Yesterday it was baseball’s opening day here in the states. It’s always a big deal of sorts, for those that pay attention. Every game is a sell out — or at least an announced sell out — and some of the teams playing won’t sell out another game the rest of the season. There are fighter jet flyovers and everyone around town, at least here in Minneapolis, is wearing MN Twins garb. It’s like, for one day, everyone is paying attention to baseball, and then they promptly forget about it for the rest of the summer, unless the team gets hot and makes the playoffs, of course. In that way, major league baseball’s opening day is like Easter Sunday. It’s that one day of the year when people remember that baseball is a thing that happens in the world.
Over in England, the County Championship starts its 120th season one week from today. The County Championship is the oldest domestic league in England, and for a long time was the marquee domestic league in all of cricket. But no more. It’s status continues to drain away because of the IPL and even the England Cricket Board’s other domestic competitions, like their one day cup and T20 “blast.” Because the County Championship’s format is the first class, four day game, it is still used as a feeder league for Test Cricket, but the counties themselves have put less and less emphasis on it with the shorter formats being their money makers. The matches, for example, are for the most part shoe-horned into late spring or early fall, with high summer left for the shorter formats. This neglect of the Championship has, in the short term and in the long term, done damage to England’s test squad. Some of it repairable, some of it not.
All of that said, it’s a great tournament — easily my favorite domestic competition — and definitely worth paying attention to. The format is pretty familiar: there are two divisions: Division 1 with eight teams and Division 2 with ten teams. Most years, the bottom two teams of Division 1 are relegated to Division 2 and the top two teams of Division 2 are promoted to Division 1. (Last season, Lancashire and Worcestershire were relegated, while Warwickshire and Kent were promoted.) These year, however, only one team will be relegated while three will be promoted, so going forward — starting in 2020 — there will be ten teams in Division 1 and eight in Division 2.
Each team plays every other team in its division twice, home and away. Teams get 16 points for a win, 8 points for a tie and 5 points for a draw. They also can earn bonus points for both batting and bowling. These bonus points are no joke. Last season, the Division 1 Champions, Surrey, received 79 of their 254 points from bonuses — over 30% of their total.
The season starts, as said, on April 4 with a full slate of matches. In Division 1, Hampshire play Essex, Nottinghamshire play Yorkshire and Somerset play Kent. Meanwhile over in Division 2, it’s Derbyshire v. Durham, Northamptonshire v. Middlesex and Sussex v. Leicestershire.
One final note is that the majority of players on each team are English (or taking advantage of the Kolpak rule) while only a handful are what are considered “overseas” players. This is of course an attempt by the ECB to use the Championship as a place to groom Test cricketers for the England squad, but the overseas players do add a nice flair to the games.
And so, in total, a great league with a great format and a great history. The only real drawback is that the games, as far as I know, are not available for streaming in the United States (please post in the comments if I am wrong!). But, each team does a great job with video and there always lots of highlights to take in. It all starts next week, be sure to follow along, you won’t be disappointed. (Unless it rains. And, believe me, it will rain.)