Zimbabwe Cricket has once again made changes to its provincial structure, and from next season it will be based on five regional franchises, as recommended in the recent ICC report into the country's cricketing infrastructure.

The five franchises will be based in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Kwekwe and Masvingo. "It's a model which is similar to [that used by] Cricket South Africa since 2004" a spokesman explained. "It decentralises the administration of first-class cricket and has worked very well there."

The board has tinkered with the domestic set-up several times in recent years, initially to remove all areas of dissent, and then to try to find a solution to falling standards. Many believed the new structures were aimed at consolidating all power within the ZC elite, and there were reports that funds did not always filter down to the grass roots.

This does not seem to have been lost on the ICC and one of the more forceful recommendations was that decentralisation was vital. While senior stakeholders welcomed the news, one told Cricinfo that it would only work if there was a high level of transparency in the funding of the new franchises "otherwise their income will depend on their subservience to those running the board".

However, that appears to have been recognised, and the new franchises will have far greater autonomy that previously, taking charge of almost every aspect of the game in their regions.

"Under the new system, ZC will grant five selected franchise management committees the rights to administer first-class cricket on a professional basis, and as a commercially viable business," a statement read. "The franchises will, among other things, contract players, employ technical staff and maintain a facility to use as a home ground."

"ZC will provide the franchises with an annual grant, but it will be the responsibility of the individual franchise to raise any extra capital requirements through sponsorship and other fund-raising initiatives."

"This change in structure is groundbreaking in that it will empower the wider community in Zimbabwe to become actively involved in the sport," said Peter Chingoka, the board chairman.

The Franchises

Harare Metropolitan and Mashonaland Central who will use Harare Sports Club as a home base

Bulawayo Metropolitan and Matabeleland North to use Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo as home venue.

Midlands and Mashonaland West to use Kwekwe Sports Club as base.

Manicaland and Mashonaland East to play home matches at Mutare Sports Club.

Masvingo and Matabeleland South to use Masvingo Sports Club.

Steven Price is a freelance journalist based in Harare