Counties producing two 'below average' pitches in a 12-month period could be penalised under new regulations brought in by the ECB for the 2017 County Championship season.
In a further attempt to encourage counties to produce better quality pitches, the ECB have widened the criteria under which they can take action. Whereas, in the past, pitches had to be rated 'poor' or even 'unfit' to incur a penalty, the new regulations state that "Two or more Below Average pitches in a 12-month period, rated so because of sub-standard performance relating to spin, seam or unevenness, if allied to intent would liable to penalty."
Ahead of the 2016 season, the ECB announced several other measures designed to encourage better pitches. In particular, they announced that visiting captains would be able to choose to bowl first in the Championship without the need to utilise a toss of the coin and they declared that away sides would be awarded 16 or 20 points (depending on the number of bonus points already won) if the home side prepared an "unfit" pitch. The home side would get no points from the match irrespective of any bonus points already won. Those regulations remain in place for the 2017 season.
The final rating of pitches will be made by one of the Cricket Liaison Officers. With the ECB having increased the number of CLOs to 10, there should be one at every day of Championship cricket. They will consult with the umpires, players and ground staff before coming to a conclusion. The addition of the clause "if allied to intent" would suggest they are not seeking to take a punitive view to counties hit by poor weather or excessive use of their squares, but rather encourage a better balance between bat and ball..
Other changes to the playing conditions allow for time lost during a Championship match to be made up (to a maximum of 30 minutes) over the first three days - rather than just on the day concerned - while the ECB have confirmed that the hours of the day-night games will be 2pm until 10pm. The intervals will still be referred to as 'lunch' and 'tea' despite being scheduled for 4pm and 6.40pm. Play cannot extend beyond 10pm to make up for lost time.
Meanwhile, in limited-overs cricket, the ECB have banned the use of the heavy roller after the start of games in the Royal London Cup, meaning only a light roller can be used between innings. There was a concern that, with the tournament scheduled for April and May, bowling first might provide too much of an advantage. The heavy roller can also not be used in the NatWest Blast.
The new Laws relating to the size of cricket bats, outlined previously by MCC, are due to come into effect on October 1 and are not being adopted for the English domestic season. But other Law changes will be adopted: a batsman can now be caught off a fielder's helmet and a batsman will not be run out if their bat bounces up having previously been grounded once he has completed his run. In the unlikely event that a bowler's cap falls off and breaks the wicket during his delivery, the umpire will call no-ball.
Other regulations used in 2016 - notably the change to the toss regulations- will remain in place for the 2017 season.