An expanded version of the Twenty20 Cup is to form the centrepiece of the forthcoming county season, after the England & Wales Cricket Board unveiled their fixtures list for 2005.
The tournament, which comprised 45 fixtures in its inaugural season in 2003, and 52 in 2004, has leapt again to 79 matches, spread across a six-week period in mid-June and July. An expansion of the group stages guarantees each county four lucrative home games, and seven of those fixtures will be played under lights, at Chelmsford, Hove and Sophia Gardens.
"Domestic cricket is enjoying a well-earned renaissance with talented players, close matches and some of the largest crowds on record supporting the Twenty20 Cup," said John Carr, the ECB's director of communications. "With an exciting international season already announced for 2005, we anticipate a huge rise in the interest around the game as a whole and county cricket can capitalise on this upsurge in a sporting season where cricket will take centre stage."
The 2005 domestic season, which runs from April 8 to September 25, promises to be the most jam-packed on record. The Frizzell county champions, Warwickshire, will set the ball rolling with the traditional season curtain-raiser against MCC at Lord's, before their title defence begins in earnest against Glamorgan on April 13.
Gloucestershire, who have dominated the C&G Trophy in recent years, will launch their campaign against Berkshire on May 3, with Denmark, Holland and Ireland all facing first-class opposition on that day as well. Ireland will be seeking to match their giant-killing exploits of last season, by defeating Yorkshire in a home tie.
Three teams have joined the top division of the totesport League - Middlesex Crusaders, Worcestershire Royals and Nottinghamshire Outlaws. Although it is the Glamorgan Dragons who are the dominant force in that particular competition. There will be 33 matches played under lights, with the final games bringing down the curtain on the season.