County cricket says 2020 and 2021 didn’t happen

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3 minute read

You can see where they’re coming from. But pretty sure they did.

What we’re talking about here is of course the format of the 2022 County Championship. Nothing wrong with the format itself. (Oh no, wait, it’s gone back to being lopsided and ridiculous.) The (new) issue is how they’ve decided which counties go in which division.

To put it plainly, they’re following on from the 2019 season.

We asked Wisden editor Lawrence Booth whether the 2021 season was deemed insufficiently meritocratic to decide who went into what division in 2022.

He said: “It was more that the consequences of where teams finished this season were never spelled out – because the counties still had to vote. None of the options great; some worse than others.”

We can sympathise with that to a degree, but at the same time, if you’re a county cricket club, it seems a perfectly legitimate ask that your division be determined by how you performed the previous year. That’s pretty much how almost all divisional sports leagues work by default. It shouldn’t really come as a massive surprise if you finish dead last and end up in the lower division the following season.

Presumably they didn’t spell out in advance that the 2019 season would carry through to 2022 either, so we don’t really get the ‘spelling out in advance’ argument.

We’d have thought recency would carry a bit of weight, but apparently not. This means that Kent, who ended up in Division 3 this year on the basis of how they performed in first-class cricket matches against other counties, will be in Division 1 in 2022; while Nottinghamshire, third in Division 1 this year, will be in Division 2. So that seems perfectly reasonable and fair and not at all backwards.

And this is before we get back to the ’10 teams in Division 1, eight teams in Division 2, everybody plays 14 matches’ arrangement.

They used to have it the other way round, you know – eight counties in Division 1 and 10 in Division 2 – but they switched for 2019, presumably on the basis that it made the top flight more comfortable and confusing – two things you definitely want in sport.

To opt for that structure once was demented. To actively revert to it when you have every opportunity to arrange things far less shitly is beyond belief. We honestly just out-and-out hate county cricket a lot of the time for how needlessly convoluted it makes itself. (Three divisions of six – what’s wrong with that? Do you honestly think you are sufficiently popular that you can afford to actively deter people’s interest in you?)

Just stop for a second and try and imagine being new to cricket and trying to work out the English domestic game. You’ve a passing interest in the sport and you want to know one thing: Who’s best? Which team is the best domestic team in England?

So the first thing you encounter is the fact that there are at least four different competitions. There’s not a limited overs league and a two-innings league. There’s four different leagues and who knows, maybe a Bob Willis Trophy on top of that.

“But the Championship, right, that’s the main one,” says your helpful friend who is for some reason cold-heartedly leading you into this foetid, infected world. “That’s the one you need to pay most attention to. The Championship involves quite a lot of bonus points and that’s a whole thing in itself – we’ll forget about bonus points for now. All you really need to wrap your head around is the basic structure. So in 2022, it’s your classic 10-team league featuring the best teams of 2019 with each team playing most of the others twice and a handful just once.”

Just a perfectly normal format, built on basic sporting principles of equality and fairness.

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  1. Does it really matter? The ECB clearly do not care about the County Championship. If they did, even a little bit, there would be more than 3 weeks of first class cricket across the months of June, July and August.

    1. Does it matter that it’s avoidably shit because it’s also shit in this other avoidable way?

  2. Does this at least mean that Warwickshire didn’t really win the County Championship or Bob Willis Trophy this year?

  3. I am beyond disappointed by this unmitigated shit-show.

    (I mean the proposed county championship structure for 2022. Not your well-writ article about it, KC).

  4. Well hold on, wait a second. So a long time ago (can’t remember when) I decided to support Kent. Now I don’t know anything about county cricket and county cricketing rules, but it seems ECB has done something that has put Kent in Division 1. I have already worked out that Division 1 is better than Division 2, so this means the ECB thinks the county I support is doing alright. Why do you have to go and urinate all over this based on such vague, ill-defined concepts as logic and reason?

  5. I think three divisions of six is probably the sweet spot in terms of numbers of games but I don’t think the divisions should be first, second and third.

    With the return to two divisions the Championship is the one competition which has a restricted number of potential victors each year (the counties in the top division). With three divisions the teams in the bottom division would be two years from even being able to compete for the Championship, in that situation it seems likely that they would begin to focus on white ball formats where success will be immediately available.

    A top division of six with two conferences below seems like a decent compromise. You could either relegate two from the top division each year or just one and have the two conference winners play-off for promotion. You could even tweak/bring back the Bob Willis Trophy (I think that’s gone for now?) by having a semi-final between the two conference winners and then a final against the County Champions. That way at the beginning of the season every County has a chance at a “legitimate” first class trophy and more reason to focus on red ball cricket.

    1. Yeah definitely think there’s merit in parallel division 2s. It does become trickier to give the teams in those divisions something to play for though if first is the only position that means anything.

      Maybe the winners could play each other for the right to replace division 1’s wooden spooners and the two division 2 runners-up could play each other for the right to take on second-from-bottom in division 1 for the right to top flight status.

      1. I’ve been in America for too long, but with 18 teams a regional conference system with playoffs just makes sense to me.

        Then we need shared revenue and a drafting system for selecting the best players as they graduate from university. Force those good players to go to Leicestershire.

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