County news January 5, 2016

Counties fear power grab to hasten City-based T20

Some counties fear plans afoot at the ECB © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

There is growing concern amid the first-class counties at what some of them claim is a "power grab" from the ECB designed eventually to pave the way to a city-based T20 competition.

An ECB spokesman has dismissed the suggestion that a governance review and the ongoing debate over the restructuring of the county game are linked as "a conspiracy theory."

At the heart of the governance review is a proposition that would reduce the number of county representatives on the powerful ECB management board. Instead of four, the ECB have suggested there would be just one representative from the first-class counties, joined by other members deemed "independent."

While the ECB suggest the move is an attempt to diversify the make-up of the board and ensure representatives have a wide range of skills, some county officials are concerned the aim is simply to drive through changes to the domestic game that have, to date, been blocked by the counties.

Specifically, the ECB management remain convinced that a city-based T20 competition based on the Big Bash model is an essential component in their bid to make domestic cricket more sustainable and inspire improved participation figures.

While any broadcast profits from this competition, probably featuring eight newly-branded sides, would benefit the full 18 counties, some are concerned that the birth of such a tournament would automatically lead to the degrading of other county competitions and, in time, the demise of some clubs.

It had initially appeared an uneasy truce had been called. While the ECB management retain their enthusiasm for the city-based competition, it is anticipated that it will shortly be announced that, from 2017 to 2019, the domestic T20 competition will be split into two divisions offering promotion and relegation.

Broadcasters will have the licence to focus primarily on the top division rather than attempting to give equal coverage to each team, as is the case now.

It is clear, though, that the ECB management regard such a change as a short-term move. Despite recent growth in T20 spectator numbers in England - on the grounds at least - Tom Harrison, the CEO, and Colin Graves, the chairman, are convinced that a Big Bash style competition, played in a July window, is key to a resurgence in the interest and sustainability of the game.

It also seems highly likely that, from 2020, Sky TV's exclusive deal with the ECB to broadcast live cricket will be broken with some games returning to free-to-air platforms.

Ultimately, it is hard to see how serious conflict can be avoided. Some county officials are already discussing their options, which include a letter of no confidence in Graves and the possibility of negotiating their own broadcast deals.

At present, domestic cricket is ascribed a nil value in the TV broadcast deal so, they maintain, they should be able to keep any profits from deals they arrange.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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