A greater proportion of County Championship fixtures will be played in midsummer in 2022 as the ECB look to provide better preparation for England's Test players and respond to supporters' frustrations about the perceived marginalisation of the four-day competition.
There were only two rounds of Championship fixtures staged between June 6 and August 30 - both in early July - in 2021, with the prime months of the men's domestic summer, which was dominated by limited-overs cricket in the form of the Vitality Blast, the Royal London Cup and the Hundred.
But following constant criticism of the schedule, not least during England's Test series against India which saw senior players complaining that their preparation had been compromised, there are set to be three rounds of Championship games staged in July next summer and at least one more in June.
England's leading players are still expected to appear in the early stages of the Hundred immediately before their Test series against South Africa on August 17, but will have the opportunity to play a substantial chunk of Championship cricket in the first four months of the summer. Players close to selection but not in the final XI for the series against New Zealand in June will also be able to press their cases for inclusion in county cricket.
County members will also welcome the news that two rounds of Championship cricket will be played in the final weeks of July, between T20 Blast Finals Day on July 16 and the start of the Hundred in early August. "It's a big thing that there's more County Championship cricket being played in midsummer," one county chief executive told ESPNcricinfo. "It is progress amid all the complexities to have a bit of red-ball cricket in the back half of July and the school summer holidays."
Fixtures for the English domestic season are generally released towards the end of the preceding year but the 2022 schedule will not be confirmed until the new year. The delay has been caused by a combination of factors including the late decision on the Championship's format - which sees a return to two divisions - the rescheduling of England's postponed fifth Test against India for early July and the need to confirm venues and dates for women's internationals next summer.
The prospect of Yorkshire being relegated to Division Two of the Championship following the ECB's investigation into allegations of institutional racism at the club is not believed to be a factor in the delay, though the possibility of Headingley's international fixtures being reallocated to other grounds if the club's ban on hosting England games is upheld has contributed. Alan Fordham, the ECB's head of cricket operations, has drawn up a skeleton of the season with fixtures set to be confirmed at the start of next year after those details have been sorted.
In other changes to the schedule, ESPNcricinfo understands that the T20 Blast will be staged in a significantly shorter window in 2022 following a prolonged season this year which saw the majority of the competition's leading overseas players miss Finals Day due to other commitments.
This year's Blast ran from June 9 until September 18, with a gap of five weeks between the group stages and the quarter-finals and a further three before Finals Day. Luke Wright, the competition's all-time leading run-scorer and Sussex's captain, was a prominent advocate for staging the Blast in a block and it is understood that the group stages will start on May 25 in 2022.
One round of Championship fixtures will be played during the Blast's group stages, which run until July 3. A further round of Championship games will follow immediately after, with the Blast's quarter-finals then due to be staged in the week leading up to Finals Day on July 16.
The Hundred will continue to be played in parallel with the Royal London Cup, but in a slightly later window than in 2021. The inaugural edition of the competition ran from July 21-August 21, but the second season will start in early August, with the women's T20 tournament at the Commonwealth Games, which runs from July 29-August 7, providing an additional complicating factor. The double-header model, which sees men's and women's fixtures staged back-to-back, will continue in 2022. The men's domestic season will end with the final four rounds of the Championship following the conclusion of the Hundred.
The women's domestic season will involve the regional T20 competition, the Charlotte Edwards Cup, being played in May and June, followed by the 50-over tournament, the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, in the second half of the summer. Touring women's teams for 2022 are unlikely to be confirmed until early next year but South Africa are expected to tour in the first half of the summer, with another bilateral series likely to follow in September.