1) Reduce the number of first-class counties to 14 to concentrate talent and therefore raise the standard of games played. Perhaps knock it down to 12, but 14 would be the absolute max any of the old todgers in the ECB and MCC would allow (not that they'd listen to any of theis anyway, but still...)
2) FC cricket organised in two divisions of 7 teams. Each team plays each other side in their division home and away once for 12 four day matches a season. The top two teams of division two are promoted to division one with two coming down.
3) Point system in FC cricket gets rid of the silly batting and bowling points system and takes up the Australian state cricket system wholesale. That is, 6 points for a win and no points for a loss. If a draw then team with a lead after both first innings are completed recieves two points, the other team scores nothing. Ties score 1 each as well as first innings points. This is to both simplify the system and to encourage attacking cricket foucusing on winning matches.
4) OD cricket organised into two competitions. A league format with the 14 counties plus Scotlan and Ireland added, split into two divisions of 8 teams. Home and away round robin for 14 matches a season, two up/two down with third from bottom of Div 1 playing at home to third in Div 2 in a one game end of season promotion/relegation playoff.
5) Second OD competition is a straight knockout format with the 14 counties, Scotland, Ireland, British Universities and the top 15 minor county sides from the previous year's minor county OD league participating. County teams all play first round away to a non-county side, then random draw from that round onwards.
6) Both the league and knockout cup tournaments are 50 over matches with the new powerplay format enforced.
7) Twenty20 formated into 4 divisions of 4 teams each (Ireland and Scotland invited) randomly drawn at the start of the season. Play each other team home and away for 6 matches per team. Then top two from each group advance to seeded quarter-finals, the winners from there moving on to finals day.
8) Additionally, a select England A side would play a three day warm-up/mid-tour match against each Test tourist per season. This would give a chance for fringe players to compete for a place in the team that summer as well as to gain experience for future summers. Obviously they would only be friendly tour matches so success would not guarentee success in the Test arena, but all experience against top class players would help and perhaps a player could go into the Tests with some already won psychological battles.
This formatting leaves the following schedule for a first-class county side per season of:
12 four day First-class matches
15 minimum 50 over matches, up to 19 for knockout finalists
6 minimum Twenty20 matches, up to 9 for finalists
For a total maximum of 76 days cricket a season assuming furthest advacement in all competitions (82 days for a player who played every day of every match in every competition plus both England A games). This compares with 94 days cricket as a maximum for the 2006 season format. Less cricket means less injuries and less fatigue so the best players will be able to play more significant parts and the worse players get their opportunities squeezed out.
Overseas Players & English Player Development
Secondly, more structural changes to cricket as opposed to mere format is the ever raging controversy surrounding Kolpak players etc. I propose a simple but bold solution. Get rid of all restrictions on overseas players and allow counties to field as many as they wish, all eleven in a side if they so please. However:
1) The teams of players who are given central contracts are awarded a percentage of the contract for development funding by the ECB. This might already happen but if it doesn't it shouldn't. As seen below my plan would have counties rewarded for selceting English players, but they should be rewarded further for producing players who make the international grade (even if only for one season).
2) Additional ECB development funding is based on the number of England qualified players selected and the number of matches they play. I won't be as foolhardy to make up figures on the spot but a team which regulary selects 8 or 9 England qualified players is provided with handsome funding whereas a side who has only 3 or 4 England qualified regulars recieves less ECB funding than they would do under the current system.
3) Other factors in the funding system include bonuses for picking younger players, and homegrown talent i.e. players who have made their FC/list-A debut with your county. You still receieve ECB funding for picking a 29 year old player you signed from another team in the winter, but a county would get more for selecting a 22 year old who made their debut with the side last season.
4) Teams can petition the ECB to provide assistance towards covering the cost of the contract of a foreign born player who is now playing county cricket full-time in an attempt to qualify for England. This amount would be less than the funding a county would receive for picking an already English qualified player, but be used as an incentive both for the county and the player to attempt to achieve England qualified status. Generally this assistance would only be granted in rare circumstances when the quality of the player is deemed sufficient and does not neccessarily have to be provided only when the contract is initially signed. e.g. The ECB would not have provided funding to Nottinghamshire when Kevin Pietersen first signed for them, but could have provided bonus payments to them in the 2002 or 2003 season when it became clear he was going to become a future England player.
The general goal of the above is to firstly remove all the silly Kolpak/EU passport holder shenaningans and just allow the free market to take its course. Counties would be perfectly free to decide to multiple hire several overseas players if they wished and could afford to do so. The added lure of overseas stars would help bring in bigger crowds and increase the quality of play further. Equally, those sides who either cannot afford or do not wish to spend outlays on several foriegn players can pick almost wholly English teams which is obvously good for the development of the national team and they will be rewarded. In fact under this system I would not be suprised to see several sides mizx and match, with the funding recieved by selected say 7 or 8 young homegrown Englishmen helping to pay for the large contracts of 3 or 4 well known international stars. The shortened season would also help attract more big name players who have been in the recent past put off by the strenous schedule, or even commanded not to come to England by their boards because of the amount of cricket played here.
Note that this plan does not demand that the overall level of funding be increased, although as always that would be most welcome, just a complete shift in the way it is distributed. Teams who pick a majority of English players would receive more ECB monies than they do currently, whilst teams who pick largely overseas players would lose out.
Basically, the idea is to 1) reduce the number of matches played in an overlong season, 2) increase the quality of play in the county game and 3) further encourage counties to develop English talent. By reducing the number of counties you help with the first two. Lifting restriction on overseas players directly helps number two. The new funding system directly helps number three and numbers one and two indirectly help number three also.
Obviously this plan is totally infeasable soley for the fact that hell will freeze over before the ECB contemplate reducing the number of teams and also I imagine a lot of fear over removing overseas player resrictions completely. However once the appopriate funding levels for the incentives were reached I can't see how it wouldn't help.