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ECB to examine 'FA Cup-style' knockout and first-class conference proposals

The return of an FA Cup-style knockout competition and the restructuring of the County Championship into a conference system will be on the agenda when an ECB working party meets in the coming days

George Dobell
George Dobell
Andrew Strauss talks to the media, The Oval, September 27, 2017

Andrew Strauss talks to the media  •  Getty Images

The return of an FA Cup-style knockout competition and the restructuring of the County Championship into a conference system will be on the agenda when an ECB working party meets in the coming days.
ESPNcricinfo understands the working party, to be chaired by Leicestershire chief executive Wasim Khan, will discuss options for the domestic season once the new-team T20 competition starts in 2020.
Among the issues it will consider is the possibility of playing the 50-over competition as a knockout tournament involving the Minor Counties. Such a competition was a feature of English cricket for more than 40 years - at various times known as the Gillette Cup, the NatWest Trophy and the C&G Trophy - but in 2006 the tournament was altered to be played as a league without the involvement of the Minor Counties.
A return, it is argued, would ensure a good level of cricket is played across the country - rather than just at the 18 first-class county venues - providing opportunities to capitalise on the projected popularity of the new-team T20 competition.
It currently looks all but certain that the system of promotion and relegation in Championship cricket will be replaced a conference system from 2020 - ending the two-division structure that has been in place for two decades.
The benefits, in the view of the counties, is that all 18 will start the season with a chance of winning the competition and there will be less pressure to make short-term decisions about playing opportunities in a bid to achieve promotion or avoid relegation. This, they argue, will create greater opportunities for young players and reduce the temptation to sign Kolpak registrations and the like. It is also likely that most teams will play fewer Championship games - probably 12 - per season.
Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, is understood to be warming to the idea of conferences having initially been unenthusiastic. There is also a sense around the counties that those teams who find themselves towards the bottom of Division Two on a regular basis might, without intervention, start to prioritise their white-ball aspirations.
The counties will also discuss whether they should play Championship, 50-over cricket or a mix during the window allocated to the new-team T20 competition. The original plan was to play 50-over cricket during the six-week window, but some counties have suggested they would prefer to play first-class cricket in order to minimise the loss of commercial opportunities from 50-over games that could be overshadowed by the new competition. Some also argue that spinners might benefit from the opportunity to play on dry pitches in August.
With the new-team competition likely to take the best 100 or so players out of the county game, however, there is a fear that playing Championship cricket in that window will dilute the quality of competition. Test cricket is also scheduled to continue during the window.
There has also been a suggestion that a squad of recently released professionals - something like the Unicorns squad of recent years - might be assembled to either play in the 50-over competition or provide substitutes to those teams who have lost players to the new-team T20 tournament. This, it is argued, would provide a second chance for players who would otherwise struggle for opportunities in the professional game.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo