The England and Wales Cricket Board believes it has the consent of county chairmen to push through a new-look domestic programme that would see the number of championship fixtures reduced by two matches.
The ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, and chairman, Colin Graves, have been working since the start of the year on a restructure of the English game and proposals drawn up by their review committee have been presented to the county chief executives and chairmen over the past two days. While the previously mooted eight or 10-team city-based Twenty20 competition is on hold, an appetite remains to raise the standard of white-ball cricket played domestically as England look to create a pool of players who can compete for both the 2017 Champions Trophy and the World Cup two years later on home soil.
The plan, which has the backing of Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, will see the Twenty20 and 50-over tournaments played in one or two mid-summer blocks, allowing players to focus on the skills specific to these forms of the game.
To make this work, however, the number of four-day fixtures per team would be cut from 16 to 14.
It appears a radical move, with attendances in the NatWest T20 Blast, which is currently spread over the season, on the rise and domestic 50-over cricket, the hardest ticket to sell, recently polling as the third-ranked competition among the players in a recent survey by the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
The PCA’s results also showed the County Championship to be considered the premier domestic trophy, while clubs could yet face a backlash by members. There is also the question of the competition’s integrity if teams do not play everyone home and away. The reigning champions, Yorkshire, last week publicly stated their intention to oppose a cut in first-class matches and claimed to have wide support from other clubs, while one chief executive, when contacted by the Guardian, described the mood in their meeting to be “polite, but negative” but the chairmen’s session is understood to have gone better.
An ECB spokesperson said: “There was rounded discussion on the domestic and international game and we listened to views and valuable insights from across all the first-class counties. Today brought a consensus of opinion which allows us to further develop strong plans.”
Structural changes to competitions only need approval by the ECB management board, which has just four county chairmen among its 14 directors and next convenes at the end of this month. To alter the championship without the bulk of counties in agreement however would represent a high-risk approach from Harrison and Graves.