County Championship

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County Championship
CountriesFlag of England.svg  England
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales
Administrator England and Wales Cricket Board
Format First-class
First edition1890
Tournament formatTwo divisions
home and away 4-day fixtures
Number of teams18
Current champion Essex
Most successful Yorkshire (32 titles + 1 shared)
Most runs Phil Mead (46,268) [1]
Most wickets Tich Freeman (3,151) [2]
Cricket current event.svg 2021 County Championship

The County Championship (referred to as the LV= Insurance County Championship for sponsorship reasons) is the domestic first-class cricket competition in England and Wales and is organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). It became an official title in 1890. The competition consists of eighteen clubs named after, and originally representing, historic counties, seventeen from England and one from Wales.


The earliest known inter-county match was played in 1709. Until 1889, the concept of an unofficial county championship existed whereby various claims would be made by or on behalf of a particular club as the "Champion County", an archaic term which now has the specific meaning of a claimant for the unofficial title prior to 1890. In contrast, the term "County Champions" applies in common parlance to a team that has won the official title. The most usual means of claiming the unofficial title was by popular or press acclaim. In the majority of cases, the claim or proclamation was retrospective, often by cricket writers using reverse analysis via a study of known results. The unofficial title was not proclaimed in every season up to 1889 because in many cases there were not enough matches or there was simply no clear candidate. Having already been badly hit by the Seven Years' War, county cricket ceased altogether during the Napoleonic Wars and there was a period from 1797 to 1824 during which no inter-county matches took place. The concept of the unofficial title has been utilised ad hoc and relied on sufficient interest being shown.

The official County Championship was constituted in a meeting at Lord's on 10 December 1889 which was called to enable club secretaries to determine the 1890 fixtures. While this was going on, representatives of the eight leading county clubs held a private meeting to discuss the method by which the county championship should in future be decided. The new competition began in the 1890 season and at first involved just the eight leading clubs: Gloucestershire, Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Sussex and Yorkshire. Subsequently, the championship has been expanded to 18 clubs by the additions at various times of Derbyshire, Durham, Essex, Glamorgan, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.


Origin of concept

It is difficult to know when the concept of a county championship originated. While early matches were often between teams named after counties, they were not the club teams the usage would imply today. Rowland Bowen states in his history that the earliest usage of the term "County Championship" occurred in 1837 re a match between Kent and Nottingham Cricket Club which for the purposes of that match was called Nottinghamshire. [3] That may be so re the actual terminology but closer examination of the sources does indicate a much earlier expression of the idea.

The earliest known inter-county match was in 1709 between Kent and Surrey but match results are unknown until the 1720s. The first time a source refers to the superiority of one county is in respect of a match between Edwin Stead's XI from Kent and Sir William Gage's XI from Sussex at Penshurst Park in August 1728. Stead's side won by an unknown margin and the source states that "this was the third time this summer that the Kent men have been too expert for those of Sussex". [4] The following year, Gage's team "turned the scales" and defeated Stead's side, prompting a source to remark that "(the scale of victory) for some years past has been generally on the Kentish side". [4] In 1730, a newspaper referred to the "Kentish champions". [5]

These statements indicate that inter-county matches had been played for many years previously and that there was keen rivalry with each team seeking ascendancy.

Development of county cricket

Inter-county cricket was popular throughout the 18th century although the best team, such as Kent in the 1740s or Hampshire in the days of the Hambledon Club, was usually acknowledged as such by being matched against an "All England" team. There were a number of contemporary allusions to the best county including some in verse, such as one by a Kent supporter celebrating a victory over Hampshire in terms of "(we shall) bring down the pride of the Hambledon Club".

Analysis of 18th century matches has identified a number of strong teams who actually or effectively proclaimed their temporal superiority. The most successful county teams were Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. But there was often a crossover between town and county with some strong local clubs tending at times to represent a whole county. Examples are London, which often played against county teams and was in some respects almost a county club in itself; Slindon, which was for a few years in the 1740s effectively representative of Sussex as a county; Dartford, often representative of Kent; and the Hambledon Club, certainly representative of Hampshire and also perhaps of Sussex. Other good county teams in the 18th century were Berkshire, Essex and Middlesex.

Using the same sort of reverse analysis, it is possible to compile a list of the most competitive teams from the recommencement of county cricket in 1825. Rowland Bowen published his ideas about this in the 1960s when he was the editor of the Cricket Quarterly periodical. [3] He began by stating that Sussex was publicly acknowledged as the "best county" in the 1827 season when they played against All England in the roundarm trial matches, although the team's involvement in these matches had more to do with the fact that Sussex was the prime mover in the "roundarm revolution". Kent, which had a celebrated team at the time, has long been acknowledged as a champion county in most seasons of the 1840s but in other years there is no clear-cut contender.

County clubs

The middle years of the 19th century are the period of county club formation. So, when title "claims" were made on behalf of Sussex in 1826 and 1827, it was for the same loose association based on Brighton Cricket Club that had a successful season in 1792. But claims on behalf of Sussex from 1845 were by the Sussex county club, founded in 1839. A similar situation existed with both Kent and Surrey. Nottinghamshire is the only other claimant before the 1860s, starting in 1852, but all of its claims have been made by the county club which was founded in 1841.

As the popularity of organised cricket grew throughout England, more county clubs came into contention and, by the mid-1860s, they included the short-lived Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Lancashire, Middlesex and Yorkshire. At this time and into the 1870s, the press began to advocate some form of league system and various journals and individuals, including W. G. Grace, began publishing their views about who was the champion in a given season. Grace became interested after the Gloucestershire club was founded in 1870, with himself as captain, and laid several claims to the championship during the 1870s. In the 1870s, it became widely accepted that the side with fewest losses should be the champions. Various lists of unofficial champions began to be compiled by the contemporary press and others, but they are not usually in complete agreement.

The unofficial titles

All "titles" claimed before 1864 are strictly unofficial and are based on (a) contemporary claims made by or on behalf of a particular team and recorded at the time; (b) reverse analysis performed by a writer who was trying to establish the best team in a given season by reference to the known fixtures and results. It must be stressed that the purpose of such lists when published has never been to ascribe any kind of ruling but rather to provoke discussion. No real credibility can be attached to such claims except to acknowledge that a team was especially strong over a number of years: e.g., Kent in the 1720s; London in the 1730s; Hampshire in the 1770s and 1780s; Sussex in the 1820s; Kent in the 1840s; and Surrey in the 1850s.

From 1864 to 1889, the county championship title remained unofficial except that the idea was widely promoted by individuals in the contemporary press and that had not happened hitherto apart from occasional points of view. Each journalist tended to have his own ideas about the calculation method and the matches to be included, but there was a certain amount of consensus in the main, generally favouring the team with fewest defeats. The list below gives the champions quoted by the most prominent sources, including W. G. Grace (1864–1889), Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (1864–1889), John Lillywhite's Cricketer's Companion (1865–1884), James Lillywhite's Cricketers' Annual (1871–1889) and Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game (1882–1889). [6] [7]

The final tally over these 26 seasons was, therefore, Nottinghamshire (8 titles plus 7 shared); Gloucestershire (3/1); Surrey (3/1); Yorkshire (2/3); Lancashire (1/3); Middlesex (1/0).

Qualification rules

In 1873, player qualification rules came into force which required players to choose at the start of each season whether they would play for the county of their birth or their county of residence. Before this, it was quite common for a player to play for both counties during the course of a single season. Three meetings were held, and at the last of these, held at The Oval on 9 June 1873, the following rules were decided on:

Newspaper 'leagues'

It was in the 1870s that newspapers began to print tables of inter-county results and then proclaim a champion on the basis of their chosen criteria. In Arthur Haygarth's Scores and Biographies, reference is often made to "least matches lost" as a means of deciding the champion. This was a method that, in a modified form, permeated through to the official championship when one point was awarded for a win but one was deducted for a defeat. It was discontinued after 1909 as it was deemed to be inherently unsatisfactory and a points per win method replaced it in 1910.

As Derek Birley describes, the papers did not use standard criteria and so there were several seasons in which any title must be considered "shared", as there was no universally recognised winner. With no consistency of approach, the issue inevitably led to argument, counter-arguments and confusion until the matter was taken in hand at the meeting of club secretaries in December 1889 where the official championship was constituted. [9]

In Roy Webber's The County Cricket Championship, he asserts that the championship "is generally accepted as starting in the 1873 season but that is a convenient date decided upon many years later" because 1873 was "the first season in which rules of county qualification were in operation". Webber acknowledges the difficulties posed from 1873 to 1890 by varying programmes with some county clubs playing many more matches than others. For example, in 1874 when Derbyshire was held by some to have won the title, they played only four matches while Yorkshire played twelve. A list of champions for the period would be subjective and in most seasons there would be strongly competing claims. In general, it may be asserted that Gloucestershire with all three Grace brothers were the strongest team in most of the 1870s; Nottinghamshire were in the ascendancy from about 1879 to 1886; and then Surrey from 1887 through the start of the official championship in 1890. [10]

First official competition

When the annual meeting of county club secretaries was held at Lord's on 10 December 1889, their purpose was to decide on a fixture programme for the 1890 season. As reported by Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game : [11]

"While the secretaries were engaged in making the fixtures the representatives of the eight leading counties – Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Lancashire, Kent, Middlesex, Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, and Sussex – held a private meeting to discuss the method by which the county championship should in future be decided. The meeting was, we understand, not quite unanimous, but a majority were in favour of ignoring drawn games altogether and settling the question of championship by wins and losses. As it was agreed to abide by the views of the majority, this decision was accepted as final.
Subsequently representatives of the following eight minor counties – Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Hampshire, Somersetshire, Staffordshire, Durham and Essex – held a similar meeting in private, and unanimously decided to apply the same rule to minor county cricket".

The first-ever official cricket County Championship match began on 12 May 1890: Yorkshire beat Gloucestershire by eight wickets at Bristol. James Cranston (Gloucestershire) scored the first century in the competition. [12] The final positions in 1890 were based on number of wins minus the number of losses. Later, a points system was introduced but it has been subject to several variations.

Expansion and points systems

In the 1891 season, Somerset competed in the championship and in 1895 Derbyshire, Essex, Hampshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire all joined; the rules were changed so each side had to play at least 16 matches per season. Until World War II, counties played differing numbers of matches, except that all counties were required to play 28 matches in each season from 1929 to 1932 inclusive. When the championship resumed in 1946, teams played 26 matches per season, and the pattern of a fixed number of matches has continued since then, although the number has varied, but again there was an exception. From 1960 to 1962 inclusive, counties could choose whether to play 28 or 32 matches.

The original points system was simply wins minus losses but with the expansion in 1895 the points system was modified so that the ratio of points to finished games (games minus draws) decided the final positions.

In 1910 the system was modified again so that the order was based on ratio of matches won to matches played, while from 1911 to 1967 a variety of systems were used that generally relied on points for wins and for first innings leads in games left unfinished. Since 1968, the basis has been wins (increased from 10 points in 1968, to 12 in 1976, to 16 in 1981, then back down to 12 in 1999, up to 14 in 2004 and currently 16) and "bonus points", which are earned for scoring a certain number of runs or taking a certain number of wickets in the first 110 overs of each first innings (the number of overs has changed at various times, but has been 110 since 2010). In an effort to prevent early finishes, points have been awarded for draws since 1996. From 1974 to 1981 there was a limit of 200 overs for the first two innings; the team batting first were restricted to 100 overs and any unused overs were added to those allowed to the team batting second. [13]

Of the current 18 sides in County Cricket the remaining four joined at the following dates:

An invitation in 1921 to Buckinghamshire was declined, due to lack of proper playing facilities, and an application by Devon in 1948 to join was rejected.

In the 21st century, questions have been raised about the future of the County Championship in the light of the shaky financial structure of many counties, poor attendances and the rise of Twenty20 cricket. Doubts have been raised over many decades concerning the competition's viability, yet it still survives. The Changing Face of Cricket (1966) by Sir Learie Constantine and Denzil Batchelor, made negative predictions about county cricket.

Recent developments

All matches prior to 1988 were scheduled for three days, normally of a nominal six hours each plus intervals, but often with the first two days lengthened by up to an hour and the final day shortened, so that teams with fixtures elsewhere on the following day could travel at sensible hours. The exception to this was the 1919 season, when there was an experiment with two-day matches played over longer hours, up to nine o'clock in the evening in mid-summer. This experiment was not repeated. From 1988 to 1992 some matches were played over four days, with each county playing six four-day and sixteen three-day games. [14] From 1993 onwards, all matches have been scheduled for four days. In 2000, the championship adopted a two-divisional format with promotion and relegation each season. The ECB announced that, from 2017, Division One would contain eight teams and Division Two ten teams, with only one team being promoted from Division Two in 2016. The two-up, two-down arrangement applied for 2017 and 2018, but it was then decided to reverse the sizes of the divisions with effect from 2020, with three teams to be promoted and only one relegated at the end of the 2019 season. [15]

From 2016 to 2019 there was no mandatory toss, with the away side having the option to bowl first. If the away side declined to bowl first, the toss still took place. [16] This regulation was introduced on an experimental basis for the 2016 season but retained from 2017 to 2019 after being judged a success in its objectives of making games last longer and encouraging spin bowling. [17] The mandatory toss was reinstated from the 2020 season with the ECB taking the view that increased pitch penalties and changes to the seam of the ball would improve the balance between batting and bowling. [18]

The competition was not held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, being replaced by an abbreviated competition called the Bob Willis Trophy.

In 2021 for one season only, there is a revised Championship format, with the aim of mitigating the impact of COVID-19. This consists of three seeded groups of six teams playing home and away, after which the final three divisions are allocated, and the teams play the four teams they haven't already played in their new division home and away. The top team in the top division at the end of the season will be crowned Champions, with the top two teams in the top division going on to play for the Bob Willis Trophy in a five-day final at Lords. [19]


County ClubFirst season in
County Championship
First titleLast titleTitles
Derbyshire 1895193619361
Durham 1992200820133
Essex 1895197920198
Glamorgan 1921194819973
Gloucestershire 18900
Hampshire 1895196119732
Kent 1890190619786 (+1 shared)
Lancashire 1890189720118 (+1 shared)
Leicestershire 1895197519983
Middlesex 18901903201611 (+2 shared)
Northamptonshire 19050
Nottinghamshire 1890190720106
Somerset 18910
Surrey 18901890201819 (+1 shared)
Sussex 1890200320073
Warwickshire 1895191120127
Worcestershire 1899196419895
Yorkshire 18901893201532 (+1 shared)

Competition format

Points system

The county championship works on a points system, the winner being the team with most points in the first division. The points are currently awarded as follows, with a draw increasing to 8 points in 2021: [20]

Win: 16 points + bonus points
Tie : 8 points + bonus points
Draw : 8 points + bonus points
Loss: Bonus points

Bonus points are collected for batting and bowling. These points can only be obtained from the first 110 overs of each team's first innings. The bonus points are retained regardless of the outcome of the match.


Occasionally, a team may have points deducted. Reasons for points deductions are as follows:


If any sides have equal points, tie-breakers are applied in the following order: most wins, fewest losses, team achieving most points in contests between teams level on points, most wickets taken, most runs scored. [26]


Official county champions

Yorkshire have won the most County Championships with 32 outright titles and one shared. Three current first-class counties (Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Somerset) have never won the official title, although Gloucestershire had claim to three unofficial titles in the 1870s.

There have been two divisions since 2000, with every county experiencing both divisions at some stage.

YearRelegated from Division 1Promoted from Division 2
2000 Hampshire, Durham, DerbyshireNorthamptonshire, Essex, Glamorgan
2001 Northamptonshire, Glamorgan, EssexSussex, Hampshire, Warwickshire
2002 Hampshire, Somerset, YorkshireEssex, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire
2003 Essex, Nottinghamshire, LeicestershireWorcestershire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire
2004 Worcestershire, Lancashire, NorthamptonshireNottinghamshire, Hampshire, Glamorgan
2005 Surrey, Gloucestershire, GlamorganLancashire, Durham, Yorkshire
2006 Nottinghamshire, MiddlesexSurrey, Worcestershire
2007 Warwickshire, WorcestershireSomerset, Nottinghamshire
2008 Kent, SurreyWarwickshire, Worcestershire
2009 Sussex, WorcestershireKent, Essex
2010 Essex, KentSussex, Worcestershire
2011 Hampshire, YorkshireMiddlesex, Surrey
2012 Lancashire, WorcestershireDerbyshire, Yorkshire
2013 Derbyshire, SurreyLancashire, Northamptonshire
2014 Northamptonshire, LancashireHampshire, Worcestershire
2015 Worcestershire, SussexSurrey, Lancashire
2016 Durham [a] , NottinghamshireEssex
2017 Middlesex, WarwickshireWorcestershire, Nottinghamshire
2018 Lancashire, WorcestershireKent, Warwickshire
2019 NottinghamshireLancashire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire

a Durham finished fourth in 2016 but were relegated as a penalty by the ECB over financial issues, replacing Hampshire who finished eighth. [25]

Wooden spoons

Since the expansion of the Championship from 9 counties to 14 in 1895, the wooden spoon for finishing bottom has been 'won' by the teams shown in the table below. Lancashire, Middlesex, and Surrey have never finished bottom. Leicestershire have shared last place twice, with Hampshire and Somerset.



Records can be found at Cricket Archive – County Championship Records.(subscription required)

Highest team scores

A team has scored 800 or more runs in the County Championship on seven occasions, with Yorkshire holding the record for the highest score of 887 all out against Warwickshire in 1896.

TotalFor and againstVenueSeason
887 Yorkshire v. Warwickshire Edgbaston 1896
863 Lancashire v. Surrey The Oval 1990
850/7d Somerset v. Middlesex Taunton 2007
811 Surrey v. Somerset The Oval 1899
810/4d Warwickshire v. Durham Edgbaston 1994
803/4d Kent v. Essex Brentwood 1934
801/8d Derbyshire v. Somerset Taunton 2007

Lowest team scores

TotalFor and againstVenueSeason
12 Northamptonshire v. Gloucestershire Spa Ground, Gloucester 1907
13 Nottinghamshire v. Yorkshire Trent Bridge 1901
14 Surrey v. Essex Chelmsford 1983
15 Hampshire v. Warwickshire
(Hampshire recovered to win the match)
Edgbaston 1922
16 Warwickshire v. Kent Angel Ground, Tonbridge 1913
20 Sussex v. Yorkshire The Circle, Kingston upon Hull 1922
20 Derbyshire v. Yorkshire Bramall Lane, Sheffield 1939
20 Essex v. Lancashire Chelmsford 2013

Most runs in an innings

TotalBatsmanFor and againstVenueSeason
501* Brian Lara Warwickshire v. Durham Edgbaston 1994
424 Archie MacLaren Lancashire v. Somerset Taunton 1895
405* Graeme Hick Worcestershire v. Somerset Taunton 1988
366 Neil Fairbrother Lancashire v. Surrey The Oval 1990
357* Bobby Abel Surrey v. Somerset The Oval 1899
355* Kevin Pietersen Surrey v. Leicestershire The Oval 2015

Best bowling in an innings

TotalBowlerFor and againstVenueSeason
10/10 Hedley Verity Yorkshire v. Nottinghamshire Headingley 1932
10/18 George Geary Leicestershire v. Glamorgan Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd 1929
10/30 Colin Blythe Kent v. Northamptonshire Northampton 1907
10/32 Harry Pickett Essex v. Leicestershire Leyton 1895
10/35 Alonzo Drake Yorkshire v. Somerset Clarence Park, Weston-super-Mare 1914
10/36 Hedley Verity Yorkshire v. Warwickshire Headingley 1931
10/40 George Dennett Gloucestershire v. Essex Bristol 1906
10/40 Billy Bestwick Derbyshire v. Glamorgan Cardiff Arms Park 1921
10/40 Gubby Allen Middlesex v. Lancashire Lord's 1929


See also

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  25. 1 2 "Durham relegated to Division Two after financial issues as Hampshire are reinstated". BBC Sport. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  26. "Playing Conditions – The Specsavers County Championship, Other First Class Matches and Non First Class MCC University Matches against Counties". European Central Bank. Retrieved 21 December 2019. 16.2.8 The side which has the highest aggregate of points gained at the end of the season shall be the Champion County of their respective Division. Should any sides in the Championship table be equal on points, the following tie-breakers will be applied in the order stated: most wins, fewest losses, team achieving most points in contests between teams level on points, most wickets taken, most runs scored.

Further reading