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Quarter-final stage introduced for Twenty20 2004

The England & Wales Cricket Board has resisted the temptation to cook its golden goose, and has announced that the Twenty20 Cup will remain largely unchanged for next season's competition.

The only major alteration will be the inclusion of a quarter-final stage. Both semi-finals and the final will, once again, be held on the same day, despite some criticism that the showpiece day was rather too long. Even though Surrey won the inaugural final with more than nine overs to spare, the day's activities didn't finish until 9.35pm, some 11 hours after the first ball had been bowled.

The success of the competition, however, is not in doubt. More than 250,000 spectators attended group games in the 2003 competition - a rise of 353% compared to the old Benson & Hedges Cup, which Twenty20 cricket was designed to replace.

But county executives were split over its future. Leicestershire, Glamorgan and Worcestershire preferred to play next season's group games in two pools of nine, which would guarantee each county twice the number of home games. But the ECB management board agreed unanimously to keep the existing three pools of six, and the venues for each match held in 2003 will be reversed.

The quarter-final stage will increase the interest in the group phases. The sides finishing first and second in each group will qualify automatically, with the other two quarter-final spots going to the two third-placed teams with the best records. The tournament has also been delayed by two weeks to avoid clashing with the European football championships.

"The issue was about how best to build upon the tremendous success of the competition in its first year," said ECB chief executive Tim Lamb. "Ultimately it was unanimously decided by the ECB management board that the format of the competition should largely be unchanged in 2004."