Cricket: Lord's contracts for top players

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S LEADING players will be contracted directly to Lord's as from next year after a compromise deal with the counties at last night's meeting of the First-Class Forum.

The Forum, consisting of the 18 first-class counties and the MCC, had been resistant to a proposal put forward by a review group led by the Sussex chairman, Don Trangmar, for international players to be contracted by the Board and allow them to have greater control over their workload. The counties' main complaint was over the compensation they would receive for each player being absent on England duty, with leading clubs like Lancashire and Surrey expecting to have anything up to four players contracted to Lord's.

The Board had hoped to settle the issue at yesterday's annual meeting, but instead the FCF has agreed to give "further consideration" to both the question of remuneration to players and payment to counties.

The Pakistani media leapt to the defence of Shoaib Akhtar yesterday following newspaper reports in Britain questioning the pace bowler's action. The News said "it was the tradition of the British media to make such accusations to disturb the visitors and to bring their morale down. Shoaib is the most lethal weapon in the World Cup and the rumours are being spread to disturb him mentally."

World Cup organisers promise a "short and sharp" opening at Lord's today. The Calcutta ceremony four years ago included fireworks and dancing, but this year's will last just 15 minutes.