The County Championship is to revert to two divisions again in 2022.
Following two seasons under revised structures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the England and Wales Cricket Board was keen to return to the format agreed by the 18 counties in 2018.
After discussions with the ECB, clubs voted to return to a 10-team Division One and eight-team Division Two.
Two counties will be relegated from Division One and two promoted from Division Two next year.
The decision follows an exciting climax to a two-phased 2021 County Championship season in which the counties were initially split into three groups.
In the second phase, four teams went into the final round of fixtures still in with a chance of winning the title, eventually won by Warwickshire, who just pipped Lancashire on the final day.
But one of those four sides, Nottinghamshire, who were relegated in 2019, will start 2022 in the eight-team Division Two.
Lancashire, the 2019 Division Two champions, Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire will take their places in the top flight, as was originally planned before the delayed 2020 campaign was restructured.
‘Always intention to return to two divisions’
Each county will play 14 Championship matches, with fixture lists and the season start date to be announced in November.
The ECB said: “The England and Wales Cricket Board’s role ahead of this week’s vote has been to facilitate discussions between the first-class counties and provide the options available to them.
“The priority of those discussions has been to determine when and how a return to the two-division structure could best be achieved.
“The process to transition to that structure had begun during the 2019 LV= Insurance County Championship. At the end of that season three counties were promoted from Division Two (Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire) while the last-placed Division One county (Nottinghamshire) was relegated.
“A two-division Championship has, however, not taken place since then due to Covid-19. But it has always been the intention of the first-class counties and the ECB to return to the two-division structure at the earliest opportunity.
“After the vote to change the format of men’s first-class cricket in 2020 and 2021 to mitigate against the impact of Covid-19, this week’s vote also considered the option to play one further year of the seeded group structure that was successfully staged this summer.
“Although there was support from counties to use the 2022 season as a way to step back to a two-divisional structure, there was not the two-thirds majority that was required.”
The ECB has not yet said whether or not the Bob Willis Trophy, lifted by Essex in 2020 when no Championship was played, and won by Warwickshire in 2021 as a postseason game, will continue.
The Championship was first switched to two divisions in the year 2000, having been just one division for more than a hundred years from its inception as originally an eight-team league involving Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Notts, Middlesex, Surrey, Sussex and Kent in 1890.
Somerset were added in 1891, Derbyshire, Essex, Hampshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire joined in 1895, followed by Worcestershire (1899), Northamptonshire (1905), Glamorgan (1921) and Durham (1992).
Notts back three-group structure
Nottinghamshire, who won seven of their 14 games in 2021, said they had voted against the return to two divisions.
“We had hoped that the proposal put forward to play another year of first-class cricket in conferences, with the finishing positions to determine the divisional structure for 2023, would gain sufficient support,” director of cricket Mick Newell said.
“However, following the vote, that was not the outcome.
“We expect some very competitive cricket to be played in the Second Division in 2022.
“The challenge of achieving promotion is significant and that will be a key focus for us heading into the new season.
“We have a team that’s passionate about playing the best red-ball cricket they can and who have made significant progress since the conclusion of the 2019 campaign.
“Nothing has changed in that regard and aiming for a promotion will provide us with a new challenge that we will fully commit to.”
County Championship structure for 2022
Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire, Yorkshire.
Durham, Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Worcestershire.
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