The County Championship will return next year in a group-stage format after it was scrapped this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the England and Wales Cricket Board said on Friday. The 18 first-class counties have agreed to a revised structure for the 2021 men’s first-class season, which will end with a showpiece five-day Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord's.
Essex will defend both titles after the county won the 2019 County Championship and this year’s inaugural Bob Willis Trophy. Each county has been placed into one of three seeded groups of six and will play 10 matches during the group stages. The top two teams in each group will progress to Division One, with the other counties moving into Divisions Two and Three, where they will each play a further four matches.
The winner of Division One will be crowned county champions. The top two teams in Division One will also earn the right to play in the Bob Willis Trophy England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Ian Watmore said: "I am delighted that the counties have been able to reach this agreement less than three weeks after Essex won the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s.
"The success of that competition provides reassurance that this structure can help safeguard against any impact the global pandemic may have on next season while also ensuring the integrity of the County Championship."