The ECB have been given the green light to launch a new domestic T20 competition after the board's members voted overwhelmingly to support their plans.
Approval to change the constitution of the organisation represented the last hurdle required by the executive to confirm the launch of the event containing eight new teams in 2020. News that members (the 18 first-class counties, the MCC, the Minor Counties Cricket Association and the county boards in the non-first-class counties) voted by a margin of 38 to 3 - an abstention effectively counted as no vote - to support the changes means that hurdle has been cleared.
The decision is the culmination of at least two years' work from the ECB executive and can only be interpreted as a major victory for the chief executive Tom Harrison and the chairman Colin Graves. They will now progress negotiations with potential broadcast partners.
It has long seemed an inevitable conclusion. The ECB won a commitment from the non-first-class counties to vote in a block some months ago and, once the first-class counties voted in September to pursue the development of the new competition to the exclusion of any other plans, this was always going to be the result.
The constitutional amendment allows the ECB to run a major domestic competition that excludes the first-class counties. They were not previously entitled to do this, though the changes make it clear that they apply only to the new domestic T20 competition. Only Middlesex, who don't own Lord's, Essex and Kent - the latter two smaller counties without large grounds who fear their marginalisation in the new order of things - did not back the changes.
"We are delighted that such an overwhelming majority of our Members have voted to support the change to the ECB's Articles," Graves said. "In doing so, they have paved the way for an exciting new era for cricket in England and Wales.
"Over the past year our members have seen the clear evidence outlining why an additional new T20 competition is the right way for cricket to reach new audiences, create new fans and drive the future of the game. I would like to sincerely thank them for the way they and their members have embraced the process and the debate.
"I passionately believe that the game has chosen the right path. Each of our members will benefit and, critically, so will the whole game. We can now move on with building an exciting new competition for a new audience to complement our existing competitions plus the international formats, each with its own clear role to play.
"Our clear ambition is that this new competition will sit alongside the IPL and Big Bash League as one of the world's major cricket tournaments. It will certainly increase participation in our game, in conjunction with the new All Stars Cricket program for five to eight-year-olds, and provide additional income streams for all our stakeholders.
"The ECB Executive and T20 Development Team will now continue to work with the game as we build the new competition, ensure it is positioned distinctively from our existing competitions and realise its full potential. All decisions - including the creation and base of each team - will be made within the game, guided by our shared strategy and built on best practice, research and insight.
"The benefits it will bring can deliver a sustainable future for all 18 first-class counties and an exciting future for the game in England and Wales."
It may surprise some that Surrey, after much resistance, voted in favour of the reforms. Rather than signifying a change of heart, this might be interpreted as a pragmatic ploy to improve relations with the ECB executive. The next allocation of major matches is scheduled for later this year and Surrey, whose staging agreement ends over the next few years, are anxious not to be punished for their recalcitrance. They couldn't realistically have done any more to avert this situation but decided the battle was over and it was time to make peace. To a lesser extent, the same might be said about Somerset and one or two others.
Significant practical challenges remain before the new-team competition is launched. Quite apart from the issues facing the existing domestic tournaments - and there is a fear that all will be compromised - they ECB have to make the new one work in the face of ever-growing competition. We know already that the new-team competition will clash with the Caribbean Premier League - giving players the intriguing choice of a few weeks in Birmingham or Barbados - and England's Test schedule.
So, while the ECB executive have claimed the new tournament will contain the best players in the world, in reality they may struggle to involve even the best in England. And while Virat Kohli's image has featured in some of the internal propaganda, there has been no sign of an agreement with the BCCI would be see Indian players released for another nation's domestic T20 event. In the summer of 2023, for example, it seems likely the new tournament will not contain players from India, West Indies (who are committed to the CPL) or anyone in the England or Australia Test squads, who will, at that time, be engaged in the Ashes.
Indeed, the ECB will now have to turn many of the claims for their new competition into reality. It will cost, in year one alone, nearly £40m (the first-class counties will each receive a sweetener of £1.3m in each of the first five years) and, over the next months, the counties will learn whether the tournament is to be 'region' or 'city' based, who will host it, how much is going to be broadcast free and how much behind a paywall and, crucially, whether it can capture the public imagination as hoped. The ECB have made many commitments; now they've won the chance to implement them.