ECB agrees to new county schedule from 2014
England's county championship will benefit from Sunday starts after the ECB Board agreed to a new domestic schedule for a four-year period from 2014.
A new-look county programme will also include Twenty20 cricket played weekly over much of the season, predominantly on Friday evenings, and the scrapping of 40-over cricket which will be replaced by the 50-over format, replicating the international game. The proposals will be formally adopted next month.
The desperate need to create space in an overcrowded fixture list is made by slimming down the Clydesdale Bank 50 to eight group matches per county - four fewer days than the 40-over equivalent.
Counties will either be split into two groups of nine, which would leave no place for Scotland, Netherlands or the Unicorns, an invitation side made up of some of the best non first-class players, or into four groups of five in which case only Scotland, who have already indicated their wish not to continue after 2013, would be omitted.
The decision follows the failure of the Morgan Review, chaired by David Morgan, the former Board chairman, to find unanimity and a subsequent polling online of more than 25,000 county supporters in the biggest customer survey ever undertaken by English cricket.
Morgan's proposals that the Championship should be reduced have finally been defeated after strong opposition from players, coaches and supporters.
His preference for T20 cricket to be spread over the season has, though, found more favour. A rain-wrecked FLt20 last summer subdued calls for the competition to be played over a short, intense period in mid-summer, as did an increasing recognition that the counties are no longer able to attract the best overseas talent, especially with a USA professional T20 tournament lurking on the horizon.
An ECB statement said: "The ECB Board noted the strong desire from counties and spectators to create an 'appointment to view' for T20 cricket spread over a longer period of the season. There was no compelling preference from spectators for 40-over cricket rather than 50-over cricket and therefore the format from 2014 will replicate the 50-over format played by the national team."
The FLt20 will consist of 14 matches per County, mostly played on Friday evenings - although counties such as Surrey are expected to win the freedom to play on Thursday because of too many rival attractions in London at the weekend. The top eight counties will progress to a quarter-final round and the retention of the popular FLt20 Finals Day format.
A desire to preserve the primacy of Championship cricket is likely to see England's first-class counties opting out of the Champions League unless the tournament is put back at least a week to dovetail with the climax to the England domestic season. Counties have already decided not to participate in 2013.
In 2013, in order to avoid a repeat of the earliest starts in history in 2011 and 2012, the county season is likely to commence on April 9 and finish in the third week of September. The Champions League, which has a window in the Future Tours Programme, starts in the second week of September.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo