Counties balk at ECB plan for Championship restructure

• Durham reveal £2.4m Indian money invested in county
• 4 June deadline to respond to board's five alternatives

England and Wales Cricket Board proposals for the emergency restructuring of the County Championship to try to halt worsening county finances have been greeted with alarm after Durham were forced to admit that an Indian businessman had secretly invested £2.4m in the county to part-fund their redevelopment scheme.

Durham, in common with all counties with Test grounds, have invested heavily in ambitious redevelopment schemes to try to preserve their international status under an ECB system of competitive tendering. The Test counties' anxiety became apparent when they formed a pressure group to try to force a better financial deal, but Durham's enforced admission that they had confidentially turned to Indian investment to raise funds for the Riverside will deepen fears that clubs could overstretch themselves financially.

A Durham statement said: "The investor is a long-time business associate of our chairman, Clive Leach, and has invested £2.4m over the past three years in support of the long-term development of the stadium and the club. He is not a director and is not involved in the day-to-day running of the club."

The 18 first-class counties have until 4 June to respond to five alternative proposals to slim down the championship. But the ECB proposals hit immediate problems when Yorkshire and Durham protested that an option of retaining the current format – 16 four-day matches with two divisions of nine, and promotion and relegation – is not even listed, implying that a system under which England have won two successive home Ashes series could be abandoned without proper debate.

The ECB has outlined five alternative proposals for the championship to free more time for rest and Twenty20. They range from an unlikely move to a five-day championship to replicate Test cricket; American-style conference systems, which have also yet to win much enthusiasm; and a Premier Division of eight teams with Division One split into two regional pools of five counties each.

A Guardian poll, supported by Cricinfo, the leading specialist cricket website, suggests the latter has most support from counties and public alike. There is little appetite for either a conference system or five-day county cricket.

But Yorkshire's chief executive, Stewart Regan, argued that the ECB's paper was flawed. "The county's official policy remains support for a championship of 16 four-day games in its current form — and that is not even mentioned," he said.

Only last August, the counties voted for a restructured county programme for 2010-13, but only eight months later they are back in the land of eternal reviews.

David Harker, Durham's chief executive, expressing a personal view, warned: "This constant tinkering sends out the wrong message about the county championship. It undermines the competition and, at some point, people will start to switch off, spectators and sponsors alike."

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David Hopps

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