County cricket: Three-division domestic cricket structure confirmed with Championship and Bob Willis Trophy up for grabs in 2021

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The County Championship will be contested over three groups, while the five-day duel for the Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s remains

The County Championship will be contested for across three divisions for the first time after a revolutionary new format was unveiled by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

For the first stage of the competition, the eighteen first-class counties have been split across three groups.

After each has played one another home and away, the top two from each pool progresses to Division One.

The side who remains top after every team has played all outstanding opponents will then be crowed the county champions and awarded the Lord’s Taveners trophy.

In addition, the champions and runners-up in Division One will face-off in a five-day match at Lord’s with the Bob Willis Trophy on the line.

Essex, current holders of both pieces of silverware, will therefore have the chance to defend both titles in 2021.

Groups have been determined based on performances in the last two seasons of red-ball cricket. Derbies such as Lancashire v Yorkshire and Middlesex and Surrey have been preserved.

The new format is currently only in place for next season and consultation will take place next year with a view to deciding on the long-term format.

The two-divisional structure, with 10 sides in Division One and eight in Division Two remains the default position.

“I am delighted that the counties have been able to reach this agreement less than three weeks after Essex won the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s,” said ECB chairman Ian Watmore.

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Essex have won three red-ball trophies in the last four seasons

“The success of that competition provides reassurance that this structure can help safeguard against any impact the global pandemic may have on next season while also ensuring the integrity of the County Championship.”

The ECB hope to announce the fixtures for the entire 2021 campaign in November. It has been reported that the Bob Willis Trophy final could be staged as late as October 2.

A shortened red-ball season was introduction this year due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the County Championship was not up for grabs.

It saw teams split into three regional groups, with teams playing their five group rivals once. The top two ranked group winners then progressed to the Bob Willis Trophy final at the home of cricket.

Somerset and Essex played out an entertaining final, with the latter taking home the trophy having led after both teams had batted once.

The Championship has been contested over two divisions since 2000 when it was split from one league to include promotion and relegation.

2021 County Championship Groups:

Group 1: Essex, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Worcestershire, Durham

Group 2: Somerset, Hampshire, Surrey, Gloucestershire, Middlesex, Leicestershire

Group 3: Kent, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Glamorgan, Sussex

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