After a one-year hiatus in 2020, when the Bob Willis Trophy took its place, the County Championship will be back in 2021.
However, England’s domestic first-class competition will look quite different, with a restructure agreed to help mitigate against potential impact from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here’s everything we know so far about how the County Championship will work in 2021:
What will the County Championship structure be in 2021?
The 18 first-class counties will be split into three seeded groups of six, based on their performance in the Bob Willis Trophy in 2021. Each team will play each other in their group home and away before the 18 are split again, this time into three divisions.
The top two teams from each group will go into Division One, the next two into Division Two, and the bottom two into Division Three. Each will then play four more games, against every team in their Division barring the team with which they shared a group. The winner of Division One will be the County Championship winners for 2021.
Is this the end for the Bob Willis Trophy?
Essex won the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s in September, drawing with Somerset but claiming the prize by virtue of a first-innings lead in the showpiece clash. Though originally conceived as a one-off replacement in 2020 due to the abridged county cricket season, the Bob Willis Trophy will be at stake once more in 2021.
The top two teams in Division One will play the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s following the conclusion of the County Championship. The final will once again be a five-day affair.
Is this County Championship structure here to stay beyond 2021?
It’s not yet decided, with review and consultation to be held during 2021 with the counties and other stakeholders. Proponents of the new model speak favourably of how the structure gives every team the chance the win the County Championship at the start of a season, with some feeling that some of the smaller counties had stagnated in Division Two, with no realistic chance of first-class silverware.
However, an ECB spokesperson confirmed that the 2019 structure, with 10 teams in Division One, and eight in Division Two, remains the default position.
How have the groups been decided?
The seedings for the 2021 County Championship are based on performances in the 2020 Bob Willis Trophy and the 2019 County Championship.
What are the groups for the 2021 County Championship?
The groups are as follows:
Group 1: Essex, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Worcestershire, Durham
Group 2: Somerset, Hampshire, Surrey, Gloucestershire, Middlesex, Leicestershire
Group 3: Kent, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Glamorgan, Sussex
What about Sussex and Somerset’s point deductions?
Sussex were handed the maximum possible 24-point fine after Mitch Claydon was found guilty of ball-tampering. However, with that punishment applied retroactively to the Bob Willis Trophy 2020, and therefore affecting little except their 2021 seeding, they may feel they have got off lightly.
Somerset’s 12 point penalty for a poor pitch in their title-deciding clash against Essex in the 2019 County Championship is yet to come into force, and it is yet to be decided whether it will apply in 2021.
Who are the current County Championship holders?
Essex won the 2019 title to add to their growing haul of recent trophies, which includes the 2016 Division Two crown, the 2017 County Championship, and the 2019 T20 Blast trophy. They also won the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy, in 2020 at Lord’s.