Northants coach Ripley keen for Championship to return to two-division structure
Head coach David Ripley is keen for the LV= Insurance County Championship to return to a two-division format for next season.
And for Northants to at long last get their chance to show what they can do in the top flight.
It was way back in September 2019 that the County secured their promotion from division two, finishing as runners-up to champions Lancashire.
Ripley was looking forward to seeing his team compete in division one for the first time since 2014, and with a new format of 10 in the top division and eight in the second - with two relegated and two promoted - was confident Northants could stay up.
But that opportunity never came, with the Covid-19 pandemic throwing a spanner in the works.
The 2020 Championship season was jettisoned, and instead a truncated five-match campaign named the Bob Willis Trophy was held, with the 18 counties being split into three regional conferences.
Last winter, with the pandemic still very much around and plenty of uncertainty, the ECB opted to stick to a conference system for 2021, but with the groups this time sorted out by a seeding system.
Northants were placed in Group Three and this week completed their 10-match section.
Having missed out on a top two finish, the County now go into the division two play-offs along with Glamorgan, Essex, Durham, Gloucestershire and Surrey to conclude their campaign.
Nothing has yet been decided on how the domestic red ball season will pan out for 2022, with the ECB stating 'a review and consultation is due to be held between the first-class counties, the ECB and other stakeholders regarding the men’s domestic structure for 2022 and beyond'.
But Ripley admits he is keen for the two division format originally put in place for 2020 to be reinstated.
The Northants coach has enjoyed this year’s Conference system, and the team has competed well in a tough section, but is not sure about the merits of the end of season play-offs for those teams not involved in division one and competing for the Championship title as well as the Bob Willis Trophy.
“Initially at the start of all this, I was more pro the two divisions,” said Ripley, when asked for his thoughts on this summer’s league format.
“I think that might have been a bit raw because we had got promotion to the top division, worked hard to get there, and then not had our chance.
“Then in the early round of games I thought the conference system was working reasonably well.
“But as we get to this stage, there are still four games to play and that is quite a lot of cricket.
“There will be no overseas player for us now, we are not going to bother, as we are in the middle league and I am not really sure whether finishing seventh or 10th is going to make a lot of difference to us.
“So I think that is where this system loses.
“If it were two divisions of the County Championship then I would imagine most of the games would have something at stake right up until the end of September.
“So going back to the two divisions would still marginally get my vote.”
Expanding on his reasoning, Ripley added: “Some of that is that we haven’t yet given the new two division format a chance yet.
“We had come across the structure of 10-8 (10 teams in division one, eight in two) which was better for teams getting out of that division, and gave the teams in the top division more chance of staying up.
“We haven’t seen how that would work yet, so if it was a good idea then I would suggest we should give it a go.
“That would be my thoughts as a coach, but the club itself might have a slightly different view.
“One of things we are concerned about, as a smaller club if you like, is losing players to the Test match ground counties.
“I think that will still happen because they will have the cash, but the lure of division one cricket and losing players, is maybe one of the ticks for the conference system.
“But if there are 10 teams in division one I would try to be one of the 10 in division one and keep our players that way.
“That is my early view on things.”
The 2021 Championship season now takes a break for the new Hundred competition and the Royal London One Day Cup, before returning at the end of August.
Northants will then play their remaining four matches to determine their finishing place in the final 2021 Championship table, which will be between seventh and 12th.
This year's format means the County will play once against the four teams that qualified from Groups One and Two, but won't play Glamorgan again, having already came up against them twice in the group stage.
The teams also all carry a points total into the play-off section, based on their results in the matches against the teams that qualified with them from their group.
So Northants and Glamorgan carry through half the number of points they accrued in the fixtures against each other in the group stage.
In Northants' case, having beat Glamorgan at home and drawn away, they carry over 16 points, having claimed 32 points overall, while the Welsh side carry over 11.5 points thanks to their 23-point haul.
That means that before a ball is bowled, Northants will start the division two play-offs in second place in the table, behind Essex who carry over 19 points courtesy of two group stage wins over Durham.
Then comes Northants (16), Surrey (13), Gloucestershire (12), Glamorgan (11.5) and Durham (4).