City T20 back on cards as county chiefs get radical
A city-based T20 competition could be back on the agenda in England and Wales after a group of county chief executives called upon their colleagues to embrace more radical change.
It had been presumed that the meeting of the county chief executives at Trent Bridge on Thursday would simply wave through a raft of proposals to the structure of county cricket that might be termed a compromise between those who want city-based T20 and those who want no change. Those proposals were understood to include introducing promotion and relegation in domestic T20 cricket and a reduced County Championship fixture list with an eight-team top division and 10-team bottom division. The changes would have been implemented for the 2017 season and would last until the current TV deal expires at the end of 2019.
But there was a feeling from some at the meeting - not least the MCC chief executive, Derek Brewer - that the proposals were not radical enough. Brewer argued that, with Test revenues expected to come under strain in the next few years, it was essential to exploit the global appeal of the T20 format. English cricket, he said, was missing an opportunity by failing to implement a streamlined, city-based competition in a school holidays window.
Others present felt that the positives of moving to two divisions, with broadcasters focusing on the top tier, might be outweighed by the threat of losing lucrative local derby matches - such as Yorkshire's and Lancashire's Roses fixtures, which are understood to be worth £300,000 per game.
As a result, the counties asked for more clarity on the financial repercussions of each of their options. With some of the larger, Test-hosting counties anxious about their debt issues, the mood for change among the chief executives does appear to be growing. Warwickshire, Hampshire and Glamorgan are among those counties apparently now in favour of a city-based competition.
Many of the county chairmen, and most of those in executive positions at the ECB, are already convinced of the benefits of a city-based T20 competition along the lines of Australia's Big Bash League. It has, until now, been the chief executives who resisted a move in that direction with many of them citing substantial growth in attendances and revenues since the NatWest Blast was scheduled on a more predictable basis and pointing out that the quality of overseas players - both in terms of talent and marketability - involved in the 2015 competition was exceptionally high.
But if evidence can be produced ahead of the next county chairmen's meeting on March 7, and the ECB board meeting that follows it, that a move to a city-based competition will financially benefit all the counties, it remains just about possible that it could yet be introduced in 2017.
Time is an issue. The ECB are adamant that agreement must be reached before the season so that teams go into the campaigns knowing what the outcomes could be. For example, the finishing positions in this year's NatWest Blast would decide which divisions teams would be in next year.
It remains likely that the compromise solution - a two-division T20 competition involving all 18 counties with teams financially compensated for a lack of derby games - will be ratified, but it does seem that resistance to more radical change is crumbling.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo