Surrey to begin County Championship defence at last term’s runners-up Lancashire

Surrey will begin the defence of their LV= County Championship crown away to last season’s runners-up Lancashire, the England and Wales Cricket Board has announced.

The champions will return to Emirates Old Trafford, where they were presented with the Division One trophy for winning a second title in five years in September, for their first game of the 2023 campaign next April.

The match is one of nine championship fixtures – with all 18 sides across both divisions in action – to launch the new season over the Easter weekend of April 6-9.

Surrey v Gloucestershire at The Oval
There will be no changes to the structure of the County Championship before 2024 (John Walton/PA)

The dates were confirmed as the ECB published its fixture lists for the men’s and women’s domestic games, The Hundred aside, on Wednesday.

Although the ECB hopes in future to implement the changes proposed in their recent high-performance review, including a potential reduction in Championship fixtures from the present 14 per county, the structure remains the same for next year, with 10 teams in the top division and eight in the second.

The fixture programme is also similar, with the first seven rounds played in successive weeks and five further rounds spread over June and July.

This will ensure some red-ball cricket is played domestically around England’s Test programme, which feature a match against Ireland and full five-Test Ashes series against Australia.

There are no Championship fixtures in August, when The Hundred will take centre stage and counties will play in the One-Day Cup. The first-class competition is then played to a conclusion in September.

Hampshire celebrate winning the Vitality Blast
Hampshire won the Vitality Blast in 2022 (Mike Egerton/PA)

The format of the Vitality Blast is also unchanged and will begin with a double-header – dubbed Blast Off – at Edgbaston on May 15, featuring Birmingham Bears v Yorkshire Vikings and Derbyshire Falcons v Lancashire Lightning. Champions Hampshire Hawks face Somerset in their first game.

Forty-eight fixtures have been scheduled for Friday evenings, while Edgbaston will also host finals day on July 15, which will avoid a clash with England men’s white-ball fixtures.

In the women’s game, the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy has been doubled in size, with the eight regional teams now playing 14 50-over fixtures as they face each other home and away.

Twenty-one Charlotte Edwards Cup matches will be played as double-headers with Vitality Blast fixtures.