The English county system takes in four major competitions during the course of the northern domestic summer. The oldest and most famous of these is the first-class competition, known this year as the Frizzell County Championship. The other three - the Benson & Hedges Cup, the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, and the Norwich Union League - are all one-day competitions but each assumes a different format.
Frizzell County Championship - this is England's major first-class competition and consists of a series of four-day matches. The 18 county teams are split into two groups - Division One and Division Two - on the basis of their finishing positions the previous season.
The top nine counties from last year are joined in battle in Division One; the bottom nine are grouped to form Division Two, as follows:
Division One: Kent, Hampshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire and Yorkshire.
Division Two: Derbyshire, Durham, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire.
The side which finishes at the top of the Division One standings at the end of the season is the winner of the competition.
There is also a promotion and relegation component.
The three sides which finish at the bottom of Division One are relegated to Division Two for 2003. Conversely, the three sides which end at the top of the Division Two standings are promoted to Division One for 2003.
Benson & Hedges Cup - a limited-overs competition which incorporates two separate phases. The county teams are initially divided into three groups of six (as shown below) and take part in a round-robin series of matches against opponents from within those groups.
North: Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.
Midland/Wales/West: Glamorgan, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
South: Essex, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex.
At the end of these matches, the top two teams from each pool go forward to the quarter-finals. Joining them are the two teams which finish third in their groups and attain more points than the other third-placed finisher.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals are knockout affairs and precede a Final at Lord's on 22 June.
All of the matches are scheduled as 50-overs-per-side.
The 2002 season is scheduled to be the last in which the Benson & Hedges Cup is played. Under a series of recommendations recently adopted by the England and Wales Cricket Board, it is due to be replaced by a 20-over competition at the start of 2003.
Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy - sponsored by a major financial services company, this is a straight knockout competition which pits the 18 counties against minor county teams and county board sides, many of which are purely amateur teams. Each of the 18 major county teams receives a bye through to the third round of a competition that could loosely be depicted as cricket's version of the FA Cup. Like the Benson and Hedges Cup, the matches are played over a total of 100 overs and the Final is contested at Lord's, although this decider comes far later in the season - on 31 August.
Norwich Union League - this is the most time-intensive of all three of the one-day competitions in that its programme lasts from 12 May until 22 September.
Complete with coloured clothing, floodlit matches and nicknames for all of the teams, the competition shares a number of traits with many of the world's major domestic one-day series. Where it differs is in the notion that the matches are 45-over-per-side contests.
Like the County Championship, the competition is split into two divisions and promotion and relegation is a feature.
Based on the teams' finishing positions at the end of last summer, the divisions have been configured as follows for 2002:
Division One: Durham Dynamos, Glamorgan Dragons, Kent Spitfires, Leicestershire Foxes, Nottinghamshire Outlaws, Somerset Sabres, Warwickshire Bears, Worcestershire Royals and Yorkshire Phoenix.
Division Two: Derbyshire Scorpions, Essex Eagles, Gloucestershire Gladiators, Hampshire Hawks, Lancashire Lightning, Middlesex Crusaders, Northamptonshire Steelbacks, Surrey Lions, Sussex Sharks.
Again, the champion team is the one that ends the season at the head of the Division One standings.
- The 2002 English domestic season commences on 13 April and will conclude on 22 September.