1996: The shape of things to come

Cricket: New rules, new regimes
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The Independent Online
Derek Hodgson

The change that has been breezing through English cricket will work up into a good blow in 1996. Definite are the alterations in the Benson and Hedges Cup, the reduction of mandatory overs in the County Championship and the establishment of the English Cricket Board. To come, from 1997: the start of Championship matches on Wednesdays and, probably, a further unification of the one-day regulations.

The Benson and Hedges Cup will now be played over 50 overs with one 45- minute interval, a sensible alteration that will nevertheless bring some convulsive changes in the packing of refreshment baskets.

Championship days will be reduced to 106 overs (96 on the last day), another sensible alteration now that a match lasts four days. A Wednesday start will mean that matches will finish on a Saturday, not popular with the public but sponsors will be happier and the players will be delighted not to have a Championship match interrupted by a Sunday League scramble.

The English Cricket Board, the replacement for the Test and County Cricket Board, with new purpose-built offices at Lord's, was to have been in place this month but its inception has been delayed until March, at least. It was impossible for some first-class counties to win agreement on a new structure in the time allowed.

Major changes will begin at Lord's with the reconstruction of the Grandstand and the erection of a dazzling new Media Centre at the Nursery End, both to be completed by 1998.

Two of the great under-achievers of recent times, Surrey and Yorkshire, will start under new regimes. Surrey have appointed, under a new chief executive and new chairman, a new coach: the popular leader of the Young Australians here last summer, Dave Gilbert.

Yorkshire have a new cricket chairman and a new captain, David Byas, and have advertised for a new manager. Brian Close has applied and so, it is reported, have two other former captains, John Hampshire and Phil Carrick.

Can Warwickshire, as champions, win a third successive title with a third overseas professional? Allan Donald is cruising in the Lancashire League, Brian Lara is not coming back. Is Shaun Pollock the next megastar at Edgbaston?

Northamptonshire have to resolve an argument with Middlesex over their new coach, John Emburey. Middlesex will contest his right to play again.

England, under the joint directorship of the Farsley Fox and Iron Mike, should not lose to the summer visitors, India and Pakistan, but with six Cornhill Tests and six Texaco internationals once again the Championship will be left in the shadows.

It should, above all be a summer of spin. Anil Kumble and Mushtaq Ahmed will lead the invasion at Test level and among the counties, after the adjustment to four-day play has been completed, the value of spin on four- day pitches is now appreciated.

Spinners to watch: Umer Rashid (Middlesex), Jason Searle (Durham) and Gary Keedy (Lancashire. Quick bowlers to make a name: Chris Silverwood (Yorkshire) and Alex Tudor (Surrey). The first new Test cap: Dean Headley (Kent).

PREDICTION: England to win the World Cup.