Counties lobby for Blast increase to 16 matches

Old Trafford salutes Liam Livingstone Getty Images

The Vitality Blast group stage could be extended from 14 to 16 games because county chairmen are lobbying to rid the competition of its existing uneven format and maximise revenue in the process.

Since 2014, each side has played seven home games in the group stages, meaning that they miss out on hosting one team, and counties are pushing for change both for competitive and commercial reasons.

The change would likely come into effect for the 2020 season, when the Blast will become the secondary short-form competition in English domestic cricket after the introduction of The Hundred.

ESPNCricinfo understands that the vast majority of counties would support a change to eight home games per season, with a majority of 12 required.

For commercial reasons, the game counties miss is not identified as one of their most lucrative with derby matches gaining particular protection.

For example, Middlesex play their London derby against Surrey home and away every year, but have missed a home fixture against Glamorgan and Kent every other year since the current format's introduction.

Other traditional rivalries - Lancashire v Yorkshire, Gloucestershire v Somerset, and Sussex v Hampshire - are also played twice every season.

The group stage of the domestic twenty-over competition did last 16 games in its previous guise as the Friends Life T20 in 2010 and 2011, when the schedule was widely criticised for being too long. Some games were played in front of extremely sparse midweek crowds in those seasons.

However, attendances have continued to rise in recent seasons - over 900,000 people went to a domestic T20 game in 2017 - and counties are keen to host an additional game each.

There had been suggestions that the Blast's group stage would be cut to 10 games, with three groups of six instead of two groups of nine, from 2020 onwards, but it is unlikely that such a change would find support among counties for whom T20 cricket is a vital source of income.

The Blast would start in mid-May - around six weeks earlier than it did this year - and run through to mid-July, with the One Day Cup expected to follow, running alongside the Hundred.

One competition must suffer a fall in standard when The Hundred raids the country's best players for the eight-team format and the working party set up to make proposals as to the structure of the game, under the chairmanship of Leicestershire chief executive Wasim Khan, seems poised to conclude that the 50-over competition should take the hit.

Meanwhile, the prospect of a conference format being introduced for the County Championship is understood to have diminished sharply.

It had previously been reported that counties backed the idea of removing the current system of promotion and relegation in favour of three groups of six followed by play-offs between teams in different groups, but support for the idea has waned.