“Terrific, Mr Mayor. We found the shark!” It has been hard to find any great sense of resolution in the departure this week, by mutually lawyered-up consent, of the head coach, the batting coach and the “managing director” of the England men’s cricket team.

In fairness Chris Silverwood never seemed that convinced himself, carrying out his public duties with the fearful, haunted look of a man who only left the house to fetch a pint of milk but finds himself 11 hours later still in his pyjamas, 18 Jägerbombs deep, a tattoo of monkey on his neck, and being asked now to give the opening remarks at a stadium-capacity advanced calculus conference.

Graham Thorpe’s prospects of hanging around pretty much began and ended with the job title “batting coach”. As for Ashley Giles, well, he just had to go. The farewell note listing his apparently unbroken run of successes was telling in itself. And while the idea of Ashley Giles as the dark mastermind behind England cricket’s systemic collapse is unlikely to survive a first meeting with Ashley Giles, the failings of management and indeed directing are clear enough.

But it is still important to retain a sense of scale here. Zoom out a little and the idea these departures signify actual change brings to mind that scene in Jaws where a gummy-mouthed tiger shark is strung up on the docks while the furtive and shifty local mayor strides around in his candy-striped jacket announcing that the show is over, the water is now safe, and, hell, this isn’t the time or the place for some kind of half-assed autopsy.

This is the time, and it is the place. Because our Great White it still out there. His name is all over the farewell press releases, massaging the message in familiarly nauseating style. It is time to talk, in earnest, about Tom Harrison, a chief executive who professed himself shocked by “the culture” of the England cricket team after seven years in charge of the ECB; who claims to be astonished by systemic racism which anyone with any stake in the sport already knew about; who has overseen years of shrinking back; and who is still, in a note of genuine scandal, intending to take his cut of a £2.1m executive bonus from our shared national sport.

This is not news. The story of that planned golden screw-you-all emerged in these pages in August. But we do now have a moment to focus on this. And it matters for reasons that go far beyond cricket. It is a feature of public discourse in these strange times that so much seems to get lost. Selfish, exploitative behaviour raises a howl of dismay, but may then be consumed by other noises, lies, powerlessness, fatigue, a state best described as Johnsonian Dissonance. But the fact is, we don’t have to take this lying down.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison
Tom Harrison’s bonus scheme was drawn up before the pandemic, before 52 ECB staff lost their jobs, before the grassroots were further imperilled. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

The ECB will claim it is an employment contract issue. It isn’t. It’s a morality issue. This week it emerged Justin Langer had refused to take his own bonus from Cricket Australia because he felt it was wrong to do so when others were being made redundant. The Harrison bonus scheme was drawn up before the pandemic, before 52 ECB staff lost their jobs, before cricket’s grassroots infrastructure was further imperilled by wider financial collapse.

And this is the keynote in this scandal. No body that receives public funding should be spewing out seven-figure executive bonuses. The ECB is given £2.2m each year by Sport England. This taxpayers’ money is awarded on the basis it will be used to nurture the grassroots to a satisfactory degree. The ECB’s own articles of association state that its purpose is “to encourage maximum participation and interest in the sport of cricket”. It has demonstrably failed to do this.

The ECB will point to the existence of assorted well-meant schemes, and indeed to the Hundred, as a driver for inclusion, but this is simply eyewash. The Hundred is a piece of IP to secure the future profits of the ECB. To dress it up as a tool for noble causes, to pretend this is the key detail here, would be an act of shameless cynicism. In reality the ECB has overseen an era dominated by those with means and pre-existing access, transforming the shared summer sport into something that is simply invisible to those outside the velvet rope. The idea those who managed this should be rewarded with one last massive payday is simply repugnant.

What to do? So far that bonus has been an arch line in an article or an outraged tweet. But this an actual thing. And it should be stopped. Why has it not been mentioned at the ECB’s parliamentary hearings? Sky Sports is the ECB’s key partner. Do they really think this is acceptable? Or that their customers do? The players can’t be happy either given their own pay cuts. Say something, Joe Root. Stand up and condemn this. As for sponsors, do you really want to fund an executive pay scandal?

And yes, this is also small fish, a tiger shark affair. The bite radius of Harrison’s bonus does not match the wounds in the water. But this is a string that should be pulled, because it leads directly to the real problem here, the uneasy line between public assets and private enterprise. Here is an entity that embodies perfectly the harm done by allowing our shared sporting institutions to dress themselves up as profit-obsessed limited liability companies.

Why not change that? The ECB is only 25 years old. It was called into existence to manage the new pay-TV wealth around the England team, at the time the big issue in the sport. That era has passed. Franchise leagues are the future. The key problem is the basic disappearance of the sport, its barriers to entry, its shrinking relevance. Why not replace the ECB, as the TCCB was replaced, with a body better able to address this landscape?