ECB to cut County Championship season
Counties will play just 14 four-day matches a season from 2014 if, as expected, recommendations contained in a review of the domestic game are approved by the ECB Management Board at Lord's today.
David Morgan, the former ICC and ECB chairman, who led the review having been appointed in May, has also recommended that clubs should play 14 Twenty20 games and that 50-over cricket should return.
The decision to change the shape of the county season has been motivated by a desire for counties to play less cricket and for the season to end earlier, allowing English sides to take part in the Champions League, which is scheduled each year for September. Morgan presented an interim report in November but this is the first time the full report will see the light of day.
A reduction in the number of County Championship games by two may please those in charge of the England team but it will attract criticism given the recent success of the competition. The England Test team is the best in the world and a two-division, 16-match programme deserves at least some of the credit.
It is not clear how any new competition would be structured. If two divisions of nine are retained, teams will only be able to play home and away against six of their rivals. That would present an immediate credibility problem: teams that only had to play a particularly strong rival at home, for example, would appear to have an unfair advantage.
There may be an attempt to resurrect the plan for regional divisions of six, which would bring its own worries. Two-division cricket has produced tougher cricket at the top level and virtually eradicated dead rubbers. A regional competition would restore those problems.
Twenty20 has seen crowds drop in recent seasons – although 2011 saw a slight revival for certain clubs – so the decision to raise the number of matches to 14 (from 10 in 2012, down from 16 in 2011) is brave. Some clubs, like Somerset or Essex, who have never struggled to attract crowds, will be pleased: others less so.
The least controversial change is the return to 50-over cricket, the format used for the World Cup. Even here, though, there will be naysayers. Many county chief executives say that 50 overs is a harder sell than 40-over cricket, the form currently played by counties.
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