Inter-county cricket matches are known to have been played since the early 18th century, involving teams that are representative of the historic counties of England and Wales. Since the late 19th century, there have been two county championship competitions played at different levels: the County Championship, a first-class competition which currently involves eighteen first-class county clubs among which seventeen are English and one is from Wales; and the Minor Counties Championship, which currently involves nineteen English county clubs and one club that represents several Welsh counties.
County cricket started in the eighteenth century, the earliest known inter-county match being played in 1709, though an official County Championship was not instituted until 1890. 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.
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. The most successful county teams were Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. There was, however, 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.
Modern county cricket
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 onward, all matches have been scheduled for four days.
The English first-class counties are:
The full name of the cricket team is usually formed from the name of the county followed by the words County Cricket Club, which are often abbreviated as CCC.
Other teams with first-class status
The opening first-class game of an English county cricket season has traditionally been played at Lord's between the MCC and the Champion County (the club that won the County Championship the previous year). When the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) plays against one of the first-class counties, the game is granted first-class status.
The six MCC-sponsored University (MCCU) teams, are also afforded first-class status for some of their matches against a first-class county. They are:
- Cambridge MCCU (from 1827)
- Oxford MCCU (from 1827)
- Durham MCCU (from 2001)
- Loughborough MCCU (from 2003)
- Cardiff MCCU (from 2012)
- Leeds/Bradford MCCU (from 2012)
Most of the first-class counties play three-day games against university cricket teams in the early part of the English cricket season. This is partly because the start of the cricket season coincides with the end of the university academic year, and partly because the games act as pre-season warm-ups for the county clubs.
The minor counties are the cricketing counties of England that are not afforded first-class status. Present members are :
- Bedfordshire County Cricket Club
- Buckinghamshire County Cricket Club
- Cambridgeshire County Cricket Club
- Cumberland County Cricket Club
- Hertfordshire County Cricket Club
- Lincolnshire County Cricket Club
- Norfolk County Cricket Club
- Northumberland County Cricket Club
- Staffordshire County Cricket Club
- Suffolk County Cricket Club
- Berkshire County Cricket Club
- Cheshire County Cricket Club
- Cornwall County Cricket Club
- Devon County Cricket Club
- Dorset County Cricket Club
- Herefordshire County Cricket Club
- Oxfordshire County Cricket Club
- Shropshire County Cricket Club
- Wales Minor Counties Cricket Club
- Wiltshire County Cricket Club
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.
The Royal London One-Day Cup is a 50 over one-day cricket competition in county cricket. The 18 English county sides are divided randomly into two groups of nine with each team playing each other once. The top four in each group reach the quarter-finals. The competition culminates at Lord's for the final. The Royal London One Day Cup replaced the Yorkshire Bank 40 over League. The first winners of the competition were Durham in 2014.
The NatWest t20 Blast is a Twenty20 cricket competition contested by the eighteen first-class counties. The game is limited to 20 overs per side, and the emphasis is on fast action. It replaced the Friends Life T20 in 2014.
Minor counties cricket
Women's County Cricket
The Women's County Championship is played each year, in a similar manner to the men's, but the Women's county game focuses upon 50 over cricket. There is also the Women's Cricket Super League, a T20 competition. Some counties are involved, and feature in a divisional structure. Promotion and relegation is a feature throughout.
- "MCC Universities". ecb.co.uk. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014.
- Christopher Martin-Jenkins, The Wisden Book of County Cricket, Queen Anne Press, 1981. ISBN 0-362-00545-1, p. 17.
- "LV County Championship Cricket – County cricket News, Fixtures, Live Scores – ECB". ecb.co.uk. Archived from the original on 12 April 2014.
- "Royal London One-Day Cup". ecb.co.uk.
- "NatWest T20 Blast". ecb.co.uk.
- "MCCA". play-cricket.com.
- ECB Women's One-Day Championship & County T20 Retrieved 25 April 2015