All change for county competitions
The English season starts today as MCC take on Nottinghamshire at Lord's. The County Championship, which starts on Tuesday, takes its place as the premier competition, but there have been changes to the one-day tournaments over the winter. Here Cricinfo outlines the four pieces of silverware that are up for grabs in 2006.
Two-up, two-down is the right balance for two leagues of nine teams. So, 2005 was a good season to get promoted back to the top flight as Lancashire, Yorkshire and Durham managed, but not such a great time to go the other way like Glamorgan, Surrey and Gloucestershire. The points system remains the same, but there should be some attacking cricket in the second division with just two promotion spots up for grabs, although safety in division one is now even more attainable with high-scoring draws.
This is an interesting one. Previously the premier one-day tournament has been a knock-out format, under various sponsors, and dubbed the 'FA Cup of cricket'. Now it has been changed into a league format, with two groups, leading straight to a Lord's final. Each group - tagged North and South - consists of 10 teams. Scotland join nine counties in the north while Ireland take their place with the south. Each team plays each other once and the top team in each group progresses to Lord's on August 26. But the changes appear to not have really been thought through. The idea was to give more 50-over cricket, the international standard, to county sides before the Natwest Series starts, therefore giving players a chance to hone skills and press claims for selection. However, because there are no quarter or semi-finals there will be a lot of dead matches with many teams out of the running for the final early on. In a busy season, counties could see these games as a chance to rest players therefore defeating the object of high-standard 50-over matches. C&G are not thrilled about the changes, apparently: they have already pulled their sponsorship for next season.
This is quickly becoming the lifeblood of the domestic game and will again form the major entertainment in mid-summer. However, it will have to compete with the football World Cup so the attraction of Twenty20 will be given a eral - and tough - test. The group matches will be played from June 27 to July 11, with the quarter-finals two weeks later and Finals Day at Trent Bridge, the inaugural venue in 2003, on August 12.
If in doubt, stick 'Pro' somewhere near a one-day tournament and people will come flocking through the gates. Well, maybe not, but the ECB haven't been able to find a new sponsor for the re-jigged, and in many ways downgraded, National League. It has been shunted to the back third of the season, following the C&G and Twenty20, and reduced to a 40-over contest where each team plays the others once. There are still two divisions with promotion and relegation and like the Championship this has been amended to two-up, two-down. However, a play-off between the seventh-placed team in Division One and the third-placed team in Division Two has been added and will provide the finale to the county season on September 24.
Now, if you understand all that, you are ready for the 2006 season.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo