County professionals call for retention of two-divisional Championship

PCA chairman Daryl Mitchell (right) with chief executive David Leatherdale PCA

Professional cricketers in England and Wales have come out overwhelmingly in favour of the retention of a two-division Championship with promotion and relegation in a powerful message to the ECB working group currently debating the future structure of the first-class game.

The players' message will quicken the belief that a move to a Conference system - variously advocated over the past few months by Yorkshire and Sussex in an attempt to protect the 18-team county structure - is gradually losing support.

Players are even more adamant that they want to play the three county formats - four-day, 50-overs and Twenty 20 - in distinct blocks, even though they know that the ECB has indicated that this will be impossible once The Hundred becomes the centrepiece of the English summer.

The Hundred, envisaged as English cricket's groundbreaking challenge to the IPL and Big Bash - and worth an extra GBP £1.3m to the 18 first-class counties - has invited widespread debate, including ridicule from many established county supporters, as proposals about how it will work have gradually emerged.

Disappointingly, the opinion of the players on The Hundred has yet to be surveyed on the grounds that it is outside the remit of the working party, chaired by the Leicestershire chief executive Wasim Khan.

As far as The Hundred is concerned, the ECB is keeping decisions within an inner circle and allowing limited opportunity for opposition.

With 89% of PCA playing members surveyed believing Test Match cricket is the most important format of the world game, those thoughts are supported in domestic male cricket too.

The structure of the County Championship is one key area which is under review and feedback from players suggests 79% would like to keep promotion and relegation with members agreeing the current system maintains an intense standard of competition for both players and spectators.

Players firmly believe there should be no four-day cricket played during The Hundred, therefore not compromising the Championship which a large majority of players still view as the most important.

But if players can express preferences, turning those into a workable fixture list is much more problematic.

As many as 93% of players have called for the county white-ball season to be played in blocks so they can avoid the chopping and changing that they believe causes a fall in standards.

That led PCA chairman Daryl Mitchell to warn as the survey results were revealed that some switching between formats is inevitable.

"With the desire to create blocks for different formats over recent years, it has meant that the Championship has been slightly marginalised with a huge proportion of games being played in April and September," he said.

"Players feel there is a need for more four-day cricket to be played in the middle of the summer for members and supporters to watch as well as to enable players to play in better conditions. This will therefore mean switching between formats is inevitable."

The survey, carried out to gain members thoughts on how male county cricket will be played from 2020, will feed into the ECB's working group. Disappointingly, it was completed by only 240 of more than 350 regularly active professionals.

PCA director of development and welfare Ian Thomas and former PCA Chairman and current personal development manager Mark Wallace are on the ECB's working group to represent the views of current players.

The PCA chief executive David Leatherdale is on leave of absence from his role due to stress with non-executive chairman Matthew Wheeler taking on Leatherdale's responsibilities in the interim.

The volume of T20 Blast games to be played from 2020 is also yet to be decided and 72% of players would like there to be either 14 group games per season as now, or a rise to 16 to allow for each county in North and South Group to play each other twice.

As long as 50-over cricket remains the format played internationally, there is a strong feeling that domestic cricket should mirror the international level with only 10% of players wanting to move away from the current 50-over competition.

PCA Chairman, Daryl Mitchell, said: "It was great to see a large number of PCA playing members respond to this survey and this is a vital piece of research to understand members' views to further influence the PCA's stance on the domestic structure.

"I am pleased to see the results support views which we are always informally gathering through conversations around the county circuit.

But Mitchell again sidestepped the issue of The Hundred, even though many players have expressed disillusionment or anger that the eight-team tournament will not be played in the accepted worldwide gold standard of T20.

"2020 it is an exciting time for cricket in this country with the new competition bringing huge opportunities to our playing membership and with that it is imperative we get the domestic structure right," he said.