Cricket: Dash of colour added to Sundays: Mike Rowbottom on why cricketers wore pyjamas before lunch at The Oval yesterday

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The Independent Online
SHORTLY after noon yesterday players from each of the 18 first- class cricket counties stepped sheepishly into a barrage of camera flashes wearing the luridly coloured pyjamas which will constitute the uniform of next season's newly constituted, all-singing, all-dancing Sunday League. We had seen the future - and its perks.

The vehicle which negotiated last season without a sponsor has now been boarded by AXA Equity and Law, who have promised what its marketing manager, David Thorley, estimates at around pounds 3.5m to the game over the next three years.

The company stresses that its involvement with the League, following the departure of Refuge Assurance last year, was not dependent upon the introduction of the coloured clothing with which the one-day game has become associated at international level. But as from next May, the garish, baseball-style garb which British television viewers saw during the last World Cup in Australia will become the height of fashion every Sunday in the ancient bastions of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire, everyshire.

At pounds 25.99 each ( pounds 19.99 for the kids) replicas of the new shirts - which blend county colours into three basic designs, and carry the county name on the front, the player's name on the back - are confidently expected to bring money pouring in to the clubs. The sportswear manufacturers, Hogger Sports, have already sold 85,000 replicas of the World Cup shirts.

A limited amount of the shirts - 1,000 per county - will be available before Christmas. Thereafter the additional items, such as the jerseys and baseball caps, will be put on the market in the lead-up to the start of the new League on 9 May.

Judging by the bashful demeanour of our models at The Oval yesterday, who paraded in front of the assembled media before forming an obedient team group, the squirm factor is likely to come into play for most county cricketers, certainly in the early days of familiarisation.

'When I first put on a strip of this kind for England I felt very uncomfortable for a couple of days,' Devon Malcolm, the Derbyshire representative at yesterday's jamboree, said. 'When my county colleagues wear these shirts I expect they will feel a bit stupid at first, just like I did. But you soon get used to it, and after a while it's great. Our players have been more concerned with the earlier starting times.'

Matches in the forthcoming Sunday programme - 50 overs per side with one white ball per innings - will run in general from noon until 7.0pm, although 11.0am starts will be made during September and for matches being featured by television. For the first time in four years, BBC's Sunday Grandstand is covering play, albeit on an occasional basis.

Is it likely that this brash new world will eventually become the norm within the other three major domestic competitions? Not at all, says the marketing manager of the Test and County Cricket Board, Terry Blake. 'We believe strongly that there is room in this great game for tradition and invention.' The sponsors will not argue with that. And as Leicestershire's model-for-the-day, James Whitaker, observed, manfully dealing with his avocado ensemble: 'It ain't going to change the way we play cricket.'

(Photograph omitted)

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