County Championship set to return in 2021 with new format
The traditional County Cricket Championship will return in 2021 in a revised structure. Notably, two First-class trophies will be up for grabs in the upcoming county season, following an agreement between the counties and the ECB. The team that finishes atop after group stage will win the County Championship title, while a five-day final at Lord's will decide the winner of Bob Willis Trophy.
Each County has been placed into three groups of six. In group stage, each team will play five (home and away) matches. Here, the top-two teams from each group will make it to Division One, with the third and fourth teams getting into Division Two. Meanwhile, the Division Three will comprise the bottom-two counties, where four matches will be played to decide final positions.
The winner of Division One will claim the County Championship title (Lord's Taverners' trophy). After that, the top-two teams in the top-flight will then battle it out for the Bob Willis Trophy at Lord's. Notably, this structure will be in place for the 2021 season only to help restart the County Championship. This will likely mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the impending summer.
Amid the season, a review into the format for 2022 will be taken. However, the ECB has confirmed that the pre-COVID two-divisional structure (ten counties in Division One and eight in Division Two) will be the default position.
Here are the three groups for the County Championship 2021. Group 1: Essex, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Worcestershire, Durham Group 2: Somerset, Hampshire, Surrey, Gloucestershire, Middlesex, Leicestershire Group 3: Kent, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Glamorgan, Sussex Besides, the playing conditions for the league season and final are yet to be confirmed.
ECB chairman, Ian Watmore, was delighted to share the new format. "I am delighted that the counties have been able to reach this agreement less than three weeks after Essex won the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord's. The success provides reassurance that this structure can help safeguard against any impact the global pandemic may have on next season," he said.
Seedings for group stage have been determined based on teams' performances in the past two seasons. A provision for local derby encounters has also been designed, which enables Surrey and Middlesex, Yorkshire and Lancashire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire, and Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to compete in the same initial groups. Essex, who clinched the 2020 Bob Willis Trophy, will defend two titles.