The ongoing battle over the way English domestic cricket should be run shifted back towards the counties and away from the England & Wales Cricket Board with the announcement that a county-dominated review group would look at the way ahead.
Last month the proposals made by the ECB's Domestic Structure Review Group (DSRG) - which included merging the first-class and one-day leagues - were soundly rejected by the counties, and at yesterday's meeting of the First Class Forum (FCF) in Loughborough it was agreed that an Interim Review Group (IRG) would come up with an alternative strategy.
The ECB will still have the final say, but it represents a setback for those at Lord's determined to press ahead with radical reforms.
The IRG will be chaired by Mike Soper, chairman of the FCF, and will look at the development of Twenty20 cricket, the National League format, the scheduling of first-class cricket, the issue of promotion and relegation and the extension of floodlit cricket. The IRG will put forward its proposals at an ECB management meeting on June 8 and, if accepted, make its report by the end of the season. Whereas the DSRG's proposals were largely centred on a desire to improve the standing of the national team, the IRG's are likely to be based more on the self-interest of the counties. The decision yesterday to continue with two overseas players per county in 2005 rather than limit it to one per county was an indication of this.
Reaction to the formation of the IRG was mixed. Those closely allied with team England will have been disappointed that proposals to limit the amount of cricket played during the summer have almost certainly been shelved. But county treasurers, secretaries, and members will have been relieved that those at the cutting edge appear to have regained control.
"The present bunch of county chairmen appear to be a militant lot who clearly feel enough sacrifice has been made to the cause of team England," wrote Derek Pringle in the Daily Telegraph. "If it looks like revolt, it is not. The 18 county clubs have long wielded power disproportionate to their financial clout within the modern game. Some ... feel their relationship is little more than parasitical, something this latest move does little to dispel."
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