The revelation that three counties and the Marylebone Cricket Club have been plotting a revolution in the English game prompted a vociferous reaction last night.
MCC, Surrey, Hampshire and Lancashire have drawn up draft plans for a Twenty20 competition on the Indian Premier League model, with nine franchises based at the country's major cricket venues. All other first-class cricket would stop for 25 days as the competition took place. Players would be bid for at auction, with as many as four overseas players allowed per franchise. The three current domestic one-day competitions would be replaced by a 50-over competition played at weekends and a Twenty20 League played throughout the season on Friday evenings.
The quartet had planned to launch their manifesto at Tuesday's board meeting of the England and Wales Cricket Board but it was leaked yesterday. Tuesday's meeting will now be an explosive one. While the competition, it is claimed, could realise £85m annually, some of which would be passed on to all the 18 existing counties, those outside the charmed circle are bound to resist. The basic principle that all counties participate in domestic competitions is the bedrock of the existing domestic system.
Mark Newton, the chief executive of Worcestershire, said: "This is a huge surprise. We have been with these counties twice in the last week, talking about the future of Twenty20. I can't believe people would sit there and not say anything about this. I don't enjoy situations where you have to question people's integrity and, unfortunately, that is the situation we are in here.
"There was a chief executive's meeting on Wednesday and all 18 counties were generally in agreement about the way forward for Twenty20 cricket. There was an agreement that any competition would be based on the 18 counties. We have been told that the TV companies love the idea of a competition based on the 18 counties because we are creating something that already has an affinity. We have been told that the TV companies aren't interested in city-based cricket."
Tom Sears, the Derbyshire chief executive, echoed Newton, saying: "Our initial reaction is that we would be completely against this. We had been told by the ECB that the IPL franchise model was completely off the agenda and that they are looking at an EPL [English Premier League] with 18 first-class teams included. Then I hear that two of the ECB management board have signed this document, which is really worrying.
"It would completely change the landscape. We would see the rich getting richer and the have-nots fall further behind. The only way it could work for a smaller county like Derbyshire is if the sum we received was astronomical. If it is not, then we would never consider it."
Paul Millman, the chief executive of Kent, who will defend their Twenty20 title at the finals day later this month, said the plans sounded "far-fetched".
Not even all those counties who would benefit from the plans supported them yesterday. Paul Russell, the chairman of Glamorgan, said: "I believe this is wrong. It is a divisive, bootleg proposal which has been generated from self-interest. I don't think these forays into flights of fantasy and fairy-tale economics do anybody any good."
Giles Clarke, the chief executive of the ECB, said he "had not been involved with the proposals". Clarke, who was previously chief executive of Somerset, added: "I'm firmly in favour of 18 counties playing at their county grounds."
Earlier this summer he said: "Franchise sport has simply never worked in the UK. Tradition and history rather than Bollywood stars and glitz are the binding which persuade supporters to return, week in, week out, to our grounds."
The management board members referred to by Derbyshire's Sears are the MCC's chief executive, Keith Bradshaw, and David Stewart, the chairman of Surrey, whose names are on the leaked discussion document summary. The authors have done their best to head off objections. They stress "our proposal is based on evolution, not revolution. Cricket's history and tradition must be respected, and major forms of the game – notably Test cricket – must be protected and indeed enhanced".
It is hard to see such words being compatible with a competition that tears a chunk out of a season which already struggles to fit in seven Tests and 10 one-day internationals and which would leave nine county grounds empty except for the dozens of lesser players kicking their heels in high summer.
Bradshaw and Stewart also stress that all counties must benefit financially from the proposal and that the development of young players must be a feature. However, attempts to reserve 12 squad places for players trained in the UK would contravene current EU employment law.
There are also financial questions – do the sums add up? Are there really, with the UK heading towards a recession in which advertising and sponsorship budgets are the first to be cut, enough prospective owners out there to bring in £300m-£450m in franchise fees, given that the IPL raised $723m (£364m)? Will television, even with Sky and Setanta both bidding, pay £40m a year, given that the competition will, every other year, be up against a major football tournament? If they do, will it mean there less is invested in the established game?
As well as these questions the chief executives of the excluded counties will also ponder the long-term implications. Will this be the beginning of a two-tier structure?
"This is a proposal, it is a very exciting proposal, and it needs to be considered," said Paul Sheldon, Surrey's chief executive.
The general response suggests it will not be considered for long before being thrown out, but the proposals are indicative of the way Twenty20 is transforming the game. Bradshaw and Stewart noted "a window of opportunity", "a once in a generation chance". They will argue, on Tuesday, that they are seeking to head off an unofficial league, or beat another country to it. Either way, a situation could eventually arise where some players do nothing but tour the world, playing for various teams in a variety of Premier Leagues. Where would that leave Test cricket?
Glamorgan stake claim to Yorkshire's forfeited place
The fallout from Yorkshire's expulsion from the Twenty20 Cup took a twist last night when Glamorgan complained that the vacant quarter-final place should have gone to them rather than Nottinghamshire.
Yorkshire were disqualified by an England and Wales Cricket Board discipline commission on Thursday after fielding an ineligible player in their final group match victory over Nottinghamshire. Had Yorkshire been thrown out but the result against Nottinghamshire been allowed to stand, Glamorgan would have qualified for the last eight as one of the two best third-placed sides from the group stages. But the commission gave the points to Nottinghamshire, who will now face Durham to decide who will play Middlesex at Twenty20 finals day on 26 July. Kent face Essex in the other semi-final.
However, Glamorgan believe that the Laws of Cricket do not allow the ECB to hand Nottinghamshire the points. "We understand from our lawyers we have a pretty robust case," said Glamorgan's chairman, Paul Russell. "Law 21 specifically states that once the result of a game is correct it stands in perpetuity. It is not allowed for anybody to change the result."
Yorkshire, meanwhile, will appeal against their expulsion on the grounds that it is "manifestly disproportionate to the offence" and both cases will be heard at a new hearing in Taunton on Monday. Jon Culley
A 25-day competition to run inJune and July from 2010. Noother first-class cricket to beplayed anywhere in the worldfor the duration of the event.
Nine teams to play 54matches in a round-robin format,followed by semi-finalsand final. Teams to be basedat the Category A grounds –Lord's, The Oval, Old Trafford,Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, TheRose Bowl, Sophia Gardens,Headingley, The Riverside.Teams to be auctioned asfranchises. Ten-year dealsestimated to cost an average£3.4m each.
"Icon players" (eg KevinPietersen, Andrew Flintoff) tobe allocated to "home"grounds. All others bid for atauction. Each squad of 15 or 16players. Minimum of three"young" players (Under-21 orUnder-23) in each squad andminimum of 12 "home-grown"players, who can also be"young" players. Initial salarycap per team to be £1.5m.
New company calledTwenty20 Ltd to be set up toadminister the competition,thus getting around theEngland and Wales CricketBoard constitutional requirementthat all 18 counties areinvolved in such competitions.
The teams would each make aprojected £500,000 profit perseason. A further £47.3mprofit would be dividedbetween the ECB, all 18counties, overseas cricketboards and the franchises.
IMPACT ON DOMESTIC FIXTURES
The Friends Provident Trophyand NatWest Pro-40 Leagueto be scrapped and replacedby a 50-over competitionplayed at weekends. DomesticTwenty20 Cup to be replacedby a Twenty20 League playedthroughout the season onFriday evenings. CountyChampionship to remain, butprobably with fewer fixtures.No senior matches forduration of the new Twenty20competition.