With the World Cup but a fading memory, thoughts inexorably turn to the coming summer. And not before time, as the opening round of fixtures in this season’s ECB County T20 is now less than two weeks away!
The fixtures have been out for some time, and details of all but one venue have now been confirmed (as always, check Play Cricket for info, plus of course @WomensCricDay on Twitter!). The East of England Championship fixtures were also released a while back, and more recently we have had confirmation of two more Regional 50-over competitions based – loosely – around the Sparks and Vipers regions.
So what have we got on the horizon?
The ECB County T20 will take place over four consecutive weekends in April and May, with matches taking place on 18th April (Easter Monday), Sunday 24th April and Monday 2nd May, with a ‘Finals day’ for each group on Sunday 8th May, with a format broadly similar to last season.
There has, however, been some ‘tidying up’ as you might describe it, to iron out some of the less desirable aspects of last summer’s format.
There will be eight groups this time around, broadly organised on a regional basis again, but this time numbered from 1 to 8, rather than given regional titles – thus avoiding “Since when has Somerset been in the West Midlands” type queries.
Seven of the groups (Group 1 being the exception, which we will leave to one side for now) will consist of four teams, and each will play the other three in double-header fixtures over the first three dates, followed by a Finals Day with semi-finals and a final for each group.
Unlike last season, therefore, when some counties in each group didn’t meet, there will be integrity to the final tables, and also a bona fide group winner in each case. It means an element of genuine competition compared to what felt very much like a bunch of ‘glorified friendlies’ last time round.
Group 1 (the ‘North’ Group), however, consists of seven teams, including North East Warriors (Durham and Northumberland combined, for the uninitiated), and the Northern ‘Rep’ XI (essentially Lancs and Yorks combined ‘Reserves’). It’s not ideal, but unavoidable given an uneven number of teams. I can’t help but wonder whether Cheshire might have been persuaded to re-enter, allowing that group to be split in two and create a perfect structure of ten groups. Ah well…
It also means that group will have one standard ‘triangular’ fixture each weekend, and one ‘quadrangular’ where four teams meet and play two fixtures each. Depending on the layout of the venue, it offers the chance to watch two games at once!
One final point on the fixtures, incidentally. It’s worth noting that whilst almost all fixtures are scheduled to be played at club or village grounds, there is one very notable exception on Sunday 24th April when – assuming Play Cricket is correct – Somerset will entertain Warwickshire at the County Ground, Taunton. A nod to all at Somerset for this one!
Elsewhere, I’m yet to see a formal announcement of the London Championship for this summer… but the fixtures are on Play Cricket so one assumes it is happening! The same five counties are taking part – there had been a little conjecture over Sussex given their involvement in the new ‘Vipers’ Regional competition, but that appears to have been unfounded.
Incidentally, Surrey’s website also confirms a date of Thursday 23rd June for the annual London Cup T20 Challenge match against Middlesex, this year at the Kia Oval.
The East of England Championship has expanded again, from six teams to seven. Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Suffolk have joined the party, whilst Buckinghamshire have departed ‘on good terms’ to join the ‘Vipers’ regional competition, and Cambridgeshire have withdrawn, hopefully to return at some later stage.
Fixtures are spread nicely through the season, from mid-May to mid-September, which I have to say I really like. With seven teams competing it feels like the East of England has a real narrative thread through the entire summer.
And finally we have the two new Regional 50-over competitions – The South Central Regional Cup and the West Midlands Regional Cup.
The former will include Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Sussex, and whilst that may look a somewhat unbalanced group, the expectation is that Hampshire and Sussex in particular will use it as a ‘Development’ exercise alongside their London Championship commitments and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy & Charlotte Edwards Cup. Fixtures will all be played in midweek, on five days beginning on Monday 30th May and ending on Thursday 11th August.
The West Midlands Regional Cup is something of a misnomer, given that Wales will be competing alongside Staffordshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire, but that’s a minor quibble. Again, it will be a round robin, with fixtures on Sundays 17th July and 14th & 28th August.
With other counties likely to arrange friendly fixtures it adds up to a very busy summer, and a very positive one for the future of the county game. With the demise of the Championship in 2019, and the successful introduction of the Regional structure, it was easy at that stage to foresee a bleak future with county cricket fading away. In the event the reality has proved to be very different, thanks to the hard work of many at local levels up and down the country.
The addition of new competitions this season is yet more evidence of a growing realisation that the county system – alongside the regional academies – is an essential rung on the ladder between club and regional cricket. Long may that be the case.
You may have seen the recent Twitter announcement that there will be no Women’s County Cricket Day this summer. Life is such that over the past few months I haven’t had the capacity to take on a campaign ahead of the 2022 season, with all that entails. However, @WomensCricDay will still be promoting county fixtures throughout the season, and we’re taking the view that EVERY DAY is Women’s County Cricket Day! Choose your own WCCD, find a venue near to you – or not so near to you! Have a day out, enjoy some cricket!
Play Cricket Links
ECB County T20 – https://ecbwcountychampionship.play-cricket.com/home
London Championship – https://womenslondonchampionship.play-cricket.com/home
East of England Championship – https://eastofenglandwcc.play-cricket.com/
South Central Regional Cup – https://scrcup.play-cricket.com/home
West Midlands Regional Cup – https://westmidlandsregionalcup.play-cricket.com/home