Club Cricket Conference

Wednesday, 16th October 2019

Minor County venues to host the professionals again


By Charles Randall

2nd November 2018

Minor counties will be hosting a professional county for one match from 2020 onwards in mid-summer, according to changes announced by the  ECB this week.

Though the matches will not be part of a competition - more of a warm-up for the professionals - the scheme brings top county players back to club grounds in the shires for the first time since 2005. All the minor counties will be given the chance to provide opposition in the peak month of July.

The giant-killing format in the old 50 overs knockout competition became tired after more than 40 years.  Matches were usually held early season, and the odds were stacked against a reasonable contest, but visits to clubs by the professional counties were still regarded as a worthwhile local event and drew reasonably good crowds. A few upsets passed into folk lore. This time Ireland, Scotland, Holland and Denmark will not be involved as they were in 2005, having moved on to international one-day status.

The last minor counties to compete in the 50-overs competition in 2005 were  Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Northumberland, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Wales and Wiltshire. Giant-killing successes were achieved by Durham (twice), Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire, Shropshire, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Herefordshire and Devon. Added to that was a bowl-out victory by Hertfordshire.

From 2020, the county 50-over competition in July and August will be split into two groups of nine, playing home and away not necessarily along existing North and South lines, before a knockout stage. Overseas players will not be permitted to take part.

The county championship will become 14 matches in two same size divisions from 2020. To achieve this, three teams will be promoted from Division Two in 2019 with one relegated from Division One. Promotion and relegation will thren revert to two-up, two-down.

The Vitality Blast T20 competition will retain its current format, with the counties split into North and South Groups of nine teams each, and each team playing 14 fixtures – seven at home, and seven away. The top four will qualify for quarter-finals, with the four winners qualifying for Finals Day at Edgbaston.

The 18 First-Class Counties agreed to these proposals from the recomendations by the Men’s Domestic Playing Programme group, known as MDDP, chaired by the Leicestershire  chief executive Wasim Khan and drawn from different sections of the men’s county game and ECB.

The group was asked to consider four areas - the structure of the Specsavers County Championship, the number of fixtures in the Vitality Blast, the form of county cricket that should be played during the New Competition and  a possible involvement of the Minor Counties. The panel met four times and held a series of consultations across the country to further canvas opinion across the county game.

Wasim Khan commented: "It was critical throughout the process to consider a programme that was underpinned by three key principles: supporting sustained success for England teams, maintaining a vibrant domestic game and recognising the importance of red ball cricket."
He added: "There were a number of areas up for discussion which showed the importance of extensively consulting with all 18 First-Class-Counties in a thorough and impartial process. We are very pleased that that there was unanimous support for a structure that will hopefully improve our domestic game and in turn the England teams."

Gordon Hollins, ECB chief operating officer, said: "It was important that the process took in the views of all the stakeholders in the domestic game, especially the counties. After receiving unanimous agreement we will move forward with plans that will help ensure that our domestic game remains as vibrant as possible while producing players to help our England teams remain successful."