07 Jul

First-class cricket is set to return in England and Wales on August 1 after a majority of counties indicated they would like to play a red-ball county championship rather than a 50-over one-day cup.

A formal vote of the 18 first-class chairmen will take place today but the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) asked each county to indicate yesterday by email what their preferred option would be when the domestic game resumes in three weeks’ time.

Early indications are, according to The Times, that a small majority will vote in favour of a regionalised first-class competition, being played in three groups of six with five group matches and a final, probably at Lord’s, played between the two teams with the most points at the end of September.

Because of the shortening of the season due to the pandemic, there is only time for two competitions to be played rather than the usual three. Up to eight counties — including Hampshire, Leicestershire, Essex and Glamorgan — have said they would prefer to play a 50-over cup to minimise the costs and the concerns they have over the coronavirus risk posed to their players by staying in hotels.

The majority, however, feel they have a responsibility to their players — especially those in the last year of their contracts and academy players trying to get their first professional deals — and their members to play some first-class cricket, even if it is behind closed doors. There will be no promotion and relegation but the winner of the final will be crowned county champions.

All counties are in favour of playing a T20 Blast competition in September and October with a final at Edgbaston likely to be on October 10. This would also be played in three regional groups, with each county playing ten matches before two or three knockout rounds.

The matches will be streamed live and some counties have invested in additional cameras at their grounds to improve the quality of the broadcast. It is likely that Sky Sports will televise some of the group games and the knockout stage.

John Stephenson


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