PCA calls for action over ‘unsustainable’ men’s domestic cricket schedule

The England and Wales Cricket Board has been told the current men’s domestic cricket schedule is “unsustainable” by the Professional Cricketers Association.

The 2024 fixture lists for the LV= Insurance County Championship and Vitality Blast were unveiled on Thursday alongside the schedule for the women’s game.

While there are now only 15 County Championship fixture slots instead of 16, the Twenty20 Vitality Blast competition will be played almost entirely on Thursday nights, Friday nights and weekends between the end of May to mid-July.

PCA chief executive Rob Lynch said: “On a day that is full of excitement and anticipation, the announcement of the 2024 fixtures is a reminder that the men’s domestic calendar in England and Wales is unsustainable and is in need of reform for the interests of current and future professional cricketers and therefore the future of our game.

“We are aware the ECB acknowledges the schedule is not ideal and following recent game-wide conversations, we understand the game has an ambition to look seriously at the 2025 fixture list.

“We have heard this commitment in the past and the professional game has not delivered. Collectively, we need to act to advance player welfare to future-proof our sport and the PCA wishes to fully collaborate with the ECB and game to make this a reality.”

Last month the PCA held its annual Player Summit and the domestic men’s schedule was high up on the agenda.

Players highlighted the “dangerous” travel windows that occurred during an unrelenting 2023 fixture list, specifically the Vitality Blast given the quick turnaround in matches.

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The PCA raised concerns with the Professional Game committee, but Essex bowler Sam Cook added: “My biggest issue is the welfare of players and support staff being disregarded, particularly with regards to travel throughout high-intensity periods of T20 cricket.

“This has been repeatedly stressed in numerous PCA Summits and despite this, the schedule still provides the same problems by not focusing on player welfare.”

PCA chair James Harris welcomed the increase in double headers between the men and women’s game, but warned the domestic schedule must evolve.

An added complication is a busy international summer, with the men’s T20 World Cup hosted by the West Indies and United States in June.

“The men’s domestic schedule must evolve further to meet the needs of modern professional athletes,” Harris added.

“While the opportunities players have are no doubt greater than ever before, the county system must adapt to allow players the chance to progress their careers in a way that respects the welfare of the individuals who perform on the pitch.

“The recent Player Summit saw the men’s county schedule as a high priority with the players in attendance displaying a dissatisfaction at the structure following research within their dressing rooms.

“As a union, we are constantly talking to our membership, with formal meetings such as the Summit, AGM, pre-season meetings and surveys supplemented by constant informal communication. It is apparent things need to change for 2025.”

ECB county cricket managing director Neil Snowball is confident that the 2024 schedule strikes the right balance for all parties.

However, with 122 of the 126 Vitality Blast group-stage fixtures scheduled across Thursday to Sunday slots, Gloucestershire’s David Payne has raised the pressures being put on current players.

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David Payne in action for Welsh Fire (David Davies/PA)

Payne said: “Looking specifically at our fixtures at Gloucestershire, there are a number of occasions that do not allow appropriate time between fixtures.

“Finishing a T20 game late on a Thursday night in Cardiff, followed by playing another T20 the following night in Bristol, and expecting to be at peak condition to play a four-day game at Scarborough on the Sunday morning is one example.

“This sort of scheduling simply does not allow for high performance, or look after the welfare of the players.

“As a game we have to work together so player welfare is prioritised to create the best environment for a spectacle that allows the growth of the game.”