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With the 113th County Championship due to get underway today, heralding the start of the sporting summer (weather permitting), I have analysed for sportingintelligence which of the 18 first-class counties have been the most successful across all formats of the game since the first formal County Championship was contested back in 1890.
There is of course little doubt about which county has been the most successful down the years – something many a real ale drinker from ‘God’s Own County’ will never tire of telling you – but the fact is that many of Yorkshire’s triumphs can now only be recalled in sepia.
Set the parameters to a more modern era, however, and suddenly things don’t look quite so rosy (white or red): according to our criteria – more on which below – the DPRY (Democratic People’s Republic of Yorkshire) slip back to third most successful county for the post-War era, and eighth for the period since the introduction of the limited-overs game in 1963.
At the other end of the scale, it is widely known that none of Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire or Somerset have ever won the domestic game’s top prize (which is why the latter’s last session eclipse by Nottinghamshire in 2010 was so excruciating, especially as it has accompanied no less than five final defeats on limited-overs competitions) – however, at least the latter two have had their share of glory days in one-day cricket as partial compensation.
How exactly do we work out ‘success’?
Well, in line with a previous study sportingintelligence carried out into English football’s domestic trophy winners, the simple tally of trophies would not be truly reflective of a particular county’s ‘success rating’ – not least because certain counties haven’t been in all competitions from the outset: Durham only acquired first-class status in 1992, of course, and before that, Glamorgan jumped on board in 1921; in fact, there were only eight counties in that inaugural 1890 Championship.
There’s also the fact that, as with the Carling Cup and Champions League, different trophies have different weighting, different amounts of prestige, different value.
It was therefore important to work out two figures: first, we had to assign each competition’s relative value, and with that done, calculate the aggregate figure of points that each county has competed for historically: i.e. how much hypothetical success they could have achieved. From there, we could properly evaluate each county’s historic performance. To a certain extent, the values assigned each competition are arbitrary. Even so, the minor adjustments that individual readers may wish to make – and we welcome any such effort – wouldn’t greatly alter the overall ranking. (The explanation for these values can be found beneath the graphic.)
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Next, we needed to work out precisely how successful the counties had been according to the ‘value’ of those trophies. Thus, a series of simple calculations followed.
So, we worked out the total number of points each county had won in line with this system. Thereafter, we worked out the total number of points each county had competed for, given the different dates of entry into competition and the fact that the Refuge Assurance Cup was semi-exclusive. We then divided the number of points attained by the number competed for and multiplied that figure by 100 to get a true measure of each county’s success: the percentage of possible success they could have had, in fact. This figure gives us the counties’ overall historical rank and, as expected, Yorkshire and Surrey dominate this list – taken together, nigh on a third of the potential gross success (32%) is theirs, although only 25.3 of the trophies.
(Incidentally, assigning a rank on the basis of the percentage of possible success that has been achieved did produce a couple of minor differences from the aggregate trophy haul at the lower end of the spectrum. But the greatest difference concerned
Durham, who rose from 16th in the aggregate
points total, and equal last with Northants in the trophy haul, to 8th in the
Anyway, we thought it would be illuminating to examine and evaluate more recent successes, if only because it was clear that certain counties’ figures appeared ‘distorted’ by success in the early years, before professionalism started to slowly even out some counties’ historical (dis)advantages.
First up, we looked at the post-War years. As expected, using this timeframe changed the picture considerably as far as success was concerned. The county most affected in terms of its overall historical ranking was Lancashire, who famously hadn’t won an outright
Championship for 77 years until last
summer’s albatross-slaying, while Kent also slipped back. The largest
percentage increases were Leicestershire (1.2%), Hampshire (1.3%),
Worcestershire (1.4%), Warwickshire (1.8%), and Essex (2.1%).
|Lancashire's lionhearted skipper Glenn Chapple|
Finally, we looked at the success of counties from 1963, the dawn of the limited-overs era and certainly a time when each county had to assemble its resources to fight on many fronts simultaneously. Indeed, during this perios several counties became ‘one-day specialists’ – one thinks of Somerset in the 80s, Lancashire in the 90s, Gloucestershire either side of the millennium – not least because cup runs brought big crowds and solvency-facilitating gate receipts. The finals were big days out, too, but the greatest prestige still resided with the Championship.
Anyway, as you can see from the final two columns of our graphic, the county most affected by the final shift of parameters, from post-War to post-1963, was
Surrey, who won
seven straight county championships between 1952 and 1958, the era of Lock and
Laker, May, Loader, and the Bedser twins. Yorkshire were also affected, albeit
to a lesser extent (having four outright and one shared title cropped from the
aggregate, while four from a golden run of seven titles in 10 years survived),
slipping back to eighth most successful overall.
If anything, the post-1963 limited-overs era sees a greater compression of teams’ success ratings, thus a more even competition. If there were a perfect split of success between all 18 counties, a fair share would be 5.55%. In this post-63 limited-overs era, 50 not out this summer, the most successful club is less so (i.e. the top success rating is lower) in real terms than within the other two timeframes, while the bottom club is slightly higher. Meanwhile, 10 teams are above the average success marker, compared to just 7 historically.
A final thing to note is that, given the dwindling Championship crowds, the corollary of which is an increased significance of bumper one-day crowds, one would expect there to be a major competitive advantage for the counties with larger, Test match-hosting grounds (not least because of the revenue from the latter). Yet Notts come in a disappointing 12th in this period, while there are some good performances from counties without a traditional Test venue, including Leicestershire and fifth-placed Worcestershire, but headed up by Essex, who, despite not winning the most trophies in this era (that accolade is Lancashire’s), are, by our criteria, the most successful club of county cricket’s limited-overs era.
County Championship: 10 points By general consensus – and despite the lustre of the big one-day finals at Lord’s – this is by far the most prestigious competition, a fact underscored by the introduction of a £500,000 prize in 2010, and the points duly reflect this.
Twenty20 Cup: 6 points The more prestigious of the two current limited-overs competitions, its importance has increased since the inception of the Champions League Twenty20 in 2009 (slated for the previous year, but cancelled due to the Mumbai bomb attacks).
FP Trophy: 5 points Began life in 1963 as the Gillette Cup; became the NatWest Trophy in 1981, the C&G Trophy in 2001, and the FP Trophy in 2007, before being discontinued by the ECB at the end of the 2009 season. As the oldest one-day tournament – and despite (or maybe because of, FA Cup-style) the inclusion of a fistful of Minor Counties qualifiers – this was, historically, always slightly the more prestigious of the domestic limited-overs knockout competitions.
Sunday League / Pro40: 4.5 points A staple of BBC’s Sunday afternoon scheduling, this competition started in 1969 and underwent no fewer than 14 name changes (including three variations each on sponsors Axa and John Player) before being wound up in 2009, having long been confusingly scattered throughout the calendar, a sort of endorsement of Morrissey’s observation that ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’. This scores more than the Benson and Hedges not for prestige per se but because, being a league, it is notionally harder to win.
CB40: 4.5 points Established in 2010 effectively as the replacement for both the FP Trophy and the Pro40. Like the latter, its early rounds are a round-robin rather than KO format (increasing the guaranteed home revenues); like the former, it has a Lord’s final.
Benson & Hedges Cup: 4 points Traditionally played in 4 pools of 5 with the top two from each going through to quarter-finals, the shorter (50 overs), younger (played from 1972 to 2002) and earlier (finals played in late June or early July) B&H was the least prestigious of the ‘classic’ limited-overs competitions.
Refuge Assurance Cup: 3 points The aforementioned analysis of football’s most successful teams explicitly excluded one-off games, and we were tempted to do the same with this somewhat anomalous tournament, an event contested for four years only, between 1988 and 1991, in which the top four sides in the Refuge Assurance League (successor to the JPS League) played semi-finals and a final. On the one hand, you could argue that it was a closed tournament, given that it was restricted to four teams; on the other, you could argue that it was open, given that all 18 counties started each season with an equal chance of participating in it. In the end, we decided to retain this competition in the calculations, albeit with a low points value, while ensuring that its semi-exclusivity was taken into consideration when working out the maximum possible points for which they competed (thus, Lancashire, who participated in all four Refuge Assurance Cups and were one of the founder members of the County Championships, have effectively competed for the most ‘points’, historically).
Champions League: We excluded this from the calculations for the simple reason that, unlike its namesake in football, it lacks a crucial element of competitive integrity, inasmuch as some players can be registered with, and have played for, several of the participating teams. Thus the overseas players used by the counties in our domestic season may well be commandeered by their IPL franchises, or perhaps play for their home teams – as happened with Keiron Pollard last year, for instance, who could have played for Somerset or Trinidad and Tobago but ended up with the Mumbai Indians. (Incidentally, including the Champions League, at a points value of 10, would not change any of the rankings, but it would mean that
Somerset would displace Lancashire as the team that had competed for the most
This was originally published on Sporting Intelligence.