The ECB has revealed a tweaked county structure for 2022 that returns more red-ball cricket to mid-summer but does not rip up everything and throw it to the wolves.
After the summer scheduling came in for heavy criticism following England’s 4-0 Ashes drubbing, Neil Snowball, the ECB’s managing director of county cricket, accepted that change was on the way. He confirmed that 2022 was an interim year based more on autumn reaction from the counties than the winter’s mishaps.
“We’re still putting together the feedback from the tour,” he said, “and then we need to get the first-class counties, the ECB, the PCA and the other stakeholders together and work out a plan through this year so hopefully we can start making some changes from 2023.
“So, whether it’s teams or whether it’s actual fixtures, I think we probably need to play less and focus on high intensity. A lot of this is about quality – it’s the quality of the cricket that we’re playing in the right conditions. I think that’s what we need to try to focus on.
“I think what we need to do is have a comprehensive look at the picture and at all the things that we’ve talked about – whether it’s the ball, the pitches, the coaching, the domestic structure.”
The County Championship will return on 7 April, with seven rounds in the June and July window when the weather and pitches should be palatable. There is a return to two division cricket, after the Covid-enforced group stages, with 10 teams in the top division, and eight in the second, the promotion and relegation places based on the results at the end of the 2019 summer. Yorkshire remain in Division One, despite the ongoing ECB investigation. No decision has yet been made on their current suspension from holding international games.
Two more red-ball games have been added to the schedule: First Class County Select XI matches against the tourists, New Zealand in May and South Africa later in the summer, with the intention that Test players could be drafted in if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Vitality Blast enters its 20th year, kicking off with the champions Kent Spitfires taking on Somerset on the opening night in a rematch of last year’s final. How glorious that Darren Stevens – hypnotic inspiration to Australian Whatsapp groups – will kick the tournament off. He is one of five men to have played in the first competition in 2003. The competition will run for seven weeks, with a Roses match on the first Friday of the competition, culminating in an already sold-out finals day at Edgbaston on 16 July.
There will be 10 double headers alongside Charlotte Edwards Cup matches, many of them during the half-term week at the beginning of June, in an attempt to attract more crowds to women’s domestic T20 games. And the 50-over Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy gets its first finals day at Lord’s, which dovetails nicely with the renaming of the North gate in her honour.
The Bob Willis Trophy, which closed the men’s season for the last two years – triumphantly in 2020, rather less so in 2021 – has been quietly retired, though may return in a different form in 2023. There is also no place for the Champion County fixture this summer.
As last year, the Royal London Cup 50 over trophy will run alongside the Hundred, but this year the final will be held on a Saturday, rather than a random obscure Thursday.