A new-look domestic structure in 2021 will see two red-ball prizes at stake after the 18 first-class counties agreed to contest both the County Championship and the Bob Willis Trophy, which was held for the first time this season.
As expected, the county chairmen have approved a new 14-match conference system, with teams playing 10 games each in three seeded groups of six, then four more in three divisions based on their final placings in the group.
But Sportsmail has learned that the team finishing top of Division One after 14 matches will first be crowned county champions, and then play off against the runners-up over five days at Lord’s for the Bob Willis Trophy, won earlier this month by Essex.
Essex secured the Bob Willis Trophy this season after beating Somerset at Lord’s
As things stand, the intention is to return to a two-divisional structure in time for the 2022 season, with 10 teams in the top tier and eight in the second – as would have been the case this summer had Covid-19 not intervened.
But that still needs to be ratified by the counties, who will also consider the possibility of a one-day FA Cup-style knockout tournament.
One of the reasons for returning to the status quo for 2022 is because of fears among some counties – dubbed ‘conference sceptics’ by the new ECB chairman Ian Watmore – that the new system would be a ‘Trojan horse’ for a long-term solution to the perennial question of how best to configure the domestic season.
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