So maybe it is not as bad as we had feared.
Somerset’s fixtures for 2020 we announced on Tuesday. They start their county championship campaign a week later that in 2019 and finish potentially a day earlier than last season. The noises about moving the championship to the extremities of the season are, for 2020 at least, unfounded.
But then, when you start digging into the detail the extent to which the Championship season has been pillaged to accommodate the dreaded new competition becomes clear. Almost half of the championship is complete by 25th May when the first phase of the Blast kicks in. The period from May 25th to August 23rd sees only 15 championship games in total in a three-month span.
The number of championship fixtures by month is: April – 13, May – 18, June – 10, July – 5, August – 10, September – 14
The big positive for Somerset supporters is that all but two of the fourteen fixtures feature weekend play, and six both Saturday and Sunday scheduling.
The Blast runs from late May until mid-July but is interspersed with three rounds of Championship fixtures. The first of these is the much-anticipated local derby in mid-June when Gloucestershire visit Taunton,
The scheduling at the end of June/beginning of July though defies belief. Somerset will play 5 T20s in 12 days from 18 June before heading to Canterbury for a Championship game (Sunday to Wednesday). They then play Kent again at the same venue in the T20 on the Friday before heading to Chelmsford for a Championship game on the Sunday. The final two T20 group games at Taunton are on the following Friday and Sunday.
That hectic period is then followed by a two-week gap before the downgraded 50 over competition begins. That competition runs to semi-finals on 16th August (again the ECB have allowed only 2 days between quarter and semi-finals a period which gives clubs and supporters virtually no time to sort travel, tickets etc) followed immediately by the T20 quarter-finals between 18th and 21st August.
Somerset will then play two championship games at Taunton against Essex and Yorkshire. Games we hope that will be pivotal in the championship season before T20 finals day.
The 50 over final will be at Trent Bridge on the 19th September before the final round of championship games in the last week of September.
As last season Division 1 will be 14 games but, because the division now comprises 10 teams, we have a lop-sided schedule playing five teams twice (Essex, Gloucs, Hants, Surrey and Warwickshire) and the remaining four (Kent, Lancs, Northants and Yorkshire) once.
The obvious question about the strength of schedule arises. I have compiled a table based on last season’s finishing places and weighted the fixtures accordingly. The higher number indicated the tougher schedule:
Obviously, there is some bias in this as the higher placed sides cannot play themselves, but two things stick out from looking at the fixtures as a whole. The first is that Essex play 5 games against promoted teams while Hampshire and Somerset play only 4. The other is that Surrey and Essex play each other only once while Somerset have to play both twice.
So where and when will the championship be decided? Both Hampshire and Essex are not scheduled to play in the first round of matches starting on Easter Sunday which, given the vagaries of the English weather is a potential significant advantage. The second round of fixtures look pretty important as Somerset travel to The Oval while Essex host Yorkshire. Essex and Somerset then have a potentially easier run playing Lancashire/Gloucestershire, Northants/Lancashire respectively.
If Somerset are able to overcome the points deduction and are in the title race when the Championship resumes in late August they will in all probability have their destiny in their own hands with games against Essex, Yorkshire, Surrey and Hampshire finishing the season. Crucially only the Hampshire fixture is away.