The experiment of floodlit county cricket will continue in limited form in 2018 as the ECB seeks to prepare players for the likelihood of an expansion of Test matches under lights without being unfaithful to traditional county supporters.
England are preparing for a day-night Test in Adelaide this week and a further Test with pink balls is scheduled for Auckland next year.
With the trend likely to continue, the 18 counties will all have experience of one more Championship match under lights in 2018 – although this time they will be spread over four rounds – to ensure that up-and-coming players have some experience of the format.
Alan Fordham, the ECB’s head of cricket operations, said: “The ECB’s cricket committee has decided that it is important for us to continue providing experience of playing with pink balls in day-night conditions. The fact that the matches are spread from June to August should allow us to assess some different conditions.”
Although Fordham said that the experiment had “stimulated considerable interest”, there was no evidence that crowds increased or that a rise in media interest outside those outlets committed to the county game would be anything other than ephemeral.
The 2018 fixture list, released today, sees the Championship season begin six days later, on April 13.
Essex’s new coach Anthony McGrath makes an immediate return to his old stamping as they begin their defence of the Specsavers County Championship next April against Yorkshire at Emerald Headingley.
McGrath stepped into the head coach role at Essex when Chris Silverwood resigned at the end of the season to become England’s new bowling coach, a position he will only take up in the New Year once the Ashes are concluded.
McGrath spent 18 seasons as a player with Yorkshire and supervised an Essex victory against them at Scarborough last season but this is his first return to Emerald Headingley. The match will be played with a building site at one end of the ground following the demolition of the old rugby stand.
Jason Gillespie’s first competitive fixture on his return to county cricket as head coach of Sussex is against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
The group matches in the Royal London One-Day Cup will again be played in a block early in the season, with the 18 counties split into North and South Groups, and each playing eight matches between May 17 and June 7. The winners of each group will earn a home semi-final, with their opponents determined by play-offs on June 14 between the teams finishing second and third.
The final will be played at Lord’s on Saturday June 30, clearing the way for the Kia Super League and T20 Blast to take centre stage in the domestic game for most of July and August.
An expanded Kia Super League will mean a feast of T20 cricket next summer, with a total of 165 matches in the KSL and the Blast to be played in the 74 days between July 4 and September 15.
After the success of the first two KSL seasons, the six teams will play each other home and away for the first time in 2018 – meaning they each play 10 matches rather than five in the battle to reach Finals Day, and the competition includes a total of 32 matches compared to last year’s 17, spanning 37 days from July 22 to August 27.
The Blast retains its familiar format, with the 18 first-class counties split into a North Group and a South Group, and the top four from each qualifying for quarter finals – and the action again concentrated in the summer holiday months of July and August. Finals Day will be at Edgbaston for the sixth consecutive season, on a slightly later date of Saturday September 15, to avoid a clash with England’s Test series against India.
As previously announced, Essex have also been chosen as the only county opposition for India on their 2018 tour which includes three T20 Internationals, three Royal London One-Day Internationals, and five Tests. The champions will face India in a four-day match at the Cloudfm County Ground in Chelmsford from July 25-28, before the first Test at Edgbaston.
Kent and Northamptonshire will play four-day matches against Pakistan early in the season before their two Tests against England, with Pakistan also playing an historic Test against Ireland in Dublin followed by a two-day match against Leicestershire.
Australia are also touring next summer, and they will prepare for a five-match Royal London One-Day Series against England with List A matches against Sussex at the 1st Central County Ground on June 7, and against Middlesex at Lord’s two days later.
England Lions will play two games in Derby, and one each in Leicester and Northampton, in a 50-over Tri-Series against India A and West Indies A, in addition to a first-class four-day match against India A at Worcester from July 16-19.
England Under-19s play two four-day “Youth Tests” against South Africa A at Scarborough and the Emirates Riverside followed by a three-match 50-over series which also takes in South Northumberland CC.
Key county dates:
March 27-30: MCC Champion County match – MCC v Essex (Barbados) April 1-3: First round of MCCU fixtures. April 13-16: First round of Specsavers County Championship matches. May 17 – June 7: Royal London One-Day Cup group matches June 14: Royal London One-Day Cup Play-Offs June 17-18: Royal London One-Day Cup Semi Finals June 30: Royal London One-Day Cup Final (Lord’s) July 4 – Blast launch night July 22 – Kia Super League launch day August 23-26 – Blast quarter-finals August 27 – KSL Finals Day (Hove) September 15 – Blast Finals Day (Edgbaston) September 24-27: Specsavers County Championship final round
Source: ESPN Crickinfo