Cricket: Smaller counties launch new format

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The Independent Online
MINOR COUNTIES cricket unveils the launch of an expanded MCC Trophy this weekend. The one-day competition that boasts the carrot of a Lord's final has undergone a radical facelift in the wake of the England and Wales Cricket Board's "Raising the Standard" initiative. It has absorbed the 18 first-class Board XIs, minus Glamorgan but plus Huntingdonshire, to become a 38-county competition and has been split into eight regional qualifying groups.

The first group games, now 60 overs apiece, are in the South West tomorrow when Devon play Dorset at Budleigh Salterton and Cornwall meet Somerset at Taunton.

In the championship, played over two days and still the exclusive domain of the 20 Minor Counties, each team will play three of their nine matches under grade rules. This is a two-year experiment in which three games will be one-innings contests of 120 overs each, with a provision for outright wins in the event of the first innings finishing early. But the playing conditions include a points scoring system that deducts points for conceding runs and losing wickets in the second innings.

There are four new Minor Counties captains in 1998. Cambridge blue Roger Clitheroe has replaced Philip North at Wales, ex-Middlesex batsman Jason Harrison is Tim Scriven's successor at Buckinghamshire and Bryan Jones has taken over from Ian Payne at Shropshire. Cambridgeshire's Nigel Gadsby has also stood down, handing the reins to Ajaz Akhtar.

Durham have added Simon Brown to their squad for the first time this season for today's Benson and Hedges Cup tie against Yorkshire at Headingley. He has been ruled out by a knee injury but has played in the three-day second XI match against Gloucestershire which ended yesterday.