Daryl Mitchell, the chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), has warned that The Hundred, the ECB's new format slated for introduction next year, needs to be a success or risk having "serious damaging effects for the counties".
Mitchell and David Leatherdale, the PCA chief executive, have also questioned suggestions in recent weeks that the eight new teams - to be based at Lord's, The Oval, Southampton, Cardiff, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Headingley - could be overseen by coaching staff from their respective host county. "I think as soon as you start controlling two budgets there will be a massive conflict of interest," Mitchell said.
Speaking on the day of the PCA's AGM at The Oval, where Mitchell was re-elected for a second two-year term as chairman, he described it as "imperative" that everyone in the English game gets behind the new competition, which is "front and centre of everyone's mind now". The ECB last week announced near-unanimous agreement from the counties on the playing conditions, and the focus will now turn to settling on the eight team identities, as well as details for the player draft, scheduled to be held in October.
However, while it was initially envisaged that squads for The Hundred would be looked after by completely independent coaching structures, it was reported earlier this month that the counties had defeated the ECB on this point. Instead, it could mean that the team based at Lord's, for example, are in turn managed by Middlesex's director of cricket, currently Stuart Law, with the potential for significant overlap between county and The Hundred coaching and playing structures.
As the head of the players' union, Mitchell's first concern is ensuring that all PCA members have a fair chance of winning selection in the draft - rather than county coaches picking their own. But he also suggested that smaller counties agreeing to let the host grounds take control would be equivalent to "signing your own death warrant" due to lost revenue from the ECB's central pot.
"From our point of view, initially it was sold as something completely different and new," Mitchell said. "If you have a director of cricket in charge of both lists, both sets of players at the same home ground, I think that is inherently not different. I also think as soon as you start controlling two budgets there will be a massive conflict of interest and there will be severe issues.
"I'm amazed that the non-host venues that are paired up with these counties would even contemplate letting it happen, to be perfectly honest. I think it's sort of signing your own death warrant, or making life extra difficult for yourself.
"It's something the PCA and the ECB initially were completely aligned on, I've sat on two cricket committee meetings where it's been passed that it has to be independent, that's paramount to the integrity of the competition. I sat on the working group, and it was pretty much unanimous there as well, that it needed to be independent people in charge of selecting these teams.
"From the players' point of view, it's imperative that you have the best 96 players. What you don't want is to have bias, or even the perception of bias, from people picking their own men, shall we say. This competition, to be a success, needs to have the best 96 players and everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity of being in that, by performances in the T20 Blast or the previous two-three years."
"The Hundred needs to be a success because the ramifications if it fails over the next four or five years could be quite serious" PCA chairman Daryl Mitchell
Each of the counties is already guaranteed an extra £1.3m, after agreeing to the ECB's plans for its new tournament. But with further money set to be allocated depending on the players and staff involved, Mitchell suggested it could lead to a situation where the rich get richer.
There are also potential issues with the constitution of the boards to manage each team in The Hundred. While some have multiple representatives - Middlesex, Essex and the MCC will jointly take charge of the Lord's outfit - the Manchester team currently only has involvement from Lancashire.
"The big ground has his director of cricket, I'm sure there'd be a nice little claw-back on his salary," Mitchell said. "He might employ a coach, he might employ eight or nine of his players, all the percentage of their salaries is going to go back to the big county to spend again, on top of the staging fee that they get. So from a financial point of view, all the big host venues are winning and all the non-host venues are losing severely, I would suggest."
On the possibility of conflicts of interest when managing two supposedly separate squads, Leatherdale referred to the concept of "bundling", allegedly practised by Perth Scorchers in Australia's Big Bash League, whereby players could be encouraged to switch counties based on the potential for greater opportunities in The Hundred.
"It's all perception," Leatherdale said. "You're trying to create a competition that's got clear integrity about what you're trying to do to make it different, and all of a sudden you might have something that ... gives the opportunity for someone to say 'That doesn't look right'. You've got the Andrew Tye situation that happened in Western Australia. He was picked up by Perth Scorchers, didn't play four-day cricket but had a contract managed by the same people.
"That would be the key bit that Daryl said, you want everybody to have the best opportunity to be selected, the best 96, but also that person that's done very, very well, as opposed to a coach who feels he can pick four or five people that he knows… It's not a question of integrity, it's just perception."
In response to Mitchell's criticisms, an ECB spokesman said: "We have worked closely with the whole game to create a big opportunity for the whole game. The Hundred has already helped cricket in England and Wales to secure powerful partnerships with Sky and BBC, get live cricket on terrestrial TV and attract fresh revenues that will benefit cricket at all levels.
"Players are core - it has been important to have the PCA involved, players' feedback from the pilot days was invaluable and we welcome their ongoing insights. Within the game's formal governance process, support for the new competition and playing conditions has been overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to developing the competition even further over the next few months."
Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, has previously described the The Hundred as crucial to the future of the game in England. And while Mitchell, who was encouraged by his involvement in September's trial events, admitted that "there's still some to be convinced" among the PCA membership, he said it was now important to get behind the new format.
"These decisions have been made. It's imperative that everyone gets behind it, it needs to be a success - probably for all stakeholders. My concern is the players but from a broadcast point of view, from a supporter's point of view, it needs to be a success because I think the ramifications if it fails over the next four or five years could be quite serious and have serious damaging effects to the counties."