Cricket: England phone up pounds 13m record deal

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The Independent Online
On the day the English Cricket Board announced that Vodafone, the mobile phone company, is to become the sport's largest-ever sponsor, the England vice-captain said some strong words on the state of the domestic game.

The pounds 13m deal, which will help to fund the English game between now and the end of the Ashes in 2001, includes a wide range of cricketing competitions. Vodafone will sponsor the England team for all home and away Test matches, one-day internationals and overseas games on official tours starting this winter.

They will also sponsor the England A team at home and away, the England women's team for five years, and Vodafone Challenge matches between the counties and overseas touring sides for four years from 1998.

Nasser Hussain, the England vice-captain on the winter tour to Zimbabwe and New Zealand, yesterday called for English cricket to get rid of its "dead wood" in order to improve standards. It has long been argued that county cricket is not competitive enough to produce top-class players who can compete at international level. Hussain yesterday backed up that statement as he prepared for the start of the new season.

Hussain, one of the successes of the winter tour, said: "I think the county scene is not far away from what we need. But I think there is quite a bit of mediocrity and people hanging on just because it's a job for them, and county cricket is not as elitist as some people would like.

"There's too much cricket, that's for sure, and a lot of boring, non- effective cricket from July onwards. But what I won't have is people saying that we don't have good cricketers - because there are some good cricketers out there.

"If you look at the A and Under-19 teams, they've always been successful and the key is getting these people through the ranks and into first teams as quickly as possible. Rather than getting in the sides at 21 or 22, they should be in at 18, so counties can get rid of some of the dead wood."

Nick Knight, the England opening batsman, has declared himself fit to face Australia in the Ashes series this summer. Knight, 26, cracked a knuckle in his left hand while batting in the fourth one-day international against New Zealand in Auckland three weeks ago.

Speaking yesterday at the Vodafone launch, Knight said: "I might miss the first week or two of the season, but I hope to be all right to play against Australia. The finger still looks a bit unpleasant but it feels fine."

Alan Wells, the former Sussex captain, is to be given an invitation to become a vice-president at Hove three months after leaving the county to join Kent. The honour is in recognition of Wells's 18 years of service.