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English game set for city-based T20 cricket

Cricket in England looks set for its most dramatic change in a generation after the counties voted in favour of city-based cricket

George Dobell
George Dobell
Cricket in England looks set for its most dramatic change in a generation after the counties voted in favour of city-based cricket.
Offered five options by the ECB executive, the counties (plus the MCC) voted by a margin of 16-3 in favour of Option Four, which will see a new competition played by city-based sides and starting as soon as 2018. For the first two years, at least, it seems the tournament will be broadcast by Sky and not involve England players. Both those factors may change after a new broadcast deal is agreed for 2020 onwards.
The existing NatWest Blast competition is also expected to continue and is likely to be played in the weeks before the city-based tournament, which will be held in July.
ESPNcricinfo understands that only Surrey, Kent and Sussex voted against the proposals at the meeting attended by the chairmen and chief executives of all 18 counties and the MCC.
The ECB said the process has now entered a 'consultation phase' with county members. However, they hope to take the plan to their board for approval before Christmas. While some county figures insist this move is not binding - the vote was informal - and that they are simply keen to learn more about the ECB's plans for city-based cricket, there is no other option left on the table.
"We've all been looking at how we can use domestic T20 for an even bigger purpose, especially getting more young people to play," Colin Graves, the ECB chairman, said. "This format was invented here and is successful worldwide. It can excite new fans, attract the best players and fuel the future of the game, on and off the pitch.
"The need to grow interest and participation in the game we love is at the core of our thinking and this is a rigorous process. We've talked to each county individually about the need for change, a range of potential options and the implications.
"There's a constructive dialogue with county chairmen and chief executives, the MCC and PCA and now agreement to move forward and further develop this approach. The next steps for us all, as a game, will be to extend the discussions and get valuable input from players, members and other key voices across the game."
It will prove a tough sell for some county executives. There is very little support for the city-based idea among members of the smaller counties and this decision may well spark local rebellions. The ECB have lifted the non-disclosure agreement that originally forbade talking about the details for 10 years.
The implications for English cricket are significant. Not only will the new T20 competition see domestic cricket played between teams other than counties for the first time in more than a century, it also seems that around 100 players will be taken out of Championship cricket for the month-long duration of the tournament. In the longer term, it is likely that the Championship schedule - already set to be cut from 16 to 14 games in 2017 - will be cut further.
It also seems the ECB constitution will have to be altered. At present it states that all competitions have to involve all 18 counties.
The development will be interpreted as a triumph for both the ECB chairman, Colin Graves, and the CEO, Tom Harrison. They have pushed for such consensus for some time and taken several defeats in the process. This step means they are very likely to achieve their hopes of introducing city-based cricket, lessen the control of the counties, and bring in new revenues.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo