Cricket Diary: Merry-go-round of Board, bull and backers

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The Independent Online
SPONSORS are becoming harder to find in English cricket than genuinely fast bowlers or decent wrist-spinners (with due apologies to Devon Malcolm and Ian Salisbury). The lack of the first, of course, may be connected with the apparently growing shortage of the second.

It is possible that the uncertain destination of television rights may also be pertinent but whatever, or whoever, is at fault, the list makes discouraging reading. Put baldly, in the week that the England and Wales Cricket Board published their first annual report it was revealed that six substantial sponsors are still being sought (one presumes urgently) to assist the first-class game in 1999.

After 15 devoted but, in terms of brand indentity, ill-rewarded years, Britannic Assurance will no longer be associated with the County Championship. Axa Equity and Law, who have been around a considerably shorter time, during which they have seen the Sunday League turn into the Any Day Floodlit League, have also decided they have had enough.

This means that backers have to be found next season for the Championship, the new 50-overs National League and the Super Cup, which will consist of the teams who fill the top eight positions in the Championship.

Then, there is the World Cup. When plans were announced for this a year ago, eight global partners (ready with readies, naturally) were wanted. So far, there are five - NatWest, Vodafone, Pepsi, Emirates Airlines and a yet to be named big British company who may or may not be brewers. Thus, three are required.

ECB officials seem unconcerned. On Friday a member of the board's corporate affairs department described the mood as bullish. "We are in the advanced stages of negotiating a sponsor for the Championship and while we are less advanced for the National League, companies are approaching us, not the other way round," he said.

Specific sums are not being spoken of in public. The prize for the champions this year, for instance, is pounds 100,000, almost a 50 per cent increase on last year butchickenfeed compared with other sports. While the ECB man did not quite choke on his annual report when it was mentioned that pounds 1m might do wonders in generating player and public interest, he did not confirm they were seeking it either.

"Things will be clearer when the television rights have been sorted out and when we know whether Test matches are being de-listed." But the World Cup television rights are already known. The board's marketeers remain bullish.

THE ECB, aware of their wide-ranging reponsibilities, called their annual report Developing Cricket From Playground To Test Arena. The figures were superficially impressive and no mistake.

More people are playing cricket in England than ever before in the game's history: in Durham alone 224 primary schools are now teaching the game for the first time; in Oxfordshire there are 74 new groundsmen; and in Devon 87 people qualified as umpires.

The report also revealed that the ECB employed an average of 128 people (they did not say that this is more than in the game's history but it probably is and will certainly increase) who were paid total salaries of pounds 3.3m, an average of pounds 26,000. Why does it seem then that there are fewer pitches, fewer matches and fewer players?

THE BOWLER of the moment, unmentioned in the ECB Report, though destined for mentions everywhere else, is undoubtedly James Kirtley. His match- winning 7 for 29 for Sussex against Nottinghamshire was the fifth five- wicket haul of his career. He chooses his moments for these performances.

His first, 5 for 51, was for a TCCB Select XI in 1996, his second was for Mashonaland against Matabeleland and included Zimbabwe's second first- class hat-trick, his third was against England's touring team and included Mike Atherton, his fourth was against the eventual champions Glamorgan last summer and his fifth was achieved in front of the selectors' chairman, David Graveney.

BOOK MARK

"AN industrial tribunal decision in favour of a former member of staff gave rise to adverse publicity and impacted on the image of the board and cricket in general. The chairman of the board intervened to express regret on behalf of the ECB and brought the matter to an amicable resolution. He also... proposed the commitment of more resources to personnel management."

From the ECB report, public acknowledgement of a PR cock-up during the recent unfair dismissal case after one employee became pregnant to another and offered detractors the chance to say cricket was still in the backwoods.

Silly Point

THE chief executive of the ECB has outlined a vision for the future. This speaks of more clubs, of objectives for the Millennium and beyond, of much still needing to be done for the international side to achieve success and of the "tremendous opportunity through the World Cup to raise the profile of cricket. The success of the World Cup will play a significant part in determining the future of the game". Thus spoke Tim Lamb (right) last week. Back in 1983 when he was still known to his mates as Tiger (Lamb, geddit?) he was concerned with other matters. He listed eight opinions on cricket which included that he was yet to be convinced about the worth of managers, that covers had not helped him and that they should improve the lunches at Southampton.

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