England and Wales Cricket Board bosses dismiss 'conspiracy theory'. GETTY IMAGES

Richard Gould, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), doesn't believe the 18 first-class counties will disappear. The official recently stated: "There is no intention to reduce the number of counties" amid fears over the rise of franchise leagues.

Richard Gould, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has scoffed at suggestions that the governing body is considering dropping one of its 18 first-class counties, describing it as a "completely crazy conspiracy theory", according to AFP.

Concerns over the development and growth of the franchise leagues and their impact on the domestic calendar have raised doubts over whether the ECB prefers a more agile and profitable county set-up.

At start of the season, Gould insisted at The Oval that there were no plans to reduce the number of first-class counties, which has stood at 18 since Durham joined the County Championship in 1992. "It's a completely crazy conspiracy theory," he remarked.

England's Moeen Ali shakes hands with ECB chief Richard Gould. GETTY IMAGES
England's Moeen Ali shakes hands with ECB chief Richard Gould. GETTY IMAGES

Gould said, according to AFP, contrasting the closure of clubs in English football and rugby in recent years with the relative stability of county cricket. "I've been in the game for over 20 years and that conversation has always been there. But we're the only professional sport that hasn't lost a club. If you look at rugby and football, we've done extremely well as a sport to maintain that 100 per cent record and that's our intention," he stressed.

Most first-class counties are member-owned clubs. Durham chief executive Tim Bostock sparked widespread outrage by suggesting members were "Luddites" holding back the progress of English cricket. But former Surrey chief executive Gould said: "Those are not comments I recognise or agree with. "Our superpower at the moment is the depth of our talent pool, both men and women."

Gould added that the ECB would be open to private investment in "The Hundred", the board's eight-team, 100-ball per side competition. "We'll be working on that; our interests won't just be with the IPL franchises," he said. 

He also hinted that there was an appetite for investment. The development of the ECB, he acknowledged, was attracting potential investors and people interested in that growth. "We've got a lot of interesting owners in the sport from the US and from this country," he commented.

Gould did, however, lament some current situations. He doesn't agree with them. Gould doesn't expect the Board of Control for Cricket in India to lift its ban on Indian players playing in The Hundred or any other foreign league for that matter. "That's not something we're working on in our processes," he remarked.

"They (the BCCI) have a dominant position globally. They want to try and make sure they can keep it. Indian broadcast money tends to follow Indian players, but the BCCI and the IPL have just said, 'No, we want the IPL to be the number one tournament in the world. To do that, we need have to make sure that we build on our strengths, which are the size of our market and the quality of our players," Gould concluded.