That Was The Decade That Was

A look back at the last 10 years of Division One throws up some interesting facts, and proudly leaves Somerset top of the tree

With the decade drawing to a close and its final cricket season completed it seems like an opportune time to look back at the County Championship over the last ten years. From a Somerset point of view it is a reflection of mixed emotions, no Championships but lots to be proud of with five second-placed finishes in ten years.

The interesting thing with any retrospective like this is that recency bias becomes a real factor. If you had asked me before I crunched the numbers who the best four teams of the last decade had been I would almost certainly have got Somerset and Yorkshire but Essex and Surrey would also have been a big part of the conversation

Counties such as Durham, Warwickshire, Notts and Middlesex who have finished the decade poorly suffer in this regard because their success was at the start of the decade.

But the underlying impression is that the County Championship has to date, despite the best efforts of the ECB to neuter it, remains in good health with plenty of competition, a large number of winners and plenty of mobility between the divisions. 

Whether the next decade will, when looked back on, show such a picture is unsure. If the agenda many suspects the board of pursuing of concentrating the power and success in the hands of the test match grounds is real this will not be the case. But for now, let’s reflect on what a wonderful decade we have just experienced. 

The table below summarises the results of each of the last ten years first divisions. The numbers in each column are the place finish in that year. For example, you can see Somerset’s second-place finishes in 2010, 2012, 2016, 2108 and 2019 denoted as “2”.

I have allocated 10 points to a team that was in division one in any season.

County Championship Division One 2010 – 2019

Proudly, unsurprisingly, Somerset sit at the top of the table. Remarkably the decade comprised five 2nd places, four 6th places and a solitary 4th place in 2011. A statistician would marvel at the low standard deviation of the ten-year performance. Somerset also are the only one of the fifteen teams who featured in division one in the decade not to have been relegated. A stat that is even prouder when you consider that the “Test Match Counties” have ten such ignominies amongst them. 

Yorkshire have arguably a better performance for the bulk of the decade but their relegation in 2011 scuppered their hopes of being the team of the decade. The six years following their return to the top division saw two titles, second and third-placed finishes and one fourth.

Warwickshire are the surprise package for me sitting third overall a view that is recency biased by their relegation in 2017 and second bottom finish last year. Prior to 2017 they had been consistently mid-table.  

The ultimate yoyo team is Lancashire. A title and a second-place were both followed by relegations and in all they “went down” three times in the decade, bouncing back up at the first time of asking each time. What odds on the Red Rose dropping back down again at the start of the new decade.

Middlesex started and finished the decade in division 2 but in between managed a second, a third and that travesty of a title in the contrivance that was 2016 while their south London neighbours spent half the decade in the lower tier before returning in 2016.

In total there have been eight different champions in the decade with Yorkshire and Essex taking the title twice each. Remarkably every one of those counties spent a combined 23 seasons in Division 2 over the same time span.

Essex’s lowly placing will surprise many. Their tenth place due to a run that saw them out of the division from 2011 to 2016 before the strong finish of two titles in three years.

Durham’s demise is clearly shown in this table. Having been a force to be reckoned with since the turn of the century they spent the period to 2016 in contention, winning once. But their fourth-placed finish in 2016 resulted in relegation following the ECB’s sanctions for the club’s financial difficulties. 

The inclusion of Derbyshire and Northants who both only spent one season in the top tier seems a little disingenuous. The “plaudits” for the consistently worst performers in the division go to Worcestershire with 3 relegations and one escape by one place in their four seasons in division one.