WORCESTERSHIRE’S quest for an immediate return to the top tier of the County Championship has been made tougher following a revamp of the county game.
Just one promotion place will be available this season after cricket chiefs agreed to implement an eight-team First Division in the four-day game from 2017.
The long-awaited news was revealed on Monday and means the Pears are likely to do battle with bookies favourites Sussex, Essex and dark horses Kent for the sole ticket back to Division One.
From 2017, the newly-titled Specsavers County Championship games will run throughout the summer and pause during blocks of limited-overs cricket.
Two teams will still be relegated from Division One in 2016 and the regular two-up, two-down format will return in 2017 in the revised structure.
To create space in the domestic season, the competition will be reduced from 16 Championship rounds to 14, with each county playing seven home and seven away matches.
NatWest T20 Blast matches will be played in July and August, within two blocks, contested on a regional basis and culminating in Finals Day, as per the current format.
ECB chiefs hope the return to a similar schedule which was ditched in 2013 will make the best use of the school summer holidays and encourage participation in the game. The Royal London One-Day Cup group-stage matches will be played in April and May, with the showcase final at Lord’s in July, moving from its September date.
Group winners will go straight to the semi-finals with second and third-placed teams entering quarter-finals.
ECB chairman Colin Graves said: “The decisions follow a number of productive meetings with the chief executives and chairmen of the first class counties.
“We’ve worked closely together, looking to improve the domestic structure for the good of the game.
“The changes for 2017 will be good for fans, players and our international teams. The season is easier to follow, the blocks help players focus on specific skills and there’s a better balance across all three formats.
“There is a clear consensus that county cricket has to be sustainable and must support the whole game.
“There is an appetite for change and cricket is moving fast – we must not be left behind.
“Cricket needs more people playing, great teams and inspired fans in order to thrive; these principles support our plans now and for the future,” he added.
Worcestershire kick off their Division Two campaign with the visit of Kent to New Road on April 10.