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County season could begin overseas
County cricket could be played overseas as the ECB seeks a radical solution to ease fixture congestion during the English season.
ESPNcricinfo understands that, among a raft of proposals under consideration, the ECB has floated the idea of playing the first two rounds of the County Championship overseas, possibly as early as March, in a move that is designed to ease fixture congestion and avoid some of the early-season issues with the weather. This season started on painfully slow pitches and in uncomfortably cold conditions that did little for players or spectators.
The Caribbean is one potential venue. Six teams travelled to Barbados this March for pre-season training and warm-up games and it is understood that several Caribbean nations would be delighted to host the counties and their travelling supporters. The UAE, where the MCC Champion County match has taken place for the last four seasons, and South Africa are other potential destinations.
While the initial signs are that several counties are supportive of the idea, others are concerned about open rebellion from their members. It is probable that the value of a county membership would be reduced if counties offered fewer matches as part of the package. While subsidised travel to the overseas games may placate a few, for many it may prove too expensive. Whether the idea of better scheduling in more comfortable weather for the rest of the domestic season is adequate mitigation remains to be seen.
Cost is an issue for the counties, too. But it is understood that the trips could be subsidised by sponsorship and possibly even host tourist boards.
Apart from allowing more time for rest, recovery and practice, the longer county season might also bring other benefits. It might, for example, also allow counties to participate in the Champions League - no counties are appearing in the 2013 competition as it clashes with the end of the county season - and it might create room for a second T20 competition, played in a small window in mid-season.
The ECB are keen to encourage radical debate on the future of the county game as they seek to improve the standard of cricketers emerging through the system and help the counties gain more financial independence. While many of the proposals are not likely to progress beyond conversation stage, this one - while in an embryonic phase at present - appears viable.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo