The seven phases of the 2024 County Championship

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5 minute read

Say what you like about the County Championship, it doesn’t stay still for long. Ever-changing, never static – is it carefully calibrated to appeal to modern, smartphone-eroded attention-spans? Or is it more the kind of spoilt, overworked artwork you end up with when you just can’t stop fiddling with something?

Or is it neither. Is it in fact just a rambling ultramarathon of a competition that starts in spring, ends in autumn and throws all sorts of weather, places, people and random challenges at the teams and individuals taking part.

Whatever it is, it’s hard to make sense of. We’ve divided the 2024 competition into seven phases in a forlorn bid to get some sort of a grip on this slippery leviathan. (We’ve only looked at the first division, obviously.)

Phase 1: Everyone’s playing

For the first three weeks/rounds, every county will play a Championship game from the Friday onwards. There are no other domestic competitions going on concurrently; no-one sits out a round for no clear reason. It’s all nice, clear and easy-to-comprehend.

Lovely stuff, but this is not at all what the County Championship is about.

Phase 2: The Kookaburra Ball Part 1

They used the swing-and-seam-unfriendly Kookaburra ball instead of the Dukes ball for two rounds of the County Championship last year. This year they’re going to have two blocks of Kookaburra – one in April or possibly May and another in that outro part of the season where everything switches to red ball again. We can’t find the exact dates for these phases – very probably because they haven’t yet been decided.

The idea behind using the Kookaburra is that because the ball is less responsive for quick bowlers, different qualities are needed to take wickets. This is supposed to help identify players who might do well overseas where the Kookaburra is used in Tests. Surrey’s director of cricket Alec Stewart does however make the point that precisely because the ball offers so little, some counties will be tempted to counteract that by producing what tend to be called ‘result pitches’ (because apparently a draw doesn’t count as a result).

We can see where Stewart’s coming from, but the change does nevertheless give teams something else to adapt to, which is kind of what the Championship is all about.

Phase 1 or Phase 3 (or more likely both) will overlap with this first Kookburra phase.

Phase 3: Some teams are playing

For the three weeks from April 26, not every team will play each week. In week four, eight of the 10 teams have a match; in week five, just four will play; and then in week six, it’s eight again. Basically everyone sits out a week, but they don’t all do it together.

Phase 4: Summer surprise

Red ball cricket exits the stage for a few weeks from the end of May so that they can power through four-sevenths of the T20 Blast. Then suddenly, from June 23, it bursts back into view for a two-round island of fixtures seemingly triggered by the summer solstice.

There’s a full complement of fixtures each week and this time the matches start on a Sunday. ‘Red ball cricket in summer’ box ticked, the longer format then buggers off again so that they can get stuck into the business end of the Blast. This is then followed by The Hundred and the One Day Cup – the latter a competition that brings nothing to mind if not the TV series The Leftovers, in which assorted people try to come to terms with life in a world where two per cent of the population suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

Phase 5: August Thursdays

You could argue that the last five rounds of the Championship are all one phase because there’s another pretty solid block of fixtures and whenever someone’s playing, everyone’s playing. You could also argue that the two rounds of matches from August 22 sit together because both start on Thursday, whereas the September matches are kind of all over the place.

Phase 6: The Kookaburra Ball Part 2

It seems safe to assume that the narrow window of clarity that is ‘August Thursdays’ will be diminished by use of the Kookaburra ball for the matches starting August 29. Again, we can’t see that dates have yet been set for the second block of Kookaburra games, but it makes sense that something should change each and every time a team takes the field.

Phase 7: September Monday, Tuesday and Thursday

The county season really comes to a climax in September. Or rather it comes to multiple climaxes. But not in a sexy way. More in a distracting, flip-flopping between different activities and can’t really focus on any particular one of them way.

Everyone plays a Championship fixture from Monday September 9, another from Tuesday September 17 and their final one from Thursday September 26.

This whole phase is preceded by the quarter-finals for the T20 Blast (a competition that no-one will have played since the middle of July). Then the final of that tournament comes on September 14, so there’s a gap in the Championship fixtures to allow for that too.

If you’re wondering what necessitates the other gap, between the penultimate and final rounds of matches, it’s the final of the One-Day Cup on September 22, just over a month after the semi-finals were played.

In summary

As we’ve said before, the whole, horrible, confusing, huge-plate-of-food-dropped-on-the-floor mess that is the current domestic season has come about not because of The Hundred, but because of the more fundamental truth that underpinned its arrival: it’s always been easier to introduce additional things to the county season than to take anything away.

As an inherently sprawling, messy thing that spans the widest variety of conditions and challenges, the Championship arguably accommodates the random splatter better than most competitions.

We would honestly still quite like to have just one competition that told us which county was the best at the overall sport of cricket though.

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12 comments

  1. How to systematically destroy any emotional or intellectual connection a county cricket supporter had with the sport.

  2. It’s an appointment to view. Every day from the start of April to the end of September might be a county championship day. What joy – oh happy day – when it is such a day, Or such shivers of antici…

    …pation on the non-CC match days.

    Who was the genius who came up with this? No, far too clever to have been a lone genius. Only a committee could possibly have constructed this schedule.

    I AM SO READY.

    1. That’s outstanding, APW. Thanks.

      I have been toying with some ideas to meld my interest in Renaissance music with more modern genres using AI but haven’t known where to begin. The Google beta thing looks imposing. Would you recommend that Suno tool for an attention-lite tinkerer like me or was that wonderful County Championship piece the product of many days of geeky frustration over Easter for you?

      1. It’s terrifyingly easy to use, Ged, although you get a limited number of uses and it’s frequently unavailable due to high demand, unless you pay the big bucks.

        I had good fun over Easter generating songs to the specifications of younger family members. None of them were about the County Championship though, which goes to show how the youth of this country have their priorities all wrong, etc, etc

  3. Happy County Chanpionship Day, everyone.

    I hope Father County Chanpionship brings you everything you wanted.

    1. Thanks Sam. FCC has brought fair weather in London. He also brought me a gift of a dog whistle yesterday, for reasons far too lengthy to explain here.

      Now I’m hoping he’ll allow me to concentrate on work sufficiently this morning and get through my meetings so I might spend a bit of quality time at HQ this afternoon. So far, not so good on that front. Self inflicted blah blah.

  4. Sam Northeast. Decent start to the season. Are we ignoring this because the second division doesn’t count?

    1. We’ve been keeping quiet because “Everyone’s Playing” was supposed to be Phase One and “Kookaburra Ball Part One” was supposed to be Phase Two. But as it happens…

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