County Championship

County Championship
County Championship logo.svg
Administrator England and Wales Cricket Board
Format first-class
First tournament 1890
Tournament format two nine-team divisions
home and away in 4-day matches.
Number of teams 18
Current champion Lancashire
Most successful Yorkshire (30 titles + 1 shared)
Most runs Phil Mead (46,268)[1]
Most wickets Tich Freeman (3,151)[2]
2011 County Championship
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The County Championship (currently the LV= County Championship for sponsorship reasons) is the domestic first-class cricket competition in England and Wales. All but one of the teams are named after, and were originally representatives of, historic English counties, the exception being Glamorgan, which is a Welsh county.




The official County Championship was constituted in a meeting at Lord's Cricket Ground with representatives of the first-class county clubs on 10 December 1889. "While the secretaries were engaged in making the fixtures the representatives of the eight leading counties 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 championship by wins and losses."[3] Under this system defeats were subtracted from victories and the county with the highest total were champions. The new competition began in the 1890 season and at first featured Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, Kent County Cricket Club, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Middlesex County Cricket Club, Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, Surrey County Cricket Club, Sussex County Cricket Club and Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

"Champion County"

Until 1890, the concept of an unofficial 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 an unofficial claimant for the County Championship title prior to 1890. In contrast, the term "County Champions" applies in common parlance to a team that has won the official title since 1890.

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.

Origin of concept

It is difficult to know when the concept originated. While early matches were often between XIs named after counties, they were not the club teams the usage would imply today. Rowland Bowen states in his history that earliest usage of the term "County Championship" occurred in 1837 re a match between Kent and Nottinghamshire.[4] 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 Edward Stead's XI and Sir William Gage's XI at Penshurst Park in August 1728. Stead's XI won by an unknown margin although Gage's XI "needed just 7 (more?) in their second innings".[5] The source says that the game could be called Kent v Sussex as the players were reported as 11 of each county. Sir William Gage was a Sussex landowner and Edward Stead was a resident of Maidstone in Kent. Evidently Mr Stead's Kent team also won two games earlier that season against the Duke of Richmond's XI (also representative of Sussex). The source states that (Stead's victory over Sir William Gage's XI) was the third time this summer that the Kent men have been too expert for those of Sussex.[5] This clearly implies that Kent was considered to be the champion county at that time.

In 1729, Sir William Gage’s Sussex team defeated Kent on 5 September: "The latter got (within three) in one hand, as the former did in two hands, so the Kentish men threw it up". This may have been the earliest known innings victory. The report goes on to say that Thomas Waymark "turned the scale of victory, which for some years past has been generally on the Kentish side".[5]

That statement indicates that inter-county matches had been played for many years previously and that there was keen rivalry with each team seeking ascendancy: i.e., in effect as champions or at least in terms of "bragging rights".

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 famous Hambledon Club, was usually acknowledged as such by being matched against All-England. There were a number of contemporary allusions to the best county including some in verse, such as one by a Kent supporter who celebrated a victory by Kent 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, sometimes representative of Kent; and the Hambledon Club, certainly representative of Hampshire and also perhaps of Sussex. One of the best county teams in the late 18th century was Berkshire, which no longer has first-class status.

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.[4] 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 Sussex "claimed" titles in 1826 and 1827, it was 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 Sussex CCC. A similar situation has existed re Kent CCC and Surrey CCC. Nottinghamshire is the only other 19th century claimant before the 1860s, starting in 1852, but all of its claims have been made by Nottinghamshire CCC, the club having been founded in 1841.

As cricket expanded throughout England, more county clubs came into contention and, by the mid-1860s, they included Cambridgeshire County Cricket Club, Hampshire County Cricket Club, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Middlesex County Cricket Club and Yorkshire County Cricket Club. 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 Gloucestershire County Cricket Club was founded in 1870, with himself as captain, and made 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.

Qualification rules

An important year was 1873, when player qualification rules came into force, requiring 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:

  • That no cricketer, whether amateur or professional, shall play for more than one county during the same season.
  • Every cricketer born in one county and residing in another shall be free to choose at the commencement of each season for which of those counties he will play, and shall, during that season, play for the one county only.
  • A cricketer shall be qualified to play for the county in which he is residing and has resided for the previous two years: or a cricketer may elect to play for the county in which his family home is, so long as it remains open to him as an occasional residence.
  • That should any question arise as to the residential qualification, the same shall be left to the decision of the Marylebone Cricket Club.[6]

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.[7]

The unofficial titles

All "titles" claimed before 1890 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. The main value of the lists is to indicate which were the most competitive teams during a given period.

First official competition

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 County Cricket Club competed in the championship and in 1895 Derbyshire County Cricket Club, Essex County Cricket Club, Hampshire County Cricket Club, Leicestershire County Cricket Club and Warwickshire County Cricket Club 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 and the points system had to be 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, whilst 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.

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

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

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. From 1993 onwards, all matches have been scheduled for four days.

More information about the history of the County Championship can be found here.

Doubts about the future of the competition

By 2008 many voices were heard questioning the future of the County Championship in the light of the shaky financial structure of many counties, poor attendances and the irresistible rise of Twenty20 cricket. Amongst those questioning the whole basis of the competition was Frank Keating of The Guardian who said on 15 April 2008:

"sheepishly stirs another summer of what has tragically become a drawn-out primeval charade, the English County Championship. For decade upon decade it was a cherished adornment of the summer sub-culture, certainly for my generation when heroes were giants and giants were locals. About a quarter of a century ago the championship began fraying and then in no time unravelling. It is now a pointless exercise, unwatched, unwanted, serviced by mostly blinkered, greedy chairman-bullied committees and played by mostly unknown foreign and second-rate mercenaries."

However doubts have been raised over many decades concerning the competition's viability, yet it still survives. The Changing Face of Cricket (1963) by Clarke and Batchelor, made similar predictions about County Cricket.

Despite suggestions that the format could change to 10 games per side in 3 six team regional groups with a knockout phase at the end of the season from 2010 in July 2008 the ECB decided to keep the current format till at least 2013.

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:

Win: 16 points + bonus points.
Tie: 8 points + bonus points.
Draw: 3 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.[8] The bonus points are retained regardless of the outcome of the match.

  • Batting
200-249 runs: 1 point
250-299 runs: 2 points
300-349 runs: 3 points
350-399 runs: 4 points
400+ runs: 5 points
  • Bowling
3-5 wickets taken: 1 point
6-8 wickets taken: 2 points
9-10 wickets taken: 3 points


Occasionally, a team may have points deducted. These are normally small deductions, between 0.5 and 1 point. Deductions are most commonly handed out for slow over rates or poor pitches. However, in 2005, Surrey were awarded an 8 point penalty for ball tampering. At the end of the 2005 season, Surrey were relegated to the second division, finishing one point behind Middlesex, who remained in the first division. In 2007, Glamorgan were deducted 8 points for an unprepared wicket at Swansea. Also, in 2011, Warwickshire, Hampshire and Kent were deducted 8 points for poor pitches at Edgbaston, the Rose Bowl and Canterbury, respectively.


Official county champions

Yorkshire have won the Championship the most, doing so on 30 occasions (plus 1 shared). Three current first class counties hold no County Championship titles: Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Somerset. (However, Gloucestershire won some unofficial titles prior to 1890.)

There have been two divisions since 2000.

Year County Champions Relegated Division 2 Champions Promoted
2000 Surrey Hampshire, Durham, Derbyshire Northamptonshire Essex, Glamorgan
2001 Yorkshire Northamptonshire, Glamorgan, Essex Sussex Hampshire, Warwickshire
2002 Surrey Hampshire, Somerset, Yorkshire Essex Middlesex, Nottinghamshire
2003 Sussex Essex, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire Worcestershire Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire
2004 Warwickshire Worcestershire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire Nottinghamshire Hampshire, Glamorgan
2005 Nottinghamshire Surrey, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan Lancashire Durham, Yorkshire
2006 Sussex Nottinghamshire, Middlesex Surrey Worcestershire
2007 Sussex Warwickshire, Worcestershire Somerset Nottinghamshire
2008 Durham Kent, Surrey Warwickshire Worcestershire
2009 Durham Sussex, Worcestershire Kent Essex
2010 Nottinghamshire Essex, Kent Sussex Worcestershire
2011 Lancashire Hampshire, Yorkshire Middlesex Surrey

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:

  • Derbyshire 15
  • Somerset 12
  • Northamptonshire 11
  • Glamorgan 10
  • Nottinghamshire 8
  • Sussex 8
  • Leicestershire 8
  • Gloucestershire 7
  • Worcestershire 6
  • Durham 5
  • Hampshire 5
  • Warwickshire 3
  • Essex 2
  • Kent 2
  • Yorkshire 1

Lancashire, Middlesex and Surrey have never finished bottom. Leicestershire have shared last place twice, with Hampshire and Somerset.


All records can be found at Cricinfo - Records.

Highest team scores

  • 887 Yorkshire v Warwickshire: Edgbaston, Birmingham 1896
  • 863 Lancashire v Surrey: The Foster's Oval, Kennington 1990
  • 850-7d Somerset v Middlesex: Taunton 2007
  • 811 Surrey v Somerset: Kennington Oval 1899
  • 810-4d Warwickshire v Durham: Edgbaston, Birmingham 1994
  • 803-4d Kent v Essex: Old County Ground, Brentwood 1934
  • 801-8d Derbyshire v Somerset: County Ground, Taunton 2007

Lowest team scores

  • 12 Northamptonshire v Gloucestershire: Spa Ground, Gloucester 1907
  • 13 Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire: Trent Bridge, Nottingham 1901
  • 14 Surrey v Essex: County Ground, Chelmsford 1983
  • 15 Hampshire v Warwickshire: Edgbaston, Birmingham 1922 (Hampshire won game)
  • 16 Warwickshire v Kent: Angel Ground, Tonbridge 1913
  • 20 Sussex v Yorkshire: The Circle, Hull 1922
  • 20 Derbyshire v Yorkshire: Bramall Lane, Sheffield 1939

Most runs in an innings

  • 501* BC Lara: Warwicks v Durham, Edgbaston 1994
  • 424 AC MacLaren: Lancashire v Somerset, Taunton 1895
  • 405* GA Hick: Worcestershire v Somerset, Taunton 1988
  • 366 NH Fairbrother: Lancashire v Surrey, The Oval 1990
  • 357* R Abel: Surrey v Somerset, The Oval 1899

Best figures in an innings

  • 10-10 H Verity: Yorkshire v Nottinghamshire, Leeds 1932
  • 10-18 G Geary: Leicestershire v Glamorgan, Pontypridd 1929
  • 10-30 C Blythe: Kent v Northamptonshire, Northampton 1907
  • 10-32 H Pickett: Essex v Leicestershire, Leyton 1895
  • 10-35 A Drake: Yorkshire v Somerset, Weston-s-M 1914
  • 10-36 H Verity: Yorkshire v Warwickshire, Leeds 1931
  • 10-40 EG Dennett: Gloucestershire v Essex, Bristol 1906
  • 10-40 W Bestwick: Derbyshire v Glamorgan, Cardiff 1921
  • 10-40 GOB Allen: Middlesex v Lancashire, Lord's 1929


See also

External links


  1. ^ CricketArchive – Most runs in County Championship
  2. ^ CricketArchive – Most wickets in County Championship
  3. ^ Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game. 1889. pp. 479. 
  4. ^ a b Rowland Bowen, Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970
  5. ^ a b c H T Waghorn, The Dawn of Cricket, Electric Press, 1906
  6. ^ Christopher Martin-Jenkins, The Wisden Book of County Cricket, Queen Anne Press, 1981, ISBN 0362 00545 1, p. 17.
  7. ^ Derek Birley, A Social History of English Cricket, Aurum, 1999
  8. ^ Playing Conditions Domestic Matches. The LV County Championship and Other First Class Matches

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