Counties' long look at short game

One-day county cricket will be dramatically overhauled in the latest attempt to improve England's performance. The domestic limited-overs league is likely to be scrapped in its existing form, the knock-out trophy will be modified and the hugely successful Twenty-20 competition extended.

One-day county cricket will be dramatically overhauled in the latest attempt to improve England's performance. The domestic limited-overs league is likely to be scrapped in its existing form, the knock-out trophy will be modified and the hugely successful Twenty-20 competition extended.

But the four-day County Championship of two divisions will remain. The number of promoted and relegated teams will probably be cut from three to two, but there will be no return to one division of 18 counties.

The changes, due to come into effect in 2006, will not be finalised until the negotiations for cricket's new television deal, which also starts in 2006, are complete. The intention is to try to reduce the programme by better scheduling, to ensure players have time for rest and practice.

More channels than ever before are involved in talks about broadcasting the game, from Tests to county competitions. A progress report on the new structure will be made to the England and Wales Cricket Board this week, with formal proposals expected in December.

Mike Soper, the chairman of the interim structure review panel, said: "The progress that England have made in Test cricket has been heartening and obvious, and that is partly because we have a four-day Championship of 16 games. But the one-day team have not competed nearly as well. We don't have a 50-over domestic competition played with a white ball, and that is something we simply have to address."

The only domestic 50-over cricket played by counties is in the knock-out C&G Trophy, with the red ball used. It behaves differently, at least in the first 20 overs, from the white ball used in internationals. The national one-day league, sponsored by Totesport, is played over 45 overs.

This will be changed: the number of matches will be red-uced, and will be played in only part of the season. Twenty20, which has brought a whole new audience to the game, will be expanded by a week.

"We have to get the balance right and we have to listen to broadcasters without simply carrying out their every wish," said Soper. "We can build on Twenty20's success without overkill. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, came along to one of our meetings and told us we are playing too much cricket. That is too much at the wrong time."

Plans for revolutionising the domestic game by merging the four-day and one-day competitions to produce an overall champion have been jettisoned. When they were aired earlier this year, county chairmen ridiculed them and decided to formulate their own proposals. But to placate television companies and sponsors they had to be seen to be willing to change. It seems they may have come up for air and are wiping the sand from their eyes.

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