ECB retreats from regional academies plan
The ECB has privately indicated that it has retreated from proposals to downgrade the 18 county academies in favour of creating "regional training hubs as opposed to county programmes" as part of a plan to "define a new pathway for English cricket".
ESPNcricinfo revealed last month that independent consultants had concluded in a confidential report, commissioned by the ECB, that the much-vaunted eight-team T20 tournament could "impact on the future structure" of the professional game in England and urged the ECB to take the chance to "reorganise the geographical structure of county cricket".
The revelations caused immediate disquiet within several counties as they prepared for a meeting at Lord's on March 27 which will further examine plans for the new T20 tournament. If given the go ahead, the tournament will have major ramifications for the professional game in England and Wales.
When the potential implications of the independent report became clear, Andrew Strauss, England's director of cricket, was forced to undertake a ring round of the counties to assure them that the ECB had no intention of adopting it in its most radical form.
Strauss gave private assurances that the 18 county academies will remain the chief pathway for professional cricket in England - and that there would be no attempt to drain county academies of revenue to concentrate coaching resources upon the regional hubs that will stage the envisaged new T20 tournament.
There is appetite for some change, however. The ECB will advocate a limited centralisation of services, with counties encouraged to share support that, for financial reasons, might not otherwise be available to them, such as specialist coaches, psychologists or expensive technology.
One recommendation of the report has been implemented already, with the appointment of Alun Powell to the new position of national talent development manager. Powell will join from the RFU and work alongside Andy Flower and Andy Hurry - the Lions and U-19 coaches - to identify and develop players below international level.
It remains to be seen whether the counties will be appeased by Strauss' intervention. Throughout the process towards an eight-team T20 tournament, many have sought to suppress the underlying fear that in the medium term they might be signing their own death warrant.
The details of how such an arrangement might work - and which grounds might host such facilities - remain in their infancy. The ECB has yet to comment openly upon the plans.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps