County championship is the highest tier of first-class cricket competition in England and Wales. As the name suggests, the teams participating in the event are named after historic counties of England and Wales. As of 2023, 18 counties participate in the event, out of which 17 are from England and 1 from Wales. The last county to join the tournament was Durham in 1992.
Players who participate in county championships are given the option to choose the county they want to play for based on their county of birth and the county where they reside in. Even though county championships are postulated to exist since the 18th century and a majority of the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1890, when the first official county championships were held.
County championships are played in a format where matches last for four days. The 18 teams participating in the County Championships are: Sussex, Yorkshire, Kent, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Essex, Leicestershire, Durham, Glamorgan, Worcestershire, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire, Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire. These teams are divided into two groups: Division One (10 teams) and Division Two (8 teams). In each division, teams play in a round-robin format. Each team plays 14 matches – seven home matches and seven away matches. The two table toppers of Division Two are promoted to Division One for the next edition. The topper of Division One is crowned the county champion of the season.
Teams are rewarded points and bonus points based on their performances in every match. A win is rewarded with 16 points, 8 points are given for a draw or a tie and no points are given to the losing side. Bonus points are also given to teams based on their batting or bowling performance within the first 110 overs of their innings. Bonus points are awarded as follows:
- 250-299 runs: 1 point
- 300-349 runs: 2 points
- 350-399 runs: 3 points
- 400-449 runs: 4 points
- 450+ runs: 5 points
- 3-5 wickets taken: 1 point
- 6-8 wickets taken: 2 points
- 9-10 wickets taken: 3 points
In some instances teams may lose substantial number of points. A few documented scenarios and the amount of points lost are as follows:
- Fielding an unregistered player: All points earned in the match are lost
- Ball tampering: -8 points
- Poor pitch: -8 to -24 points
- Slow over rate: -1 point per over
- Breach of salary cap: -2.5 points
- Discipline: As high as -16 points
- Financial issues: -48 points
In instances where two teams have the same number of points, tiebreakers are considered in the following order: Total wins, total losses, rivalry history between the two teams, most wickets and most runs scored.
Yorkshire is the most successful county with 32 titles. Southpaw Phil Mead who played for Hampshire for 31 years has scored the maximum runs in County Championships (46,268 runs). Tich Freeman who played for Kent holds the record for taking the most wickets (3151 runs).