Cricket

Colin Graves believes changes to the domestic structure will drive standards up.

Domestic cricket changes aimed at improving skill level

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Changes to the domestic calendar - including a reduction of County Championship matches - are being brought in to improve skill levels and broaden interest in English cricket.

England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves, and director Andrew Strauss, both made those points following the governing body's announcement on Monday evening of alterations which will begin to take effect this summer.

The new structure of eight Division One teams and 10 in Division Two, two summer-holiday blocks for the NatWest T20 Blast and an early-season slot for the Royal London One-Day Cup is perceived by some - such as former England captain Michael Vaughan, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live - as the first step towards a "Big Bash-style tournament by 2020".

Even that first step will not be introduced until 2017 but counties will have to refocus this season too - not least the two relegated last year, who must vie for just one promotion place this time round to create the eight-team top tier.

An ECB statement cited an "improved shape" to the domestic season - in which the Championship will be run in segments of fixtures, pausing first during April and May for the RL Cup group stage and then in July and August for the Blast, pushed back into the school-holiday months.

Graves said: "The changes for 2017 will be good for fans, players and our international teams.

"The season is easier to follow; the blocks help players focus on specific skills, and there's a better balance across all three formats."

The amendments to the championship season structure are the most significant since the 126-year-old competition split into two divisions in 2000.

For five years after that, three teams went up and down each season - it has been two in each direction for the past decade.

Graves added: "There is an appetite for change, and cricket is moving fast - we must not be left behind.

"Cricket needs more people playing, great teams and inspired fans in order to thrive; these principles support our plans now and for the future."

There had been suggestions that the Twenty20 season might also be split into two divisions.

In recent days, however, it became evident that was no longer likely as negotiations reached a conclusion.

The RL Cup faces the biggest diary move - with the group winners progressing to a semi-final and second and third in each table facing a quarter-final before a Lord's showpiece in July.

That block of early-summer 50-over cricket may well impact on the future staging of May Test matches.

Strauss is confident the ECB have achieved a recipe for the self-improvement of players in this country.

"Last year, a county player could change between formats as many as 24 times over the summer," he said.

"Next year that could be down to as few as six. This will help develop skill levels and create a better narrative to the summer. "

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