Specsavers Championship 2019 fixtures: Surrey start defence against Essex

Surrey's players celebrate with the Championship trophy Getty Images

Defending champions Surrey will host Essex, who lifted the Specsavers Championship in 2017, in their opening match of the 2019 season - a repeat of their encounter in the final round of last season, when Essex scraped a dramatic one-wicket win despite taking a 410-run lead on first innings.

The first round of the Championship will begin on April 5, equalling the earliest start to a county season, although Surrey will not be in action until the following week. Kent, back in Division One for the first time since 2010, start with a trip to Taunton to play Somerset, while Division Two winners Warwickshire's first game will start on April 11 against Kent - another replay of their final game of 2018.

Lancashire and Worcestershire, the two teams relegated from Division One, will commence life in the second tier away to Middlesex and Leicestershire respectively.

Two rounds of Championship fixtures will be held before the Royal London Cup kicks off on April 17, with the group stage running for the next three weeks. The final, the last to be held at Lord's before the 50-over showpiece moves to Trent Bridge in 2020, takes place on May 25.

With the World Cup being held in England, and due to run for seven-and-a-half weeks from May 30, the domestic focus will switch back to the Championship for a two-month block, before the Vitality Blast* begins in mid-July. The Blast group stage finishes on August 30, but Finals Day has been pushed back to September 21 due to the Ashes, with the final Test scheduled for September 12-16.

The Kia Super League, the women's domestic T20 competition, will begin on August 6 with all six sides in action. Finals Day will again be held at Hove, on September 1.

Due to the crowded fixture list, several counties will return to rarely frequented outgrounds: Hampshire have a Championship fixture on the Isle of Wight, Yorkshire will play in York and Nottinghamshire are set to take first-class cricket to Nettleworth.

There will only be one round of the Championship in August, continuing a trend of first-class matches being played outside the height of summer, with the competition being concluded once again amid the chill of autumn: the final matches will begin on September 23.

The 2019 season will be the last with an eight-ten split between Divisions One and Two of the Championship. Three teams will be promoted from the second tier, with only one going down, meaning from 2020 there will be ten teams in Division One and eight in Division Two.

* 1700 GMT - This story was updated with confirmation of Vitality Blast fixtures