The 2016 Women's County Championship (this year called the Royal London One Day Championship) starts on Sunday and will feature nine teams in Division One again this year. Promoted from Division Two were Somerset and Staffordshire. They join Yorkshire, Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Middlesex, Surrey, and Warwickshire. Relegated from Div 1 last year were Lancashire and Notts.
Each team will play each other just once and the team that finishes top of Division One at the end of the season will be the champions.
But, with the proposed expansion of the Kia Super League to 50 over cricket in 2017, the number of teams in Division One for 2017 will be reduced to 8, with all the county championship games being played at the same time as the Kia Super League 50 over games are scheduled. In other words KSL players will not, it seems, be available for the County Championship matches in 2017.
Therefore the teams that finish 7th, 8th and 9th in 2016 will be automatically relegated to Division 2 for the 2017 season. The teams that finish 1st and 2nd in Division 2 will be automatically promoted to Division 1. The full rules are here.
Positions in the league will again be decided on the average number of points a team achieves from completed, but not cancelled or abandoned games (which are ignored). Teams are awarded 10 points for a win and 5 points for a tie. No points are awarded for an abandoned game. An abandoned game cannot be replayed, but a cancelled game can - however there is no obligation on any team to replay a cancelled game. Up to 4 batting (RR of 4 RPO required) and 4 bowling bonus points (9+ wickets) can be achieved, making a maximum of 18 points per completed game.
This looks like being the last year of the full-strength Women's County Championship due to the introduction of the Kia Super League - designed to bridge the gap between county cricket and international cricket. We will have to wait and see if this is actually what it achieves.
Last year Yorkshire were crowned County Champions, with Kent and Sussex having shot themselves in the foot early in the season by managing to controversially tie their game at Beckenham. It left the door open for Yorkshire, who avoided playing Sussex after their game at Harrogate was rained off, and claimed the title with a comprehensive victory over local rivals Lancashire.
It was a miserable end to a miserable season for Lancs, who lost every game after having been promoted from Division 2 as champions. Joining them back in Division 2 are Notts, who were relegated on the last day of the season, as Warwickshire yet again survived by the skin of their teeth. Warwickshire's squad will be strengthened this year by the acquisition of England's Jenny Gunn from relegated Notts, as will Sussex's by the acquisition of Notts' Dani Wyatt. Champions Yorkshire have recruited EWPS' and Essex's Beth Langston, which means the only EWPS player in Division 2 is Lancashire's Kate Cross. It has to be said that county form, no matter what division it is in, seems to have counted for nothing with regard to selection for England, hence the creation of the KSL.
With three teams being relegated at the end of this season there is going to be a real bun-fight at the bottom of the league. Given Lancashire's difficulties last year you have to say that Staffs, promoted as Div 2 runners-up, are going to struggle. Their squad looks thin. Fellow newcomers Somerset may also find life tough in the top division, They relied heavily last year on Anya Shrubsole and Sophie Luff, plus South African Lizelle Lee. There is no word this year on Lee's return. It seems likely that they will be scrapping away at the bottom of the league rather than at the top. They start off with a home game against a full-strength Kent side. A true baptism of fire!
Warwickshire, Surrey and Middlesex all had indifferent seasons last year, despite some of the top teams they were playing losing several England players for the Ashes series. With few changes in personnel and the England players likely to be around for almost all county games this year, they are unlikely to fair much better in 2016. Surrey look most at risk of relegation. After beating Lancashire on 21st June they didn't win a game in the Championship (they lost five in total, more than Notts, Warwickshire or Middlesex), or Div 1 of the T20 competition (they did not win a game at all) . They start with games against Middlesex and Berkshire in the first weekend. At least one win will be crucial. Two defeats could spell disaster.
At the top it is difficult to look beyond Kent and Sussex, with their clash on 2nd May possibly deciding where the title goes. After Beckenhamgate last year there will be no love lost between the sides. England and Kent skipper Charlotte Edwards will be keen to get one more champions' trip to the Palace before her focus shifts to the KSL in 2017. Sussex, without Holly Colvin again this year, start with a potentially sticky game against Warwickshire away, without the benefit of any warm-up games, followed by Kent the next day. As last year the direction of their season could be shaped in the first weekend (last year they lost to Surrey and then tied with Kent).
So that just leaves Yorkshire and Berkshire. I can't see Yorkshire pulling off another County Championship title win, but I'm sure they would love to prove me wrong. Beth Mooney is a great overseas signing and she might just prove to be the difference, but she will miss their first four games in May. Yorkshire play Warwickshire, Surrey, Berkshire and Staffs during this time - four games they really have to win if they are going to win the Championship.
Just to prove I have no southern bias I cannot see Berkshire winning it either (and they are my old county!). Berkshire, who are not affiliated with a first class county, have been punching above their weight for several seasons. They have a knack of winning three or four games every year and there is no reason to believe they will not do it again this season.
Berkshire (last year 4th)
Squad - no details available
Kent (last year Runners Up)
Squad - Charlotte Edwards (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Megan Belt, Lottie Bryan, Deanna Cooper, Alice Davidson-Richards, Tash Farrant, Phoebe Franklin, Grace Gibbs, Lydia Greenway, Lauren Griffiths, Jenni Jackson, Hannah Jelfs, Laura Marsh, Charlotte Pape, Emily Thompson
Middlesex (last year 5th)
New recruit - Holly Huddleston (13) (NZ)
Squad - Maia Bouchier (16), Cath Dalton (3), Naomi Dattani (11), Sophia Dunkley (14), Alex Hartley (2), Tash Miles (8), Beth Morgan (5), Anna Nicholls (12), Millie Pope (15), Ria Ravel (7), Hannah Wakeman (9), Isabelle Westbury (6), India Whitty (1), Fran Wilson (4), Holly Huddleston (13)
Somerset (last year - 1st in Div 2 - promoted)
Squad - no details available
Staffordshire (last year - 2nd in Div 2 - promoted)
New recruits - Kirsty Lamb (Aus), Alex Macdonald (Yorks)
Squad - Evelyn Jones (capt), Steph Butler, Kathryn Whyle, Charlotte Whyle, Kirsty Lamb, Frankie James, Eleyse Lally, Alex Macdonald, Rachel Powell, Amy Carnwell, Molly Gwynne
Surrey (last year 6th)
Squad - no details available
Sussex (last year 3rd)
New recruit - Danni Wyatt (Notts)
Squad - Sarah Taylor (capt) (30), Georgia Adams (13), Flora Bertwhistle (55), Ellen Burt (8), Sally Clarke (11), Izzy Collis (22), Freya Davies (3), Georgia Elwiss (34), Abbey Freeborn (29), Chiara Green (14), Izi Noakes (12), Tara Norris (24), Hannah Phelps (19), Paige Scholfield (45), Bethany Tagg (6), Tanya Wake (4), Danni Wyatt (28)
Warwickshire (last year 7th)
New recruits - Jenny Gunn (Eng), Anna Lanning (Aus) and Megan Janman (Sussex)
Squad - Kayleigh Best, Nadia Bacciochi, Louise Brazier, Laura Crofts, Becky Grundy, Jenny Gunn, Georgia Hennessy, Amy Jones, Anisha Patel, Lizzie Russell, Minahil Zahoor, Katie Green, Marie Kelly (capt), Sian Kelly, Georgia Davis, Tiarna Paris Gilkes. Megan Janman, Anna Lanning
Yorkshire (last year Champions)
New recruit - Beth Langston (Essex)
Squad - Lauren Winfield (capt), Cecilia Allen, Hollie Armitage, Katherine Brunt, Beatrice Firth, Elise Good, Teresa Graves, Danielle Hazell, Beth Langston, Katie Levick, Hayley Martinus, Charlotte North, Beth Mooney (from June), Rebecca Newark, Laura Spragg, Katie Thompson, Maddie Walsh.
Fixtures (from Play Cricket website)