Published: 16:56, 12 February 2019
| Updated: 17:18, 12 February 2019
Hartley Country Club have pulled out of the Kent Cricket League Premier Division less than three months before the start of the season.
They won promotion back to the top tier last year but their 1st and 2nd XIs will play down in Division 5 this summer.
Hartley's decision has prompted a major league reshuffle with last season's third-placed teams all being moved up a division.
A league statement said: "It has now been confirmed to the KCL Management Committee (MC) that Hartley Country Club have resigned their current status in the KCL structure with immediate effect. This applies to both existing 1st XI and 2nd XI playing at the higher echelons within the KCL structure.
"It has now been agreed that Hartley Country Club 1st XI and 2nd XI will re-enter the KCL at the bottom of the structure - Divisions 5 - in effect as a new club, to ensure that the KCL remains with 120 teams for the forthcoming season. Hartley 3rd XI and 4th XI teams in the Kent Regional League will resign with immediate effect.
"As a result of this decision, as it stands, both Premier Divisions of the KCL structure only have nine teams, which clearly needs to be addressed.
"As a pre-requisite of the ECB, and to ensure that we don't lose vital funding, it is imperative that our flagship divisions have a full complement of teams, and the MC have made the executive decision to promote teams from the divisions below, in agreement with these clubs, to ensure that the vacancies are filled from top to bottom of both the 1st XI and 2nd structures.
"The MC has considered extremely carefully the options as to promotion and relegation created by the resignation of Hartley CCCC. It has been unanimously decided that the preferred choice is that the third-placed team should be promoted to the division above rather than reprieving the ninth-placed team from relegation. These movements would apply throughout all of the relevant divisions. There are arguments both ways but the over-riding belief of the MC is that across the whole league there is a stronger argument for this approach based on the momentum of clubs on the way up compared to clubs on the way down.
"You will note that these are extremely exceptional circumstances, and the KCL Management Committee have a duty of care to ensure that any such changes are in the best interests of the league as a whole."
Hartley have been the league's most successful club of recent times, winning six Premier Division titles between 2008 and 2016.