Extra County Championship matches will be played in June and July in 2022 following calls for more red-ball cricket in England in mid-summer.
But ECB managing director of county cricket Neil Snowball has said even more changes are likely next season.
“It needs a comprehensive review. Hopefully we can start making some changes from 2023,” Snowball said.
“But the County Championship is the blue-riband event. It is the primary first-class, red-ball competition. I don’t see that changing.
“Fewer matches might help. One of the things we say every year is we’re playing an awful lot of domestic cricket, and some feel people would feel we’re playing too much.
“We talk a lot to the players, we talk a lot to the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA), who focus on play-travel-play-travel-play-travel and not an awful lot of rest and practice.
“It’s the quality of the cricket we’re playing in the right conditions. That’s what we need to try to focus on.”
The feelgood factor that followed England’s men winning the 2019 World Cup has seemingly evaporated in the past two and a half years.
Not only has the Covid-19 pandemic had a big effect on the game at Test and domestic level, but fingers have been pointed at both the increase of white-ball cricket and the existing red-ball structure in the English game.
Calls for a restructured programme in domestic cricket have only heightened after England’s men lost the recent Ashes series 4-0.
“There is absolute commitment to do that,” Snowball added.
“But, in terms of where we’re at, it’s still early days. We’re still putting together the feedback from the tour and then we need to get the first-class counties, the ECB, the PCA and the other stakeholders together and then work out a plan.”
The 2022 season
Warwickshire will start their County Championship title defence against Surrey when the season gets under way on Thursday, 7 April with the last round of matches taking place from 26-29 September.
The opening seven rounds of fixtures will be played on successive weeks – and there will be no season-ending Bob Willis Trophy.
There will be two rounds of games in June and three in July – addressing the need for more Championship fixtures to be played in mid-summer highlighted by current England head coach Chris Silverwood, as a necessary step towards reviving the national team’s Test match fortunes.
Last summer’s Championship was played with three regional groups because of Covid. Six teams then advanced to Division One, from which Warwickshire eventually emerged as champions – and Bob Willis Trophy winners.
The England and Wales Cricket Broad decided last October, however, that a two-division format, with promotion and relegation, would be reinstated for 2022.
The 18 teams are in the division they would have been in for the 2020 Championship, which did not get played because of the pandemic, so although Nottinghamshire finished third in 2021 behind Warwickshire, they will play in the second tier.
The T20 Blast will begin on Wednesday, 25 May and the 50-over One-Day Cup on Tuesday, 2 August.
The 20th season of the domestic T20 competition will culminate with Finals Day at Edgbaston on Saturday, 16 July – placing the showpiece occasion at the height of summer for the first time, instead of the mid-September date when Kent Spitfires beat Somerset and lifted the trophy in 2021.
The two teams will play each other again at Canterbury on the opening night of the 2022 Blast – and 99 of the 126 group games will be played on Thursday, Friday or at the weekend, 10 as double-headers with the women’s T20 Charlotte Edwards Cup.
Trent Bridge will again host the 50-over One-Day Cup final on Saturday, 17 September, almost a month later than last summer, when Glamorgan defeated Durham by 58 runs.
Too much white-ball cricket?
Last season the County Championship took a hiatus for the majority of June and early July and then again from mid-July until the start of September while white-ball cricket took centre stage in various formats including The Hundred.
It led to suggestions the red-ball game in England was not being prioritised any more.
“That’s what a lot of the narrative is,” Snowball said. “You could debate whether one’s at the expense of the other.
“There’s no doubt that there was a lot of time and effort invested after 2015 in our one-day team that went on to win the World Cup. But there continues to be a big focus and investment in red-ball and Test cricket. We’ve got to look at getting the balance right.
“There’s a feeling we haven’t got the balance right at the moment, and that’s what we need to look at.
“Within that view of the counties, the ECB and the PCA, we’ve got to get some other input as well from other sources that have strong views and experience on the game. Whether it’s media, commentators or other people as well, we need to have a proper look.”
‘Assumption is Yorkshire are in Division One’
The 2022 fixtures have been published a month later than the 2021 list, which came out in December 2020 – and just four days after Australia beat England in Hobart to complete a 4-0 Ashes series triumph.
Speculation had existed over the winter months that Yorkshire might not be included in Division One in the wake of the racism scandal, triggered by Azeem Rafiq’s revelations – and that the ongoing debate had delayed the 2022 fixtures.
“There was a bit of speculation as to whether the delay was because of waiting up on Yorkshire,” Snowball said. “But actually the two were completely separate. There was a number of reasons why it was delayed.
“We have Yorkshire published in Division One. Obviously, there’s an investigation ongoing. That may result then in disciplinary action once the hearings have taken place. At the moment, our assumption is that they’re in Division One. We can’t assume anything different until that process is concluded.”
Future for the Bob Willis Trophy?
The Bob Willis Trophy, named after the former England fast bowler who died in December 2019, was first introduced in the 2020 season in place of the cancelled County Championship campaign.
A one-off five-day game for the Bob Willis Trophy between Warwickshire and Lancashire then concluded the 2021 season.
It is not currently scheduled to take place this year.
“The Bob Willis Trophy served us very well in 2020 to rescue the season,” Snowball added. “We’re very keen to continue to celebrate Bob’s legacy with a Bob Willis Trophy in some format but we’re not quite sure what that’s going to be yet. We’re in discussions with his family on that.
“We’ve got a few ideas that we’re looking at. Whether or not we can land that in 2022 or whether that comes out of the red-ball reset in 2023, we are determined to make sure we continue with that. We’re just working on options.”
County Championship structure
Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire, Yorkshire.
Durham, Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Worcestershire.
Opening fixtures – 7-10 April
D1: Essex v Kent, Chelmsford
D1: Hampshire v Somerset, Ageas Bowl
D1: Northamptonshire v Gloucestershire, Northampton
D1: Warwickshire v Surrey, Edgbaston
D2: Glamorgan v Durham, Sophia Gardens
D2: Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Leicester
D2: Middlesex v Derbyshire, Lord’s
D2: Sussex v Nottinghamshire, Hove