County Championship points system tweaked to encourage aggressive batting

A higher threshold for batting bonus points, a reduction in the number of points available for a draw, and a two-round trial of the Kookaburra ball, are among the tweaks to the County Championship ahead of the 2023 season, in a bid to keep the domestic game aligned with the aggressive approach of the England men’s Test team.

This season, five points will be available for a draw – a return to pre-pandemic levels after an increase to eight was introduced in 2019 as an incentive for counties to prepare better pitches. And though 16 points will still be available for a win, teams will now need to score 250 inside 110 overs in the first innings (an increase from 200) to achieve one bonus point, rising by increments of 50 to 450 for the maximum of five – which, if achieved, would require a rate of more than four an over.

Alan Fordham, the ECB’s head of Cricket Operations (First Class), denied that this change had come about as an explicit response to the so-called “Bazball” effect, with England winning nine out of ten Tests since adopting a more positive attitude to run-scoring. However Ben Stokes, the Test captain, attended a meeting of the county directors of cricket at St George’s Park last month to pass on the Test team’s philosophy and give pointers as to how county cricketers could seek to emulate his team’s style.

Explaining the changes, Fordham said: “People were not too worried about an incentive to score 450 runs rather than 400. But scoring 200 runs in a four-day game, is that a level you should be getting points? No. So let’s move that up a bit. And maxing out at 450 can only have a positive effect. Those were the drivers rather than a direct ‘Bazball’ influence.

“We are looking to achieve an encouragement for teams to bat long on well-prepared surfaces in the first innings and pushing games into day four but providing the added incentive to win games,” he added. “Ultimately, teams should be out there to win. It is a delicate balance. First-innings bonus points continue to be seen as essential with an incentive to go out and win.”

Many of the changes for 2023 have been influenced by the High Performance Review, carried out by Andrew Strauss last summer, including the decision to use Kookaburra balls during two rounds of the Championship, between June 25-28 and July 10-13. The Kookaburra, used predominantly in the southern hemisphere including Australia where England have lost 13 and won none of their last 15 Tests, has a less pronounced seam than the Dukes ball traditionally used in England.

And while the chosen dates clash with the ongoing men’s Ashes this summer – meaning that prospective Test call-ups may get less-than-ideal preparation on the county circuit – Fordham said that the competitive balance of the Championship was the over-riding consideration, with all 18 counties playing in those two rounds.

Other changes include the ability of counties to register four overseas players at the same time – up from three. While only two such players can play in any given game, the move is designed to aid counties who wish to sign two red-ball and two white-ball players simultaneously, particularly during periods of the season when there is a dovetailing of Blast and Championship matches.

Further down the line, the structure of the 2024 English season looks set to be broadly similar to that for 2023, in the wake of the counties’ rejection of Strauss’s recommendations for a six-team Championship top flight. Although the incoming ECB chair, Richard Thompson, had previously indicated that the fixtures for 2024 would need to be agreed upon before the start of this season, Neil Snowball, the managing director of county cricket, stated that this is no longer the case.

“We haven’t got a cliff edge where we’ve got to make any big decisions between now and the start of the season,” he said. “There are no big decisions still to be made. We’re sticking with the volume of cricket in 2023 and will most likely roll through 2024. Any changes to format structures have to get the support of the counties and we’ll continue to look at that.”

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