Tom Harrison is stepping down as chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board as the sweeping changes continue at the very top of the game.
Harrison will depart in June, with managing director of women’s cricket Clare Connor taking over on an interim basis while a long-term successor is recruited.
The news is the latest example of flux at the ECB, which is still without a permanent chair following Ian Watmore’s resignation last October, following an overhaul which has seen men’s director of cricket Ashley Giles, head coach Chris Silverwood and Test captain Joe Root all replaced since the turn of the year.
Harrison has proved a polarising figure at the head of the game since his appointment in 2014.
The 50-year-old was a major architect of the controversial decision to launch The Hundred, an eight-team city tournament which continues to divide fans, has faced criticism over his organisation’s response to the racism scandal which erupted last year and drew fire for accepting a lucrative bonus in the aftermath of mass ECB redundancies.
On the flip side, he offered sober leadership during the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic and helped keep the show on the road at a time when grimmer outcomes seemed possible and delivered the record £1.1billion broadcast deal in 2017.
I have put everything into this role, but I believe now is the right time to bring in fresh energy to continue this work.Tom Harrison
In a statement confirming his exit, Harrison said: “It has been a huge honour to be CEO of the ECB for the past seven years. Cricket is an extraordinary force for good in the world and my goal has been to make the game bigger and ensure more people and more communities in England and Wales feel they have a place in this sport.
“The long-term health of cricket depends on its ability to grow and remain relevant and be more inclusive in an ever-changing world.
“The past two years have been incredibly challenging, but we have pulled together to get through the pandemic, overcome cricket’s biggest financial crisis, and committed to tackling discrimination and continuing the journey towards becoming the inclusive, welcoming sport we strive to be.
“I have put everything into this role, but I believe now is the right time to bring in fresh energy to continue this work.”
Harrison, who enjoyed a brief first-class career with Derbyshire before moving more successfully into the field of marketing and media rights, made a splash when he helped secure a bumper TV deal for the 2020-2024 cycle. As well as topping the £1billion mark, the new settlement also brought England matches back to free-to-air via the BBC for the first time in over 20 years.
The interests of broadcasters were key to his staunch advocacy of The Hundred, which had a successful launch year in 2021 but has thus far failed to shake sceptics who worry about a corrosive influence on the wider county game.
Harrison appeared to offer hard-working stewardship of the game during the initial Covid period, with the ECB averting catastrophic cash losses by hosting a full summer of ‘bio-secure’ cricket in 2020 at a time when a scheduling wipeout seemed possible.
He took a voluntary pay cut at that time, but risked squandering that goodwill when he and a group of senior management shared a lucrative bonus pot worth around £2.1million despite a cost-saving round of 62 redundancies at the organisation.
Harrison’s position then came under threat when Azeem Rafiq’s parliamentary appearance put the issue of racism – and sport’s response – into the spotlight.
He vowed to tackle the matter head on last November, when an all-game action plan was announced to improve inclusivity at all levels. Seeing that through will be a key responsibility of his successor.
Interim ECB chair Martin Darlow paid tribute to Harrison, adding: “Tom has been an outstanding CEO and deserves our sincere thanks for all he has achieved in his time at the ECB.
“When the pandemic struck, it was Tom’s leadership that brought the game together and saved us from the worst financial crisis the sport has ever faced. He has always put the interests of the game first and worked to lead important change to make our game more accessible and inclusive, though we all know there is still much more work to do.”