2021 county cricket explained: What are the various competitions and how do they work?

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Few things gain complexity the more you try to simplify them. County cricket is an incredible thing.

First things first: there are five – count ’em – FIVE different domestic cricket competitions to be contested in 2021.

  • The County Championship
  • The Bob Willis Trophy
  • The One-Day Cup
  • The T20 Blast
  • The Hundred

One sport, four formats, five competitions.

There are a trillion ways in which they fail to make cricket accessible, but this is the standout dumb one.

Let’s take a look at each format in turn.

First-class cricket

The County Championship is the main four-day, first-class cricket competition, but then there’s also the Bob Willis Trophy afterwards.

The first phase of the Championship will see the counties split into three groups of six, with each side playing the others home and away.

At the end of this bit, the three groups become three divisions. The teams who finish first and second go into division one; those finishing third and fourth go into division two; and then all the shite teams go into division three and fight it out to not come dead last.

The division phase is four matches long. It took us a while to work this out, but we’re guessing each team only plays the four teams it hasn’t yet played. Does the other result carry over from the group phase? We don’t know. (We didn’t see it mentioned anywhere and we’re feeling a bit “life’s too short” to dive in again in a bid to find out.)

Whoever finishes top of division one wins the County Championship. However, the top two teams then go on to contest the Bob Willis Trophy.

In a way, this seems like a bit of a contrived Charity Shield sort of thing, but we’d argue in its favour. It’s actually a very rare occasion when the two best first-class sides play each other with the winning of a thing directly at stake. As such, it may actually be the most interesting county match of the entire season.

50-over cricket

Lest you have forgotten, England are WORLD CHAMPIONS in this format. That timeless victory also marked the moment when they stopped playing the format domestically in any kind of serious way.

The 2021 Royal London One-Day Cup takes place at pretty much exactly the same time as the Hundred, which means the one type of player you absolutely will not get to see is the type that is good at limited overs cricket, because all of those players will be otherwise engaged.

The Royal London One-Day Cup has a format, but not really one worth outlining, given the above.

T20 cricket

In no way fudging its bid to make cricket more accessible via a short format, the England and Wales Cricket Board decided that it would carry on playing a T20 competition for the counties while also starting up a new 100-ball competition for a bunch of brand new teams.

The Vitality Blast sees the counties split into a North Group and a South Group, each of which contains nine teams. Each team plays seven home matches and seven away matches.

Yes, those numbers are correct. No, we don’t know exactly how that breaks down.

The top four in each group go through to quarter finals. Semi-finals and the final will then be played on the same day.

The Hundred

You may add to the English cricket season but you may never take away – that’s the golden rule.

And so we get the delayed inaugural season of the Hundred, a competition built around a new 100-ball format.

An important thing to note is that this is not a county cricket competition. It is a competition for much-vaunted “city-based teams”. Here is a thing we wrote telling you who these new teams are and which type of crisps they have on their shirts.

The format of the competition is exactly the same for both the men’s and women’s competitions. There are eight teams, each of which plays four matches at home and four away. (The eighth match is a second game against your allocated ‘bitter local rival’.)

At the end of that, the team sitting at the top of the table goes through to the final, while second and third play another match to see who gets to play against them.

When does all this start?

Oh, you know: dates.

The County Championship’s first and that starts on Thursday April 8. The other competitions start after that, on account of not being first.

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  1. Many thanks to you, KC, for setting all of this out for us in a condensed yet comprehensive manner. It didn’t make sense to me before I read your article, because I hadn’t got my head around the topic. Now I have got my head around it. Some of it makes sense.

    In other news, last night I recited (Zoomwise) and published a short piece about King Cricket:


    There are several links in there for those KC readers with time on their hands and a desire to stroll down that serendipitous King Cricket memory lane.

  2. While I think the Hundred will actually be a good tournament, I think it would have been much better to not have the Hundred and make 8 city based teams for the One day Cup and the T20 Blast. This would have massively improved the quality of the domestic white ball competitions without adding to the fixture congestion. Also, it probably would have attracted more viewers and therefore increased revenue to the ECB.

  3. So in the Blast, you play everyone in your league except for one random team.
    And in the Hundred, you play everyone in your league plus one random team.

    What an absolute shower.

    1. I think it actually works where each team plays 6 teams in their group twice and the other 2 teams just once.

  4. Life probably is too short to find out how the points carry forward will work between the group stage and divisional stage of the CC…

    …and I do have better things to do this early evening…

    …which is why, naturally, I have dived in.

    It’s a bit complicated because all of the relevant playing conditions contain a lot of additional rules to cover the possibility that some matches might need to be abandoned.

    But if the matches all take place, the carry forward is half the aggregate of the points across the two games played between the sides that end up in the same division from the same group.

    It took some real searching in the bowels of the ECB website to find the playing conditions, but here they are:


    Page 17 is the place to head for. 16.3 the section.

    Now back to storyboarding a talk I’m giving later in the month.

      1. Yep, or at least jointly so, with Saeed Anwar’s rather more famous 194 against India at Chennai in 1997. A particularly fun innings because most of it involved a runner (bring them back!), and even more so because that runner was Shahid Afridi (bring him back!). Perhaps technically 194* trumps 194-and-out, but when the bowler for the dismissal is Sachin Tendulkar, and the catcher is Sourav Ganguly practically demolishing himself in order to take the catch, an exception might be made. In fact Sachin also bowled Moin Khan, finishing with the best figures among the Indian bowlers that day. And deservedly so, he bowled pretty cannily given the situation he was faced with. Sachin’s ODI bowling is another item on the bring-back list. Hope he gets well soon.

        I do remember Coventry’s innings though I don’t think I’d ever watched more than brief highlights of it. The way memory association works, seeing the name Charles Coventry instantly reminds me of his feat, whereas if you asked me to list the twenty highest ODI top-scorers, or the progression of the world record, I’d likely have missed him out. One thing completely missing from my memory banks, but I must have noticed at the time, was the fact it was in a losing cause. If you score 194*, at home, against Bangladesh, and particularly late-2000s Bangladesh which wasn’t their golden age, you might think you’d earned your team a win. Instead, Tamim Iqbal hit 154 and the chase was successful. And something I don’t think I ever knew – Coventry faced the final ball of the first innings on a score of 192. A boundary or a three would have set a new record, a dot or single would have seen him fall agonisingly short. He hit two to tie. Cricket, eh?

  5. Meh, they should have made the Bob Willis Trophy the equivalent of the Irani Cup: County Champions vs Rest of England.

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