The English domestic game may not include 50-over cricket from next year after the ECB unveiled plans for a revamped county structure involving three competitions. The 16-match four-day Championship has been retained alongside an expanded Twenty20 tournament, but the format for the third competition has yet to be decided and could involve some radical new concepts including two-innings 40-over matches
"The ECB feel there is a worldwide desire to find a way of reinvigorating and revitalising the 50 over game," a statement said. "The game has experimented with power plays and super subs and now ECB, along with other countries, have decided to explore new options. Research tells ECB this is something the spectators and counties want to see happen. One option being considered is a 40-over concept with two innings per side with no limitations on bowlers."
The new structure will also mean an end to Test matches being staged in May after a series poorly attended series, including this year's two-Test series against West Indies at Lord's and Chester-le-Street. "We all recognise that there is little appetite for Test match cricket in early May and this structure allows us to play Tests in June, July and August," Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, said.
The three-tournament domestic structure had been expected, but not the potential scrapping of 50-over matches which is currently played under the Friends Provident Trophy banner. It creates the situation where England will continue to play one-day internationals but without a format to replicate that in the domestic game. It is often a criticism that England's players are not well prepared for 50-over cricket. Now they will not be prepared at all, while those trying to force their way in won't be able to impress in a competition that mirrors international cricket.
"The ECB is committed to 50-over cricket at international level with a total of 13 ODIs against Bangladesh, Australia and Pakistan as well as an extended programme of England Lions 50-over games," the statement added. "These matches, along with those played in Australia in the winter of 2010-11, will provide the practice required for the ICC World Cup in early 2011."
The ECB said this new tournament would revive the Sunday League which became a regular part of the fixture list during the 1970s, 80s and 90s and was popular with supporters as it guaranteed them weekend action.
After suggestions that the Championship would be cut back to make way for more Twenty20 cricket the four-day tournament will remain intact, while Twenty20 - branded under the P20 name - will become two pools of nine teams split along north-south lines to retain the derby element.
"We canvassed a wide range of opinion and everyone was behind the principle of the primacy of Test match and County Championship cricket," Clarke said. "It is important that the County Championship structure is maintained to support the Test team.
"We have also listened to the spectators and counties alike about the structure and the consensus was for Twenty20 cricket to be played in June and July with a final later in the season with the qualification matches primarily at weekends."