Surrey chief Steve Elworthy calls for unity to take cricket forward

Friday 20th May 2022 6:00 am
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The Kia Oval
(Tindle )

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STEVE ELWORTHY joined Surrey after 14 years at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – during which time he worked on a number of global tournaments.

Some people may have wondered why Elworthy wanted to leave the national governing body – but he insisted the lure of Surrey was strong.

“Surrey is the biggest county club in the country – it is a fantastic organisation,” he said.

“And The Kia Oval is an unbelievable venue in London.”

Surrey have enjoyed a superb start to the 2022 season and proudly sit at the top of Division One of the County Championship.

Elworthy is hoping the club can win a trophy this season, but he says success can be measured in a number of ways.

“We would love to win a trophy – but all 18 counties have that aim and only one county can win each trophy,” he said.

“We are top of the County Championship at the moment but there is a long way to go.

“It also depends how you define success. We won the County Championship in 2018, but in 2019 we had a poor year.

“In 2020 we reached the T20 Blast final and in 2021 we reached the Royal London One-Day Cup semi-finals. As long as we are up there and competing at the top table that’s the main thing.”

English cricket has faced plenty of criticism in recent months after England’s 4-0 defeat in the Ashes in Australia this winter.

County cricket has been blamed by some for England’s failings, but Elworthy – who played four Tests and 39 one-day internationals for South Africa – feels that is unfair.

“It seems like every four years the Ashes are lost in Australia and a review is done, and county cricket takes the brunt of the blame for it,” he said.

“It’s not that simple. The quality of the cricket this season – on what have been superb pitches for the time of year – has been impressive.”

Radical suggestions have been put forward by high-profile figures in the English game to revamp the structure of county cricket – including reducing the number of first-class counties – but Elworthy believes the counties and the ECB need to work together for the good of the game.

“The game as a whole has to come together – on and off the field,” he said. “There is no use each of us trying to fix the game on our own – we need the power of all of us working together.

“We need to take a breath – the game doesn’t need radical change. We need to be really careful and protect Test cricket.

“The structure of the county fixtures this season is the best I have seen for a number of years.”

Elworthy joined Surrey after 14 years at the ECB, and a stint at Cricket South Africa before then.

Elworthy’s final role at the ECB was managing director for events and special projects – a role in which he successfully oversaw the return of international cricket in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

England’s matches against West Indies, Ireland, Pakistan and Australia were held behind closed doors at bio-secure venues at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford.

England’s women also successfully staged matches against West Indies at Derby.

Playing the matches was vital for protecting the revenue of the English game, and Elworthy admits it was a big task.

“We set out to get international cricket back – but with Covid we were dealing with an invisible threat,” he said.

“What we didn’t realise was the effect time in the bubble would have on the players mentally. That was an unintended consequence.

“For players at the highest level it was tough mentally for them to go straight from the ground to their hotel room. There was no escape. Usually they can go for a long walk, a run or a round of golf.

“The positive to come out of that is that more people are speaking about mental health now.”

While Surrey are aiming for glory in the County Championship, T20 Blast and Royal London One-Day Cup this season, the Oval Invincibles will also be in action at The Kia Oval this summer and will be looking to win The Hundred.

The Oval Invincibles women’s team are the defending champions while the men’s team will be looking to improve after failing to reach the semi-finals.

Elworthy feels the double-headers – women’s and men’s matches were played back-to-back at the same grounds on the same evenings – was a big factor in raising the profile of women’s cricket.

“There is fantastic momentum behind the women’s game now,” he said.

“The women’s Hundred was a positive unintended consequence from Covid, as originally the women’s games were going to be played at smaller grounds.

“Because of Covid the men’s and women’s games were all played as double-headers at the same grounds, and thousands of people watched the women’s games.”

Elworthy is positive about the future of cricket, and believes The Hundred and the county game can happily co-exist. “Cricket offers a format for everyone,” he said. “There is something for different audiences.”

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