England news May 19, 2015

ECB plans to cut Championship games

The focus on revamping England's T20 competition is likely to result in a reduction of Championship games © Getty Images

The County Championship looks set to be curtailed so that more emphasis can be placed on the limited-overs game with the ECB having agreed in principle to cut the number of games played by each team a season.

Emphasis will be placed instead on the financial potential of Twenty20 cricket and the desire to promote the 50-over game ahead of England's staging of the 2019 World Cup.

In a bid to ease fixture congestion and improve the value of the domestic T20 tournament, in particular, the ECB is attempting to devise a schedule where counties play just 12 Championship matches per season. At present they play 16.

The last time such a move was proposed - as part of David Morgan's report in 2011-12 - a backlash from county members prompted a last-minute rethink. But this time there appears to be something close to a consensus within the counties and no intention of further consultation with county members or other spectators.

Key to the changes is an attempt to maximise revenues from T20 cricket. While the 2015 season is likely to see record attendances for the NatWest Blast competition - for the first time, over one million tickets could be sold - the ECB still believes further progress is possible and necessary.

The exact shape of a future T20 competition remains unclear, with discussions ongoing, but it currently appears likely that attempts to introduce franchise cricket will be resisted and that the tournament will be played in two leagues, with a system of promotion and relegation as yet open to debate.

Such a solution would see the top league gain nearly all the TV coverage and the salary cap might be relaxed for the competition to allow the recruitment of more big-name overseas players. It is also likely to be played in an eight to 10 week window in the school holidays.

The availability of England players for at least a sizeable portion of the tournament remains under debate.

The ECB also hopes to change the schedule for 50-over cricket. With a view to the next Champions Trophy and World Cup - both scheduled to be played in England in relatively early season, in 2017 and 2019 respectively - the aim is to play more 50-over cricket in the first couple of months of the season (the competition currently starts on July 25) and make room for a showpiece Lord's final in July or August.

But it is the changes to the County Championship that will prove most controversial. While the Professional Cricketers' Association favours a conference system to arrive at a 12-game season, others favour one division of 10 (with teams not necessarily playing each other twice) and another of eight.

There are also suggestions of adding three teams to create a 21-team, three-division tournament. An additional three teams could be drawn either from the Associate nations or the leading minor counties, with the chairman, Colin Graves, eager at least to explore the end of the 18-team closed shop. It is understood, however, that Cricket Scotland have yet to be approached about such a possibility and may be reluctant to compromise their international status and the prospect of playing Test cricket.

While many of these alterations have been mooted for years, this time the ECB is determined to drive them through. Change appears inevitable and the County Championship looks certain to bear the brunt.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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