<
>

Championship and Hundred take centre stage in 2020 fixture list

Ryan ten Doeschate lifts the County Championship Division One Trophy as Essex celebrate Getty Images

Next season's County Championship will begin on Easter Sunday (April 12), and will feature fixtures in each of the six months of the season, while the inaugural season of the Hundred will be launched with a Friday-night fixture between Oval Invincibles and Welsh Fire at The Oval on July 17, as the ECB attempt to balance the demands of their oldest and newest formats in the unveiling of their domestic schedule for 2020.

The announcement, widely anticipated following the introduction of a new fourth format in an already crowded schedule, sees the county champions Essex beginning their title defence with a home fixture against Yorkshire on April 19 - one of 12 consecutive rounds of the competition that will include at least one day's play on a weekend.

And, in a season when the priorities of the England men's team will begin to switch back to Test cricket after their capturing of the 50-over World Cup in the 2019 season, the ECB have responded to criticism that the County Championship has been pushed to the margins in recent seasons by ensuring it will be played at regular intervals throughout the summer, with the longest gap coming between July 8 and August 23.

Instead, it is the 50-over Royal London Cup that will be contested in that period of the season, to allow the Hundred to take precedence in the height of the summer.

"Cricket has different formats that appeal to different people, and it's always a challenge to give every type of cricket supporter what they want," said Gordon Hollins, the ECB's managing director of county cricket. "It's a nice challenge to have.

"We want to broaden the appeal of cricket through the Hundred, and at the same time make sure traditional cricket supporters are served with different formats that they can watch at different times. We've done the best we possibly can by having Championship cricket in every month."

Somerset will begin the defence of their 50-over title on July 20 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, in a competition that will feature the use of 18 outgrounds - including Scarborough, Radlett and Grantham - while the Test-hosting venues are prioritising the Hundred in a window that stretches from July 17 to the men's final on August 15.

The women's Hundred will also take place in a similar timeframe, with Birmingham Phoenix and Manchester Originals opening the tournament at Worcester's New Road on July 22, ahead of their Friday-evening final on August 14. The venues for both men's and women's finals are yet to be decided, with an announcement anticipated in the coming weeks.

The initial availability of England's international stars for the Hundred is also now known. England willl finish a three-match ODI series against Australia in Bristol on July 16, the eve of the first Hundred fixture at The Oval. This means that, fitness and form permitting, the likes of Invincibles' Jason Roy and Fire's Jonny Bairstow can expect to feature in both fixtures.

England's first Test against Pakistan gets underway at Lord's on July 30, a fortnight into the tournament, meaning that England's Test players - including Trent Rockets' Joe Root and Northern Superchargers' Ben Stokes, will be made available for the first three rounds of the Hundred before reporting for England duty at the close of play on July 25.

Although the TV schedule for the Hundred is not yet known - and most specifically the split of fixtures between BBC and Sky - there will be consecutive Saturdays with back-to-back televised matches on July 18 and 25.

Other tweaks to the schedule for 2020 will involve more Thursday, Friday and weekend fixtures for the Vitality Blast, which will be launched by a London derby between Surrey and Middlesex at The Oval on 28 May.

And while the format for the 50-over competition is broadly unchanged, the two groups of nine teams has this year been randomly drawn instead of split into pre-determined North and South Groups.