Reduced rounds of County Championship fixtures and more time between formats can help manage player workload, according to the England and Wales Cricket Board’s operations manager Alan Fordham.
The 2024 domestic schedule has 15 County Championship fixture slots instead of 16, with every side set to have a rest from action through rounds four, five or six.
With a busy international summer – which includes the men’s T20 World Cup hosted by the West Indies and the United States in June – the ECB has tried to limit the impact of another packed fixture list for counties across all competitions.
Vitality Blast matches will be staged almost entirely on Thursday nights, Friday nights and weekends, running from the end of May to mid-July.
The Charlotte Edwards Cup Finals Day will be at Derbyshire’s County Ground on June 22, while the knockout phase of the Vitality Blast is set for a ‘Super September’ which will see the remaining five trophies – across men’s county, regional women’s and disability competitions – all be decided.
Fordham accepts the ECB’s hand was forced somewhat in the schedule jigsaw, which sees the Hundred window moved slightly earlier to start at the end of July, while all the men’s bilateral international cricket has to take place after the T20 World Cup.
Fordham, though, feels the compromises will play out to be worthwhile when the new season starts on April 5, with Surrey opening the defence of their County Championship title away to Lancashire
“We are able to schedule these competitions reasonably satisfactorily, but we would all always like to do it better from a performance point of view and provide more distance between red and white-ball transitions if that is at all possible,” Fordham said.
“One thing we have done this year, and I think for the first time, which is a consequence of getting by with 15 rather than 16 slots, is ensuring that between Championship rounds there is always a three-day break.
“Normally you would expect one game to be home and one away so there is often added travel between games, so a three-day break between four-day games is really quite important.
“We have been able to achieve that in 2024. That is not something we have been able to achieve in every previous season, so again, there is a bit of give and take.
“I am confident the schedule is the best output that we can possibly have, but there are always priorities to be made and compromises to be made.”
Of the 126 Blast group-stage fixtures, 122 will be played over the most commercially appealing Thursday to Sunday slots.
ECB’s county cricket managing director Neil Snowball is confident the 2024 schedule strikes the right balance for all parties.
“Because we have got the longer (Blast) group stage, we can actually just have those two blocks with the one transition (between competitions) of rounds nine and 10, whereas previously we have sometimes flipped between them,” Snowball said.
“That was one of the things that they really didn’t like from a player welfare point of view, so I think that is a positive.
“It is always balancing the commercial with the welfare, but certainly, there was a lot of good feedback from the PCA (Professional Cricketers’ Association).”
For exclusive stories and all the detailed cricket news you need, subscribe to The Cricket Paper website from as little as 14p a day.