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County chiefs against three-day cricket

The idea of reverting the County Championship to a three-day format with 120-over days, as proposed by Jack Simmons, has received a lukewarm response from three chief executives contacted by Cricinfo. The consensus from them is that four-day cricket is working by providing a solid platform for young players to develop the skills needed for the international level and, if space is needed in the season, a one-day tournament needs to give away.
Simmons, the former Lancashire chairman and current chairman of the ECB cricket committee, is proposing the change as a way of creating more run in the calendar for an expanded Twenty20 tournament. But the feeling from around the counties is that it would be a backward step for the game.

"There are all sorts of things being discussed at the moment but from a personal point of view, and I'm not speaking for the club, three-day cricket brought a lot more contrived finishes and declaration bowling which I don't think is what we want for the game," said Tom Sears, the Derbyshire chief executive. "I don't think it's any coincidence that since we have gone to four-day cricket our young players - the likes of Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar - are equipping themselves at the top level far earlier."

Sears admits that it's a tough job trying to create a fixture list that serves the best cricketing and commercial interests, but the major issue he sees is the prospect of 120-over days. "It's a balancing act, from a commercial point of view about what is viable and also creating the best environment for our players to flourish," he said. "And for 120 overs there would have to be a massive change in the over-rates for that to happen."

Gus Mackay, chief executive of defending county champions Sussex, says he hasn't seen any documents relating to a move back to three-day cricket, but is of a similar view to Sears. "I haven't seen any papers so can't really comment, but what I would say is that four-day cricket is closest thing you will get to Tests," he said. "It's the breeding ground for the next generation of players. Two-divisional cricket is thriving, 120 overs would be a lot for a day, and I think if you want to create a window you need to look at some of the other competitions."

Instead of touching the Championship, the more favoured idea appears to be a change to the one-day structure of the domestic game. Currently there are three tournaments - the Friends Provident Trophy (50 overs), Pro40 and Twenty20 Cup - with the Pro40 not a favourite among players who don't see its worth when 40-over matches aren't played anywhere else.

"I would do everything I could to preserve four-day cricket, I'm very happy with the current structure," said Mark Newton, the Worcestershire chief executive. "It's the other tournaments that need to be looked at, but in doing so we mustn't alter the game too much. Twenty20 has been popular because it retains the basics of cricket."

"It's the first I have heard of it [the idea of three-day cricket], but my initial view would be that it would be a backward step," he added. "I can see some merit in the idea in terms of creating more space, but the aim has always to be to replicate Test cricket. You hear the older former players saying it used to 20 overs an hour, but the game has changed and I'm not sure the players would want it either."

There was a note of support, however, from Essex chairman Nigel Hilliard even though he'd not heard anything about the proposal. "It's news to us at Essex - I've not had it mentioned to me by anyone on any ECB board. Having said that, three-day cricket has always been something we've been in favour of at Essex.

"There are all sorts of ideas being mooted at the moment but it won't be until May 29th - the next ECB board meeting - that we will come together to discuss the future of the game in this country."