The ECB has toughened its qualification rules for England cricketers by extending the minimum residential qualification period from four to seven years with immediate effect. The new stipulation, which has been voted in by the ECB board at Lord's, will apply to players who arrive in England and Wales after their 18th birthday.

The tighter regulations aim to put more emphasis on England players being developed through the England system, although overseas players settling in England before their 18th birthday will still only need to complete a residential qualification of four years.

The purpose of this two-tier policy is to reduce allegiances of convenience as overseas players win opportunities in county cricket and, as a result, decide to seek England qualification. But it could also conceivably force many young players approaching their 18th birthday into a premature decision about where their future lies - with South Africa bound to be particularly affected.

The ECB has long abandoned the notion of birthright, which is increasingly viewed as unsuitable to an age of global mobility, but it aims to prove a sense of belonging by the fact that players have come through the system, whether in schools, universities or cricketing academies.

As so often, ECB regulations are not as simple as they first appear. There is a rider in the case of non ICC full-member countries, where qualification can still be reduced to four years at the ECB's discretion. Cricket Ireland will be particularly disappointed by that, with its players now potentially more vulnerable to approaches than players in full-member countries.

The new rules do not apply to women cricketers.

The key provisions are as follows:

(i) All players who are already qualified for England will remain so - provided they continue to meet the existing regulations.

(ii) All players who begin residence in England or Wales before their 18th birthday will need to complete a residence period of four consecutive years.

(iii) Players who begin residence in England or Wales after their 18th birthday will need to complete a residence period of seven consecutive years. *

Full regulations

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo