Cricket: Hopes are high for two divisions

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The Independent Online
IN LESS time than it takes an England side to lose an Ashes Test, 110 years of County Championship tradition is likely to go out the window. The 18 first-class counties and Marylebone Cricket Club meet over the next two days at Lord's to decide among other things whether the competition first set up in 1890 should enter the 21st century as a two-divisional entity.

Last year the concept of a two-tier championship was thrown out; this time around the indications are that many have changed their minds and the summer of 2000 should see a new-look competition.

Tim Lamb, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board said yesterday: "The indications are that there are more counties in favour now than there were a year ago. Counties generally feel a little bit more comfortable with the idea."

But it is not cut and dried. The Kent secretary, Brigadier Stuart Anderson, sounded a warning note last night when he said: "I think the majority view from Kent is likely to support a two-tier competition, but it is conditional." And those conditions would be firstly, an equal share of ECB funds regardless of which division a county was in, and secondly, that existing registration regulations remained in place, thus discouraging players from gravitating to first division counties and denuding the lesser lights of all vestiges of talent.

There is also a proposal to change the points awarded in the Championship to encourage sides to fight harder for at least a draw. The proposal is for a win to be worth just 12 points - a reduction of four from the present 16. A draw would increase in value by one to four points, with batting and bowling bonus points remaining the same.

There is the tricky question of England players being contracted to the ECB; counties will be keen to know how great the financial compensation would be for the loss of their crowd-pullers and match- winners.