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Cricket: History Of The County Championship

   By: Simon Mayer

The County Championship in English domestic cricket did not officially commence until 1890, but for several decades previously, there were unofficial contests to determine the best sides in the country.

There are partial records dating back as far as 1825 to a small competition featuring a handful of English counties. A winner was only announced if they went the whole season without losing to any of the other teams and before its termination in 1963 it had been won by Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Nottinghamshire.

It is more commonly agreed that the first formal competition began in 1964, when the country's sporting press decided upon the champion. There was no use of consensus to elect just one champion, but several publications would each name their own winner - often, but not always in agreement.
Even with a points system used as a guide for the latter seasons, there were some disputes.

Finally, in 1890 a system was agreed where a league table would be used to conclude the season's champion. Gloucestershire, Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Sussex and Yorkshire all competed in the inaugural contest, which was eventually won by Surrey.

The changes were unquestionably beneficial to the game; more counties joined in the following seasons: Somerset in 1891 and Derbyshire, Essex, Hampshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire all joined for 1895, by which time the MCC gave its endorsement.
Worcestershire followed in 1899 and Northamptonshire in 1905.

The only other clubs to join after this were Welsh side, Glamorgan in 1921 and Durham in 1992.

The addition of these new clubs meant that it became impractical for all of the teams to play the exact same number of matches, each team had to play at least sixteen games, but for a long time some of them could play more and a system was needed to counter the dominance of teams playing more games. It was decided that the highest average number of points per finished game should be used as the indicator of the best team.

A further change was made in 1910, where the team with the best ratio of wins to matches played would be champion. This system only lasted a year, before a points system was reintroduced.
No exact format settled until 1968, when 10 points were awarded for a win and none for a draw, with bonus points awarded for successful and speedy play in the first innings.
Only minor changes occurred until 1996, when in a bid to prevent games finishing early, points were awarded for draws.

This points system is still in place today, but the most monumental upheaval to the contest didn't come until 1999, when it was announced the league would split into two divisions of quality, with promotion and relegation between the two after each season.
It came at a time of dwindling attendances and was intended to halt the slide by reducing the number of fixtures that had little bearing on the teams' overall success.

Despite fears the split would harm teams that end up in the Second Division; it has proved successful in reviving interest and increasing ticket sales for almost all clubs; ultimately, at least for the time-being, securing the survival of all eighteen counties.

Oldham Cricket Club play in the Central Lancashire League.

View our website to experience life inside a genuine English cricket club

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