Regional red-ball competition in prospect as counties vote on season formats
Some splits over 50-over competition remain but ECB ask for simple majority in secret ballot
The outline for the county season will be decided on Tuesday following a vote by the chairs of the first-class counties.
With all clubs agreed that the T20 Blast should feature, the choice facing the counties is whether to start the season with a first-class or List A competition.
As things stand, it seems the first-class competition will narrowly win the vote. That will mean the counties splitting into three regional groups of six and playing five games. The top two would qualify for a Lord's final to be played over five days. The competition will not be referred to as the County Championship and will have no bearing on promotion and relegation.
It is a secret ballot, however, and not every club has been prepared to confirm which way they intend to vote.
Those favouring the List A competition argue that it would be cheaper and safer to run as it minimises the necessity for hotel stays. At least one club reports concerns expressed by players - particularly those with pregnant partners or young families - about staying in hotels. The PCA have previously stated that players will be required to opt-in to be considered for selection but, with more than 130 players out of contract at the end of the season, some are understandably anxious not to put themselves at a disadvantage
Another club argues that players coming off furlough will require more time to prepare to regain the level of fitness required for first-class cricket. As a consequence, that club says it favours the List A option.
Under normal circumstances, such votes have to be decided with a two-thirds majority. On this occasion, however, the ECB have asked the counties to agree to a simple majority. Even that has not been accepted by all the counties with some red-ball proponents adamant that, even if they lose the vote, they will arrange first-class friendlies against like-minded teams.
Counties remain confident they will be able to welcome some spectators back into their grounds at some stage during what remains of the season. With pubs and restaurants now reopened, the counties hope that pushing the T20 Blast into September, when the bulk of its matches will be played, gives them the best chance to recoup some revenue from the season in ticket sales.
Counties thought to favour a first-class competition:
Nottinghamshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Sussex, Yorkshire, Middlesex, Surrey, Somerset, Warwickshire, Kent, Durham and Worcestershire.
Counties thought to favour a 50-over competition:
Essex, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Glamorgan, Northants.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo