being honest, not quite as compelling or successful as the ECB had privately hoped. Didn’t quite get the ticket sales and TV audiences you wanted for the men’s tournament? Just point to the success of the women (who, of course, they didn’t pay fairly).
While we’re on the subject of The Hundred, let’s talk about obesity in kids as well. The decision to appoint KP Snacks as the tournament’s main sponsor backfired horribly and led to more embarrassment. Last month the advertising watchdog found that the ECB had targeted junk food ads at children, despite their totally unconvincing claims to the contrary. Basically, if there’s an ethical issue in play, you could always rely on the Harrison-led ECB to come down on the wrong side of the moral argument.
Now some of you may read this and dismiss it as a mere polemic. And you’re right. It is a polemic – and it’s one I’ve written extremely quickly, too. I clearly don’t like Harrison – for very good reasons – and I’m not pretending to be objective. However, I’ll leave you with one thought, which I hope might resonate…
I’ve been watching cricket for the best part of four decades. I’ve seen bad administrators come and bad administrators go. I’ve even suffered Giles ‘the right sort of family’ Clarke. What’s more, I’ve seen some absolutely wretched performances from the England teams during this time. For all their mistakes, however, none of them have ever made me question my passion for cricket and my allegiance to the national side. But Tom Harrison, or rather decisions that Harrison (alongside others) have made over the last few years, have done exactly that. Sometimes I’ve found it hard to write anything for this blog because I’ve just felt too numb about the direction of travel.
I’ve occasionally even felt ashamed to be an England cricket supporter on Tom Harrison’s watch. The decision to pull out of the Pakistan T20 series, the KP Snacks hook-up, the handling of the Azeem Rafiq scandal, plus the ECB’s performances at two DCMS Committee hearings were beyond embarrassing. The half-truths, the obfuscation, and the disingenuity of our cricket administrators these days make them seem like politicians.
What’s more, English cricket is now as polarised (thanks to The Hundred and the debate over the domestic structure) as it’s ever been. Have any sagas, including the dropping of Kevin Pietersen, caused more resentment and bad blood?
And that, for me, will be Tom Harrison’s primary legacy: division. Apologists might argue that sometimes you’ve got to break eggs to make an omelette. And that’s true in some cases. However, when it comes to Tom Harrison stint at the ECB, most of those eggs landed firmly on his face. And his omelettes were always served up with an unappetising surfeit of pure cheese.