The England and Wales Cricket Board’s domestic fixtures for 2020 have been released, with the inaugural edition of its 100-ball tournament appearing alongside the existing three formats for the first time.
The new competition, which will be partially broadcast on free-to-air by the BBC, is a central part of the governing body’s bid to build the sport’s fanbase but the city-based franchise model has attracted scepticism from sections of the existing support.
As such all eyes will be on the opening fixture, which pits the Oval Invincibles against Welsh Fire, with England’s hard-hitting duo of Bairstow and Roy due to be front and centre.
The third and final one-day international against Australia takes place in Bristol 24 hours earlier and the top-order pair are among a host of big names – also including the Curran brothers, Tom Banton, Liam Plunkett and the Fire’s overseas pair Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc – who could be involved in a unique double-header.
“We want to launch The Hundred with a bang and a big crowd at The Oval on a Friday night should do that for us,” said an ECB spokesman.
The men’s hundred wraps up with a two-match finals day on August 15, while the women’s competition begins with Birmingham Phoenix against Manchester Originals at New Road on July 22 and concludes on August 14. There will be a series of double-headers featuring men’s and women’s matches back-to-back at the same grounds.
The Specsavers County Championship begins on April 12, a week later than last season, with the final round of games beginning a day earlier than 2019 on September 22. Champions Essex launch their defence in week two, hosting Yorkshire on April 19.
Criticisms that the first-class game has been forced into the fringes of the schedule in recent years, to the detriment of both it and the Test team, have been partly addressed with championship fixtures slated in every month of the campaign, but there will be no domestic red-ball cricket between July 8 and August 23 as The Hundred dominates that prime window.
Twelve of the 15 championship rounds will include play at the weekend as part of a push to attract supporters to the flagship tournament.
Like The Hundred, next year’s Vitality Blast starts at The Oval, where Surrey host London Rivals Middlesex on May 28, and holders Essex welcome Cardiff the following day. Finals day at Edgbaston is on September 5.
Royal London has renewed its sponsorship of the One-Day Cup, which runs alongside The Hundred and bears the burden of operating without the elite players already drafted to the eight franchises.
Managing director of county cricket Gordon Hollins previously branded the 50-over game “developmental” but insists that should not be taken as a downgrade in status.
Billing it as a chance to see up-and-coming youngsters for the first time, as well as taking in a variety of outground fixtures and warm-up clashes with the non first-class national counties, Hollins said: “It’s obviously going to be different but different could well mean better. I think it will be popular with members because they’ll get to see the next wave of talent coming through.
“The competition will have different characteristics and really connect with people.”
Reflecting on the challenge of piecing together one of sport’s most challenging administrative jigsaws, Hollins added: “The great opportunity cricket has, that any other sport would give its left arm for, is different formats that appeal to different people.
“It’s always a challenge to satisfy every type of supporter and what they want out of the schedule, but it’s a nice problem to have.
“With so many different priorities for so many different people we’re always going to get some criticism but we’ve done the best we possibly can. We have to think about what is the right thing for the game overall rather than looking from one perspective only.”
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