Counties still face a battle to preserve the current 16-match County Championship despite voting by an overwhelming majority to reject a revised 14-match structure.
The England and Wales Cricket Board sent out a questionnaire to counties after an inconclusive meeting of county chairman and chief executives at Lord’s two weeks ago, the results of which suggest that support for the integrity of county cricket’s oldest competition remains strong.
The questionnaire is expected to show that 12 of the counties – two-thirds of them – do not want the existing 16-match format to be tinkered with even if it means counties missing out on participation in the Champions League t20 competition.
The findings of the questionnaire will be presented to a meeting of the board of the England and Wales Cricket Board on March 22 but late pressure is expected to be exerted by Team England who are keen to see the Championship reduced to a 14-match per-side competition.
Team England would like to see more space created in the domestic schedule for players to rest between matches and prepare properly for the different competitions, but it seems that most of their concerns can be addressed by the ability of the England management to give incremental or central contracts to the players they wish to rest.
The 14-strong ECB board contains representatives from all sectors of the English game including ECB chairman Giles Clarke, vice-chairman Dennis Amiss and four county chairmen in Peter Wright (Nottinghamshire), Colin Graves (Yorkshire), Ian Lovett (Middlesex) and Nigel Hilliard (Essex).
The presence of independent directors Lord Morris of Handsworth and Jane Stichbury might prove significant in tilting the important vote in favour of Team England. But the ECB board runs the risk of causing unrest in the shires if they ignore what appears to be significant opposition to plans to make the most significant changes to the County Championship since two divisions were introduced 11 years ago.
Perhaps the ECB miscalculated the strength of opposition to a 14-match Championship and expected the vote to be much closer which would have made it easier for their board to make a decision ‘in the best interests of the game’.
The ECB also involved the Professional Cricketers’ Association in the decision-making process. The players’ union canvassed the opinion of its 18 county representatives but the results have proved inconclusive and have given the ECB no clear mandate to change the existing structure.
After consultation with their players the county reps voted 14-4 in favour of retaining a 16-match Championship with no other factors to be taken into consideration. But the vote was a more marginal 10-8 in favour of a 14-match Championship to preserve the participation of English sides in the potentially lucrative Champions League.