Days away from the shortest day of the year, domestic cricket lovers have today received their annual reassurance that longer and warmer days are to come with the publication of the 2016 county fixtures.
The season begins on April 10th with three Championship matches in each of the two divisions.
Much interest will focus on the decisions of six visiting captains as to whether their side will bowl first. The rule change for 2016 means that the visitors can elect to bowl first and only if this opportunity is declined does a toss have to take place. This initiative, announced last week by the ECB, is intended to dissuade counties from preparing pitches which start damp on the first day (which often sees wickets tumbling to the seamers), thereby favouring their seamers at the expense of the development of spinners.
Three of the counties changing divisions feature in the first round of matches. Surrey start their return season to the top tier with a visit to Trent Bridge to face Nottinghamshire while in Division Two relegated clubs Sussex visit Northamptonshire and Worcestershire entertain Kent at New Road. Champions Yorkshire’s bid to secure a third successive County Championship title will begin with a match against Hampshire on 17 April at Headingley. This follows the champions’ visit to Abu Dhabi for the traditional four- day season opener against the MCC beginning on March 20th.
Once again the bulk of Championship matches are played in the early (April and the first half of May) and late (the second half of August and September) parts of the season when the weather is usually colder and damper, providing ammunition for those who argue that the structure of the domestic season militates against the development of English spin bowlers who favour drier, warmer conditions.
The season ends in late September: eight four- day matches beginning on September 20th, one of which sees Yorkshire visit Lord’s to play Middlesex, the only county to beat the White Rose county in 2015, in what could turn out to be a vital game.
The format of the T20 Blast remains unchanged from 2015 with two groups of nine counties, South and North- four quarter final ties played over four successive days in early August and the now traditional finals day on Saturday 20th August (earlier than 2015) at Edgbaston. Most of the matches take place on Friday evenings with Sunday afternoons also a popular slot.
The competition gets underway on May 20th with reigning champions Lancashire beginning their campaign on the following day when they entertain Derbyshire at the Emirates, Old Trafford. Evening starts, facilitated by the presence of floodlights at most grounds, mean that matches at out-grounds are at a premium once again, although Arundel, Cheltenham, Chesterfield, Richmond and Uxbridge feature on the list of venues.
The Royal London 50 over competition also remains in virtually the same format for 2015. There are two groups of nine counties (A and B) comprising the same teams as last season, quarter finals, semi finals and a final. Unlike last year, the group stage takes place in two separate time frames with the first batch of matches in the early part of June to be followed by a second in late July and early August. The quarter finals take place on August 17th and 18th, semi finals on 28th and 29th August and the Lord’s final on September 17th.
2015 Royal London Cup winners Gloucestershire begin the title defence with a local derby at Taunton against Somerset while beaten 2015 finalists Surrey play Kent at Beckenham. As with the T20 the majority of matches are to be played at counties’ headquarters although county traditionalists will be pleased to note that Stanley Park, Blackpool, Radlett and Welbeck Colliery Cricket Club grounds are added to the list.