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County Championship to return to two divisions from 2022

Nottinghamshire in Division Two as 2019 promotions for Lancashire, Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire confirmed

Warwickshire lift the County Championship trophy in 2021  •  PA Images/Getty

Warwickshire lift the County Championship trophy in 2021  •  PA Images/Getty

The LV= Insurance County Championship will return to a two-division structure from next season, reverting back to the split that was due to come in before the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The decision, voted for by the first-class counties after discussions with the ECB, means that Nottinghamshire will go into Division Two next year - despite finishing third overall in 2021 and missing out on the title by a handful of points - and the 2019 promotions of Lancashire, Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire will stand.
There will be ten teams in Division One and eight in Division Two, a decision that was agreed in 2018, with each county playing 14 games. A seeding system is to be implemented in Division One, where the two additional teams will make for an asymmetric fixture list.
One proposal that was put to the counties was for the conference system to remain for another year - however, a vote on the matter last month was pushed back, with the expectation that it would not achieve the 12 votes required to pass.
Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, Mick Newell, said that while the club were disappointed at the outcome they were committed to taking on the challenge of pushing for promotion to in 2022.
"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," Newell said. "However, following the vote, that was not the outcome and consequently we will play our cricket in Division Two next year.
"This is, of course, disappointing, but it in no way takes away from the achievements of our squad in the first-class game over the past two years, which culminated in a top three finish in Division One in 2021.
"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."
The Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) said that it backed the move, with 67% of men's players surveyed in August supportive of two divisions.
Rob Lynch, the PCA's chief executive, said: "The PCA is supportive of the return to a two-divisional structure for the LV= Insurance County Championship, with the decision made following player consultation.
"We acknowledge that there was no perfect solution across our membership and some teams and players will be disappointed. However, with 67% of our current male professionals stating they wanted a return to two divisions as soon as possible, this was the best outcome for our members.
"The PCA is comfortable with the consultation and voting process in line with ECB Constitution and we look forward to returning to two divisions in first-class cricket in 2022 and beyond."
A switch back to two divisions had been widely anticipated after two summers in which Covid had forced restructuring. Last year was the first in which the Championship was not played since World War 2, with the Bob Willis Trophy - featuring three regional groups and a final at Lord's - taking its place in a truncated calendar.
In 2020, the teams were organised into three conferences, playing for qualification into one of three divisions. The winners of Division One, Warwickshire, claimed the Championship pennant and then played Lancashire for the Bob Willis Trophy.
The question of contesting the trophy in 2022 has not yet been resolved. The ECB remains in discussions with Willis' family about the best way to continue to celebrate the former England fast bowler's life, with the event having been used to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer, but it is unlikely to return as an end-of-season fixture after the anticlimax of Warwickshire's innings victory over Lancashire, which was the first time first-class cricket had been played in England in October since 1864.
The ECB is aiming to announce county fixtures for 2022 no earlier than the end of November.

County Championship 2022

Division One: Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire, Yorkshire
Division Two: Durham, Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Worcestershire