Never ignore the small print, particularly when it bears the thumbprint of county chairmen and chief executives and gives the impression of turkeys voting for Christmas.

The annual meeting of the England & Wales Cricket Board will be held next month and is expected to announce the voluntary disbanding of the 18-strong First

Class Forum and its' replacement with a streamlined board of 12 directors.

This unwieldy FCF was formed in 2000 and gave the senior officials of the 18 counties a stranglehold on all Board policies. They could and did veto most moves to prioritise the interests of the national side in case they might impinge on their own parochial interests.

Hence the ongoing battle by the England coach and captain to increase the available number of central contracts, with a constant tug of war whenever Duncan Fletcher wanted to rest England cricketers.

Hence the waste of huge amounts of annual monies paid to each county on "dead" wage outgoings to players from abroad. Somehow, a system had to be found to force

the counties to spend more money on developing their own youngsters and it might just happen.

Ever since Lord MacLaurin resigned as chairman of the ECB in protest about the stifling effect of the FCF, things went from bad to worse and finally drew the opprobium of Sport England.

The FCF wriggled and twisted but were forced to give in when they were threatened with the reduction or even total withdrawal of a grant running into millions, unless a more streamlined method of governance was introduced. Just as important as the reduction from 18 to 12 was that the new body must be independent of the counties.

The coming of new chief executive David Collier has finally done the trick with his

recently-published five-year plan for English cricket, which attempts to reverse by 2009 the insidious and relentless increase in the number of players in domestic cricket who are not qualified for England.

Official overseas cricketers, plus those with elastic passports and Kolpak players - Nixon McLean and Dewald Pretorius, for example - total well over 60 this year, with Hampshire, Sussex and Kent able to field five and Warwickshire and Worcestershire four apiece.

So the turkeys have voted for December 25 - or have they? The small print might well reveal that the 18-strong FCF will be reduced by six but, when the constitutional split of the dozen replacements is put under the magnifying glass, it becomes

apparent that the new body is not certain to cut itself adrift from the apron-strings of the county chairmen.

The first-class game, as represented by the FCF, will have three representatives and the Recreational Forum two.

Curiously, the body which represents the interests of the non-professional game is reportedly reluctant to support any change, despite one of the reasons for change being to ensure that the recreational game gets its fair share of available monies.

Back to the small print and the sources from which the seven remaining places will be drawn. The ECB's two chief paid officers will sit - the chief executive and finance director - together with a representative from MCC and a non-executive

director, Bill Morris, the former trade union boss. That adds up to nine but the final trio make the small print so crucial. The 38 county boards will vote in a chairman, a vice-chairman and a chairman of cricket and it is these three who will ensure the true independence of the directors - or otherwise.

The FCF will have three representatives plus the ECB's two senior paid officers, and it would need only friendly fire from two of the other three to remove most of the hoped-for independence from the county game.

The aim is to make at least a quarter of each county's annual share-out from Lord's performance-related. That could mean a clawback of more than £300,000, compared with the first penalty this year of about £50,000.

Other aims are less impressive - such as the hope that future domestic fixture lists will reduce the amount of cricket and allow more practice. It is hoped that, by 2009, 20 Englandqualified bowlers will be taking more than 40 first-class wickets in a season.

Far from reducing the amount of cricket, the Twenty20 Cup gives clubs three extra matches and the C&G knock-out tournament will change into a two-divisional round-robin format which guarantees every county a minimum of eight matches. Also, just over two wickets per match for England's most promising bowlers is not shooting for the stars.

The county turkeys are about to vote, but keep your eye on the small print. Plus ca change . . .