The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced the full domestic fixture programme for 2017, and it includes an historic first full round of nine day/night matches in the Specsavers County Championship, all starting on Monday, June 26 with a 2pm start each day.
As well as Northants hosting Leicestershire, the other counties staging the matches are Essex, Hampshire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire in division one, and Durham, Glamorgan, Nottinghamshire and Sussex in division two.
The matches will be played with pink Dukes balls and the announcement breaks new ground for the County Championship, which has only featured one previous day/night match which was a trial game between Kent and Glamorgan at Canterbury in 2011.
The move is designed to help broaden the audience for the four-day game and also give England players an opportunity to experience the conditions ahead of another slice of history later in the 2017 summer when Edgbaston hosts the country’s first ever day/night Test match between England and West Indies on August 17.
The schedule sees 10 of the 18 first-class counties staging day/night matchess as West Indies will also have their chance to prepare for the Test at Edgbaston in a three-day match against Derbyshire from August 11-13.
“We were excited to announce a few weeks ago that Edgbaston will be staging an historic day/night Test, and it’s great that the counties, and the Specsavers County Championship, can also get involved,” said ECB chief executive officer Tom Harrison.
“It was important for us to arrange a full round of fixtures to give our England players the chance to experience the conditions.
“But just as we wanted to assess the impact of making Test cricket more accessible by changing the hours of play, the counties have really embraced the potential of Championship matches that stretch well into the evening when people have finished school or work.
“The early indications from Edgbaston are that day-night Test cricket is proving very popular, and hopefully it will be the same for the Specsavers County Championship now the fixtures are confirmed. There are some really attractive matches in the day/night round, and it will be fascinating to see how it works out.”
Meanwhile, Northants will begin their Specsavers County Championship Division Two campaign with a home game against Glamorgan that starts on Friday, April 7, before going to Derbyshire on April 14 and Worcestershire on April 21, with Worcester then coming to Northampton on May 26.
The County end their season with a trip to Leicestershire on September 25, with their final home game starting on September 19 against Nottinghamshire.
A change in scheduling for one-day cricket has seen the NatWest T20 Blast switched to an eight-week block in July and August, with the Royal London One Day Cup being brought forward to be played in April and May, with the final at Lord’s on Saturday, July 1.
The Steelbacks host reigning champions Warwickshire in their opening game on Thursday, April 27, and it will be a day/night game starting at 2pm.
Once again the Royal London One Day Cup sees two nine-team sections, and the top three teams in each will qualify for knockout stages which will be staged in mid-June.
The County also have home games against Worcestershire Rapids (Weds, May 3), Yorkshire Vikings (Weds, May 10) and Notts Outlaws (Tues, May 16).
Steelbacks’ away games are at Derbyshire Falcons (April 30), Lancashire Lightning (May 5), Durham Jets (May 7) and Leicestershire Foxes (May 12).
The Steelbacks will begin their defence of their NatWest T20 Blast campaign with a home game against Derbyshire Falcons on Friday, July 7.
Their other home group games are against Yorkshire Vikings (Tues, Jul 11), Worcestershire Rapids (Thurs, July 27), Birmingham Bears (Tues, Aug 1), Lancashire Lightning (Thurs, Aug 3), Leicestershire Foxes (Fri, Aug 11) and Durham Jets (Fri, Aug 18).
On the road, Steelbacks travel to Durham on July 9, Birmingham Bears on July 14, Leicestershire on July 21, Notts Outlaws on July 22, Derbyshire on July 28, Worcestershire on August 5 and Yorkshire on August 17.
“We are gearing up for a long, busy and exciting summer,” added Harrison. “We have two ICC world events with the Champions Trophy in June and the Women’s World Cup in July, and now county cricket will have a different rhythm.
“The Royal London One-Day Cup’s position earlier in the season means a Lord’s final in July rather than mid-September, and the NatWest T20 Blast will also have a very different feel, being played in a block of matches during the school holiday months of July and August.
”With eight teams in Division One and 10 in Division Two under the new structure of the Specsavers County Championship, and the Kia Super League returning for a second season after such a promising debut in 2016, there is so much to look forward to.”