CRICKET IN CRISIS : Focus abroad is on national teams

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The Independent Online
There are two essential differences in the way in which the first- class game is played in England and abroad: the structure and the weather.

England are the only Test match country playing in the northern hemisphere, which means cricket is confined to, at best, six months and often played in dews, damps and icy winds. Abroad youngsters can exercise, train, practise and play in a more conducive climate for longer periods. They mature more quickly and perhaps for historical reasons are more fixated upon the national rather than the club team.

English first-class cricket is based on 18 county clubs. Nowhere else are there more than eight per country.

In Australia, the major competition, the Sheffield Shield, is fought out by six states playing over four days and with the recent added refinement of a play-off. The Australian Cricket Board is reported to regard the Shield, cold bloodedly, as fulfilling "a development role".

The South Africans, as expected, have gone hell for leather for international fixtures on their return. Eight provinces still compete for the Castle Cup, but that narrow base might have to be expanded as township teams develop.

West Indies cricket is based on the traditional five islands plus Guyana, and as each is also a nation state, politics is never very far away. West Indies have to be internationally minded both as a raison d'etre and a profitable concern. Domestic rivalry, while fierce, has to be subordinate to the needs of the Caribbean team.

New Zealand cricket evolved from six districts producing a programme of 18 first-class matches played over four days but the significant development has been the huge swing towards one-day play. A National Academy has been established in Christchurch.

India's millions compress their leading competition into the Duleep Trophy, competed for by only five zones, each playing four matches, while the Ranji Trophy, in which a zonal three-day competition becomes a knock-out competition at the quarter-final stage played over four days.

In Pakistan, there is a simple eight-club competition played over four days for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, and being a newer nation the focus is almost entirely on the national team, whose success or failure is deemed to reflect upon the country; politics is everywhere.

Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe could be said to be evolving downwards, a structure being built at club level to develop players for the national side. In Sri Lanka, identities can be blurred, Western Province City played Western Province North in a recent title play-off; Zimbabwe has only just established a first-class tournament, the Logan Cup, involving four teams playing over four days.



Six states

First class: Sheffield Shield - Each state plays 10 games

Limited Overs: Mercantile Mutual Insurance Cup - 50 overs; round robin, followed by final


Eighteen counties

First class: County Championship - each side plays 17 matches

Limited overs: NatWest Trophy - 60 overs, knockout; Benson and Hedges Cup - 55 overs, zonal matches, quarter-finals, semi-finals, final; Sunday League - each side plays 17 matches


Five zones

First class: Duleep Trophy - round robin of 10 matches for each zonal side. Beneath that comes the Ranji Trophy, with 27 teams divided into the five zones (three of five teams, two of six). League basis, top three through to knockout stage of five-day matches

Limited overs: Deodhar Cup - 50 overs


Six regions

First class: Shell Shield - each side plays five games

Limited overs: Shell Cup - 50 overs, round robin, play-offs, final


Eight regions

First class: Quaid-e-Azam Trophy - each side plays seven matches. Takes place in the second half of the season; teams selected from the nine club/sponsored sides of the top division of the Patron's Trophy who play eight matches, followed by semi-finals and a final.

Limited overs: Wills Cup - 17 teams, 50 overs


Six provincial sides

First class: Singer Inter-Provincial - Each side plays five matches. Sides drawn from the eight teams in the two groups of the P Saravanamuttu Trophy club competition


Eight provinces

First class: Castle Cup - each province plays seven games. Beneath that is the UCB Bowl, composed of 12 teams from the smaller provinces and the B teams of the top sides in two divisions. They play five games each.

Limited overs: the Benson and Hedges series - 50 overs, day-night matches


Six island sides

First class: Red Stripe Cup - each side plays five games

Limited overs: Geddes Grant Shield - 50 overs, round robin, followed by final


Four provincial sides

First class: Logan Cup - each side plays three matches. Plus a Zimbabwe side plays in the UCB Bowl in South Africa