THE County Championship will return to two divisions next season following a vote by the chairs of the 18 first-class counties.

The return to a two-division County Championship, after two COVID-affected seasons, will see the competition move to the 10:8 structure that was agreed by the counties prior to the pandemic.

Hampshire, who agonisingly missed out on this year's title, will form part of the 10-team top tier, with the bottom two clubs set for relegation.

Each county will play 14 matches in the season.

The England and Wales Cricket Board’s role ahead of this week’s vote has been to facilitate discussions between the first-class counties and provide the options available to them.

The priority of those discussions has been to determine when and how a return to the two-division structure – featuring 10 counties in Division One and eight in Division Two as agreed by counties following the 2018 Domestic Playing Programme (DPP) - could best be achieved.

The process to transition to that structure had begun during the 2019 County Championship. At the end of that season three counties were promoted from Division Two (Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire) while the last-placed Division One county (Nottinghamshire) was relegated.

A two-division County Championship has, however, not taken place since then due to COVID-19.

It has always been the intention of the first-class counties and the ECB to return to the two-division structure at the earliest opportunity.

After the first-class counties voted to change the format of men’s first-class cricket in 2020 and 2021 to mitigate against the impact of COVID-19, this week’s vote also considered the option to play one further year of the seeded group structure that was successfully staged this summer.

Although there was support from counties to use the 2022 season as a way to step back to a two-divisional structure, there was not the two-thirds majority that was required under the ECB Articles.

The County Championship will, therefore, be played in the new two-divisional structure from next season.

2022 Division One - Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire, Yorkshire.

2022 Division Two - Durham, Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Worcestershire.