The ICC Executive Board took a significant step towards bridging the gap between the Full members and their nearest challengers on Wednesday with the announcement of a $12 million Targeted Assistance and Performance Programme.

The new scheme differs from the High Performance Programme in two key respects: it is aimed, in the words of Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat, at ‘lower performing Full Members' as well as the leading Associates and Affiliates, and it requires applicants to put forward ‘a proper strategy and business plan aimed specifically at improving on-field performance'.

Commenting on the decision after the Board meeting, Lorgat described the new programme as ‘a first step in the right direction', suggesting that it demonstrated the Board's commitment to supporting members in their aim ‘ to grow and improve their performances'.

It will doubtless be welcomed by the top Associates and Affiliates, especially if it is accompanied by a greater willingness by the Full members to provide opportunities for the former to hone their skills by playing against them more frequently.

Applicants will be required to match any financial support from their own resources. The support could take the form of grants, so-called ‘soft loans', or support in kind, through the provision of expertise or through scheduling.

Significantly, the supported activities may include not only such direct contributions to the improvement of on-field performance as training camps or the hiring of coaching staff, but also background areas ‘such as administration, commercial, legal or other relevant support'.

KNCB Chief Executive Richard Cox said on Wednesday that the Bond was ‘ naturally delighted' at the announcement of the new funding possibilities.

‘ We are currently looking actively into programmes and projects which will be eligible under the TAPP programme,' he added, ‘and which will enhance our efforts to become more consistently competitive on the international stage.'

One key issue, of course, will be the competing claims of the weaker Full members, like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and those of the Associates,including Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands, and rapidly-developing Affiliates like Afghanistan.

But it is a scheme which is welcome in its own terms, and its declared compatibility with Lord Woolf's recommendations, which are promised within 24 hours, may give an interesting hint of some of the directions of his report.