Rule changes as truncated season finally gets going
Shortest first-class schedule since 1870s will begin on Aug 1 Counties divided into three groups to reduce travelling
It will be the thinnest first-class season since the 1870s – five first-class matches per county – but after four months without any games at all, the county season will finally begin on Aug 1 in a competition for the Bob Willis Trophy.
Willis, the former England captain who died in early December
‘Player fitness and well-being is the top priority after a long lay-off’
last year, was never the greatest fan of county cricket as it used up energies which, as a fast bowler, he would have preferred to dedicate to England’s cause, so maybe the naming of this abbreviated competition is particularly appropriate.
There was never a chance of staging the normal championship in the limited time available – little more than a month because a Twenty20 competition has also to be fitted in before the end of this quasi-season. Each county will play one four-day game per week into the first week of September.
The 18 first-class counties have been divided into three regional groups to minimise travelling and obviate the need for hotels and nights away from home. The two group winners with the most points will meet in a five-day final.
The points for a draw will increase from five points to eight, otherwise the scoring system will be the same as for the championship.
Other changes will include a reduction of the minimum number of overs from 96 to 90, which will reduce the stress on pace bowlers who have had no pre-season practice. An alternative solution would have been to make all teams play two spinners.
No county will be able to bat longer than 120 overs in their first innings, which will again provide a limit on the amount of work that pace bowlers have to endure; and the second new ball will be available after 90 not 80 overs.
The trophy will feature a portrait of Willis that his wife, Lauren, painted.
Sir Andrew Strauss, chair of the performance cricket committee, said: “For all fans of the county game, it is fantastic news that domestic cricket will get under way at the start of August.
“It goes without saying that everyone wants to see competitive red and white-ball cricket but in these unprecedented times it is crucially important that we recognise that the fitness and well-being of players is the top priority after a long lay-off period.”
As one of the unforeseen consequences of Covid, it will be interesting to see if this new competition anticipates a future in which the two divisions are abolished and the 18 counties play each other annually in three conferences, but home and away in future, making 10 games each, plus a final.
Warming up: Northamptonshire prepare at the County Ground yesterday (left) while players stop to sanitise (above)