The ECB will revamp the County Championship schedule to play more games in the height of summer next season as Yorkshire await their fate over whether the Azeem Rafiq scandal will lead to automatic relegation to Division Two.
The lack of Championship matches during the main summer months was fiercely criticised during England’s Test series with India, which began in August. Before the first Test with India on August 4, six members of England’s top eight had gone at least seven weeks without facing a ball in first-class cricket.
Last summer, there were just two rounds of Championship fixtures between June 6 and August 29. But Telegraph Sport understands that there will be at least one more round of fixtures during this window in 2022, as part of attempts to leave England better-prepared for their Test fixtures. In 2022, there will be three rounds of Championship fixtures in July alone.
The tweaks to the schedule are also set to see the window for the Hundred competition moved back. In 2021, the competition was played from July 21 to August 21. But with England playing limited-overs series against India and South Africa until July 31, and England then having a gap in their schedule until August 17, the start of the Hundred is likely to be pushed back until the end of July. This would mean that the tournament would finish towards the end of August, with many of the closing matches being played during evenings after days of Test cricket.
England play a three-match Test series against New Zealand from June 2-26. They then play a Test against India - the final match of the series that began last summer before concerns about Covid-19 led to the postponement of the last Test - on July 1, before the three-Test series with South Africa begins on August 17.
More Championship fixtures at the height of the summer would help protect the England & Wales Cricket Board from criticism that the Test side is being damaged by short-format cricket - the Vitality Blast and the Hundred. Many county members would also prefer more Championship cricket during July. It has already been announced that the Championship will return to a two-division structure for next summer.
Confirmation on the fixture list for 2022 is expected early in the new year. While it is not understood to be the main reason for the delay, the situation at Yorkshire has caused an added complication. The ECB’s investigation into allegations of racism at the county could yet lead to Yorkshire being demoted from Division One.
In 2016, the ECB hit Durham with a raft of sanctions including relegation from the Championship and a 48-point points deduction after bailing the county out, creating a precedent for punishing counties in this way. One insider in the county game suggested that it is likely that Yorkshire will either be relegated or lose their international fixtures for 2022 - the club’s right to stage games has currently been suspended, pending an ECB inquiry.
“It may be that they keep international cricket because of the financial implications but drop down to Division T20 or vice versa. The ECB are obviously wrestling with this,” the insider said.