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|Administrator||England and Wales Cricket Board|
|Tournament format||Two divisions
home and away 4-day fixtures.
|Number of teams||18|
|Most successful||Yorkshire (32 titles + 1 shared)|
|Most runs||Phil Mead (46,268)|
|Most wickets||Tich Freeman (3,151)|
The County Championship is the domestic first-class cricket competition in England and Wales and is organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). It became an official title in 1890. The competition consists of eighteen clubs named after, and originally representing, historic counties, seventeen from England and one from Wales. From 2016, the Championship has been sponsored by Specsavers, who replaced Liverpool Victoria after 14 years.
The earliest known inter-county match was played in 1709. Until 1889, the concept of an unofficial county championship existed whereby various claims would be made by or on behalf of a particular club as the "Champion County", an archaic term which now has the specific meaning of a claimant for the unofficial title prior to 1890. In contrast, the term "County Champions" applies in common parlance to a team that has won the official title. The most usual means of claiming the unofficial title was by popular or press acclaim. In the majority of cases, the claim or proclamation was retrospective, often by cricket writers using reverse analysis via a study of known results. The unofficial title was not proclaimed in every season up to 1889 because in many cases there were not enough matches or there was simply no clear candidate. Having already been badly hit by the Seven Years' War, county cricket ceased altogether during the Napoleonic Wars and there was a period from 1797 to 1824 during which no inter-county matches took place. The concept of the unofficial title has been utilised ad hoc and relied on sufficient interest being shown.
The official County Championship was constituted in a meeting at Lord's on 10 December 1889 which was called to enable club secretaries to determine the 1890 fixtures. While this was going on, representatives of the eight leading county clubs held a private meeting to discuss the method by which the county championship should in future be decided. The new competition began in the 1890 season and at first involved just the eight leading clubs: Gloucestershire, Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Sussex and Yorkshire. Subsequently, the championship has been expanded to 18 clubs by the additions at various times of Derbyshire, Durham, Essex, Glamorgan, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
It is difficult to know when the concept of a county championship originated. While early matches were often between teams named after counties, they were not the club teams the usage would imply today. Rowland Bowen states in his history that the earliest usage of the term "County Championship" occurred in 1837 re a match between Kent and Nottingham Cricket Club which for the purposes of that match was called Nottinghamshire. That may be so re the actual terminology but closer examination of the sources does indicate a much earlier expression of the idea.
The earliest known inter-county match was in 1709 between Kent and Surrey but match results are unknown until the 1720s. The first time a source refers to the superiority of one county is in respect of a match between Edwin Stead's XI (aka Kent) and Sir William Gage's XI (aka Sussex) at Penshurst Park in August 1728. Kent won by an unknown margin and the source states that "this was the third time this summer that the Kent men have been too expert for those of Sussex". Evidently, Stead's Kent team won two games earlier in the season against Sussex teams organised by the 2nd Duke of Richmond. The clearly implication is that Kent was considered to be the champion county at that time. The following year, Gage's Sussex team "turned the scales" and defeated Kent, prompting a source to remark that "(the scale of victory) for some years past has been generally on the Kentish side". In 1730, a newspaper referred to the "Kentish champions". These statements indicate that inter-county matches had been played for many years previously and that there was keen rivalry with each team seeking ascendancy: i.e., in effect as champions or at least in terms of "bragging rights".
Inter-county cricket was popular throughout the 18th century although the best team, such as Kent in the 1740s or Hampshire in the days of the Hambledon Club, was usually acknowledged as such by being matched against an "All England" team. There were a number of contemporary allusions to the best county including some in verse, such as one by a Kent supporter celebrating a victory over Hampshire in terms of "(we shall) bring down the pride of the Hambledon Club".
Analysis of 18th century matches has identified a number of strong teams who actually or effectively proclaimed their temporal superiority. The most successful county teams were Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. But there was often a crossover between town and county with some strong local clubs tending at times to represent a whole county. Examples are London, which often played against county teams and was in some respects almost a county club in itself; Slindon, which was for a few years in the 1740s effectively representative of Sussex as a county; Dartford, often representative of Kent; and the Hambledon Club, certainly representative of Hampshire and also perhaps of Sussex. Other good county teams in the 18th century were Berkshire, Essex and Middlesex.
Using the same sort of reverse analysis, it is possible to compile a list of the most competitive teams from the recommencement of county cricket in 1825. Rowland Bowen published his ideas about this in the 1960s when he was the editor of the Cricket Quarterly periodical. He began by stating that Sussex was publicly acknowledged as the "best county" in the 1827 season when they played against All England in the roundarm trial matches, although the team's involvement in these matches had more to do with the fact that Sussex was the prime mover in the "roundarm revolution". Kent, which had a celebrated team at the time, has long been acknowledged as a champion county in most seasons of the 1840s but in other years there is no clear-cut contender.
The middle years of the 19th century are the period of county club formation. So, when title "claims" were made on behalf of Sussex in 1826 and 1827, it was for the same loose association based on Brighton Cricket Club that had a successful season in 1792. But claims on behalf of Sussex from 1845 were by the Sussex county club, founded in 1839. A similar situation existed with both Kent and Surrey. Nottinghamshire is the only other claimant before the 1860s, starting in 1852, but all of its claims have been made by the county club which was founded in 1841.
As the popularity of organised cricket grew throughout England, more county clubs came into contention and, by the mid-1860s, they included the short-lived Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Lancashire, Middlesex and Yorkshire. At this time and into the 1870s, the press began to advocate some form of league system and various journals and individuals, including W. G. Grace, began publishing their views about who was the champion in a given season. Grace became interested after the Gloucestershire club was founded in 1870, with himself as captain, and laid several claims to the championship during the 1870s. In the 1870s, it became widely accepted that the side with fewest losses should be the champions. Various lists of unofficial champions began to be compiled by the contemporary press and others, but they are not usually in complete agreement.
All "titles" claimed before 1864 are strictly unofficial and are based on (a) contemporary claims made by or on behalf of a particular team and recorded at the time; (b) reverse analysis performed by a writer who was trying to establish the best team in a given season by reference to the known fixtures and results. It must be stressed that the purpose of such lists when published has never been to ascribe any kind of ruling but rather to provoke discussion. No real credibility can be attached to such claims except to acknowledge that a team was especially strong over a number of years: e.g., Kent in the 1720s; London in the 1730s; Hampshire in the 1770s and 1780s; Sussex in the 1820s; Kent in the 1840s; and Surrey in the 1850s.
From 1864 to 1889, the county championship title remained unofficial except that the idea was widely promoted by individuals in the contemporary press and that had not happened hitherto apart from occasional points of view. Each journalist tended to have his own ideas about the calculation method and the matches to be included, but there was a certain amount of consensus in the main, generally favouring the team with fewest defeats. The list below gives the champions quoted by the most prominent sources, including W. G. Grace (1864–1889), Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (1864–1889), John Lillywhite's Cricketer's Companion (1865–1884), James Lillywhite's Cricketers' Annual (1871–1889) and Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game (1882–1889).
The final tally over these 26 seasons was, therefore, Nottinghamshire (8 titles plus 7 shared); Gloucestershire (3/1); Surrey (3/1); Yorkshire (2/3); Lancashire (1/3); Middlesex (1/0).
In 1873, player qualification rules came into force which required players to choose at the start of each season whether they would play for the county of their birth or their county of residence. Before this, it was quite common for a player to play for both counties during the course of a single season. Three meetings were held, and at the last of these, held at The Oval on 9 June 1873, the following rules were decided on:
It was in the 1870s that newspapers began to print tables of inter-county results and then proclaim a champion on the basis of their chosen criteria. In Arthur Haygarth's Scores and Biographies, reference is often made to "least matches lost" as a means of deciding the champion. This was a method that, in a modified form, permeated through to the official championship when one point was awarded for a win but one was deducted for a defeat. It was discontinued after 1909 as it was deemed to be inherently unsatisfactory and a points per win method replaced it in 1910.
As Derek Birley describes, the papers did not use standard criteria and so there were several seasons in which any title must be considered "shared", as there was no universally recognised winner. With no consistency of approach, the issue inevitably led to argument, counter-arguments and confusion until the matter was taken in hand at the meeting of club secretaries in December 1889 where the official championship was constituted.
In Roy Webber's The County Cricket Championship, he asserts that the championship "is generally accepted as starting in the 1873 season but that is a convenient date decided upon many years later" because 1873 was "the first season in which rules of county qualification were in operation". Webber acknowledges the difficulties posed from 1873 to 1890 by varying programmes with some county clubs playing many more matches than others. For example, in 1874 when Derbyshire was held by some to have won the title, they played only four matches while Yorkshire played twelve. A list of champions for the period would be subjective and in most seasons there would be strongly competing claims. In general, it may be asserted that Gloucestershire with all three Grace brothers were the strongest team in most of the 1870s; Nottinghamshire were in the ascendancy from about 1879 to 1886; and then Surrey from 1887 through the start of the official championship in 1890.
When the annual meeting of county club secretaries was held at Lord's on 10 December 1889, their purpose was to decide on a fixture programme for the 1890 season. As reported by Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game:
"While the secretaries were engaged in making the fixtures the representatives of the eight leading counties – Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Lancashire, Kent, Middlesex, Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, and Sussex – held a private meeting to discuss the method by which the county championship should in future be decided. The meeting was, we understand, not quite unanimous, but a majority were in favour of ignoring drawn games altogether and settling the question of championship by wins and losses. As it was agreed to abide by the views of the majority, this decision was accepted as final.
Subsequently representatives of the following eight minor counties – Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Hampshire, Somersetshire, Staffordshire, Durham and Essex – held a similar meeting in private, and unanimously decided to apply the same rule to minor county cricket".
The first-ever official cricket County Championship match began on 12 May 1890: Yorkshire beat Gloucestershire by eight wickets at Bristol. James Cranston (Gloucestershire) scored the first century in the competition. The final positions in 1890 were based on number of wins minus the number of losses. Later, a points system was introduced but it has been subject to several variations.
In the 1891 season, Somerset competed in the championship and in 1895 Derbyshire, Essex, Hampshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire all joined; the rules were changed so each side had to play at least 16 matches per season. Until World War II, counties played differing numbers of matches, except that all counties were required to play 28 matches in each season from 1929 to 1932 inclusive. When the championship resumed in 1946, teams played 26 matches per season, and the pattern of a fixed number of matches has continued since then, although the number has varied, but again there was an exception. From 1960 to 1962 inclusive, counties could choose whether to play 28 or 32 matches.
The original points system was simply wins minus losses but with the expansion in 1895 the points system was modified so that the ratio of points to finished games (games minus draws) decided the final positions.
In 1910 the system was modified again so that the order was based on ratio of matches won to matches played, while from 1911 to 1967 a variety of systems were used that generally relied on points for wins and for first innings leads in games left unfinished. Since 1968, the basis has been wins (increased from 10 points in 1968, to 12 in 1976, to 16 in 1981, then back down to 12 in 1999, up to 14 in 2004 and currently 16) and "bonus points", which are earned for scoring a certain number of runs or taking a certain number of wickets in the first 110 overs of each first innings (the number of overs has changed at various times, but has been 110 since 2010). In an effort to prevent early finishes, points have been awarded for draws since 1996. From 1974 to 1981 there was a limit of 200 overs for the first two innings; the team batting first were restricted to 100 overs and any unused overs were added to those allowed to the team batting second.
Of the current 18 sides in County Cricket the remaining four joined at the following dates:
In the 21st century, questions have been raised about the future of the County Championship in the light of the shaky financial structure of many counties, poor attendances and the rise of Twenty20 cricket. Doubts have been raised over many decades concerning the competition's viability, yet it still survives. The Changing Face of Cricket (1963) by Clarke and Batchelor, made negative predictions about county cricket.
All matches prior to 1988 were scheduled for three days, normally of a nominal six hours each plus intervals, but often with the first two days lengthened by up to an hour and the final day shortened, so that teams with fixtures elsewhere on the following day could travel at sensible hours. The exception to this was the 1919 season, when there was an experiment with two-day matches played over longer hours, up to nine o'clock in the evening in mid-summer. This experiment was not repeated. From 1988 to 1992 some matches were played over four days, with each county playing six four-day and sixteen three-day games. From 1993 onwards, all matches have been scheduled for four days. In 2000, the championship adopted a two-divisional format with promotion and relegation each season. The ECB announced that, from 2017, Division One would contain eight teams and Division Two ten teams, with only one team being promoted from Division Two in 2016.
|County Club||First season in
|First title||Last title||Titles|
|Kent||1890||1906||1978||6 (+1 shared)|
|Lancashire||1890||1897||2011||8 (+1 shared)|
|Middlesex||1890||1903||2016||11 (+2 shared)|
|Surrey||1890||1890||2002||18 (+1 shared)|
|Yorkshire||1890||1893||2015||32 (+1 shared)|
The county championship works on a points system, the winner being the team with most points in the first division. The points are currently awarded as follows, with a draw increasing to 5 points  from 2014:
Bonus points are collected for batting and bowling. These points can only be obtained from the first 110 overs of each team's first innings. The bonus points are retained regardless of the outcome of the match.
Occasionally, a team may have points deducted. Reasons for points deductions are as follows:
Fielding unregistered player: Points were deducted from Lancashire and Sussex in 1978, and Middlesex in 1981. In each case, the county had played an unregistered player in one match, and all points awarded in that match were deducted.
Poor pitches: Penalties for poor pitches were initially introduced at 25 points (one more than the points for a win with maximum bonus points at the time). The first team to lose points for a poor pitch were Essex in 1989. In later years, smaller penalties were introduced. In 2011, Warwickshire, Hampshire and Kent were all docked 8 points for poor pitches at Edgbaston, the Rose Bowl and Canterbury respectively. No team lost points for a poor pitch in any of the seasons 2012 to 2017 inclusive.
Slow over rates: Deductions for a slow over rate were introduced in 2001, units of 0.25 points per over short of the target number in any match. The penalty was increased to 0.5 points per over in 2004, and to 1 point per over in 2008.
Ball-tampering: Surrey lost 8 points for ball-tampering in 2005. Surrey were relegated at the end of that season, but the effect of the penalty cannot be properly estimated by simply removing the 8 point deduction from the final table. This would assume that the matches would have been played in the same way had the penalty not been enforced. Such an assumption cannot be sustained. Middlesex's declaration on the first day of the final match only made sense because Middlesex started the match with a 15-point lead over Surrey.
Breach of salary cap: Durham were subject to a 2.5 point penalty in the 2013 County Championship, as well as penalties in the limited over competitions, for breach of the salary cap in 2012. Despite this penalty, Durham still won the County Championship in 2013.
Discipline: Leicestershire were fined 16 points in 2015 "in respect of five or more separate occasions when their players committed fixed penalty offences in a 12-month period."  Leicestershire were fined 16 points in 2017 after a further five offences in the previous 12 months.
Financial issues: As well as being demoted from Division One, Durham were subject to a 48 point penalty in Division Two in the 2017 County Championship and penalties in the limited over competitions. This was for requiring financial assistance from the ECB.
Yorkshire have won the most County Championships with 32 outright titles and one shared. Three current first-class counties (Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Somerset) have never won the official title, although Gloucestershire had claim to three unofficial titles in the 1870s.
There have been two divisions since 2000.
|Year||Relegated from Division 1||Promoted from Division 2|
|2000||Hampshire, Durham, Derbyshire||Northamptonshire, Essex, Glamorgan|
|2001||Northamptonshire, Glamorgan, Essex||Sussex, Hampshire, Warwickshire|
|2002||Hampshire, Somerset, Yorkshire||Essex, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire|
|2003||Essex, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire||Worcestershire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire|
|2004||Worcestershire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire||Nottinghamshire, Hampshire, Glamorgan|
|2005||Surrey, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan||Lancashire, Durham, Yorkshire|
|2006||Nottinghamshire, Middlesex||Surrey, Worcestershire|
|2007||Warwickshire, Worcestershire||Somerset, Nottinghamshire|
|2008||Kent, Surrey||Warwickshire, Worcestershire|
|2009||Sussex, Worcestershire||Kent, Essex|
|2010||Essex, Kent||Sussex, Worcestershire|
|2011||Hampshire, Yorkshire||Middlesex, Surrey|
|2012||Lancashire, Worcestershire||Derbyshire, Yorkshire|
|2013||Derbyshire, Surrey||Lancashire, Northamptonshire|
|2014||Northamptonshire, Lancashire||Hampshire, Worcestershire|
|2015||Worcestershire, Sussex||Surrey, Lancashire|
|2017||Middlesex, Warwickshire||Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire|
Since the expansion of the Championship from 9 counties to 14 in 1895, the wooden spoon for finishing bottom has been 'won' by the following teams. Lancashire, Middlesex, and Surrey have never finished bottom. Leicestershire have shared last place twice, with Hampshire and Somerset.
Records can be found at Cricket Archive – County Championship Records.
|total||for and against||venue||season|
|887||Yorkshire v Warwickshire||Edgbaston||1896|
|863||Lancashire v Surrey||The Oval||1990|
|850/7d||Somerset v Middlesex||Taunton||2007|
|811||Surrey v Somerset||The Oval||1899|
|810/4d||Warwickshire v Durham||Edgbaston||1994|
|803/4d||Kent v Essex||Brentwood||1934|
|801/8d||Derbyshire v Somerset||Taunton||2007|
|total||for and against||venue||season|
|12||Northamptonshire v Gloucestershire||Spa Ground, Gloucester||1907|
|13||Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire||Trent Bridge||1901|
|14||Surrey v Essex||Chelmsford||1983|
|15||Hampshire v Warwickshire
(Hampshire recovered to win the match)
|16||Warwickshire v Kent||Angel Ground, Tonbridge||1913|
|20||Sussex v Yorkshire||The Circle, Kingston upon Hull||1922|
|20||Derbyshire v Yorkshire||Bramall Lane, Sheffield||1939|
|20||Essex v Lancashire||Chelmsford||2013|
|total||batsman||for and against||venue||season|
|501*||Brian Lara||Warwickshire v Durham||Edgbaston||1994|
|424||Archie MacLaren||Lancashire v Somerset||Taunton||1895|
|405||Graeme Hick||Worcestershire v Somerset||Taunton||1988|
|366||Neil Fairbrother||Lancashire v Surrey||The Oval||1990|
|357||Bobby Abel||Surrey v Somerset||The Oval||1899|
|355||Kevin Pietersen||Surrey v Leicestershire||The Oval||2015|
|total||bowler||for and against||venue||season|
|10/10||Hedley Verity||Yorkshire v Nottinghamshire||Headingley||1932|
|10/18||George Geary||Leicestershire v Glamorgan||Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd||1929|
|10/30||Colin Blythe||Kent v Northamptonshire||Northampton||1907|
|10/32||Harry Pickett||Essex v Leicestershire||Leyton||1895|
|10/35||Alonzo Drake||Yorkshire v Somerset||Clarence Park, Weston-super-Mare||1914|
|10/36||Hedley Verity||Yorkshire v Warwickshire||Headingley||1931|
|10/40||George Dennett||Gloucestershire v Essex||Bristol||1906|
|10/40||Billy Bestwick||Derbyshire v Glamorgan||Cardiff Arms Park||1921|
|10/40||Gubby Allen||Middlesex v Lancashire||Lord's||1929|