Cricket: New generation on their guard against colour prejudice: Derek Hodgson casts a critical eye over the new menu on the ever-changing county bill of fare

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WHEN Richard Adler and Jerry Ross wrote their 1955 hit The Pajama Game they could never have imagined the title being applied to English county cricket; but then, Richard Rodgers went to his grave unaware that a song from Carousel, 'You'll Never Walk Alone', had won hymn-like status in English football.

The AXA Equity & Law League, as the new Sunday competition is now named, will be played in coloured uniforms, the most obvious one of several major changes this summer that might point to cricket's future. Traditionalists may be appalled but if the British public, particularly the young, follow their counterparts around the world then a garish, faster, more strident game it will become, the final transfer from meadow to city street. More than 80,000 coloured replica shirts have already been sold - to adults. Childrens' sizes are only now coming on sale.

Paradoxically, the Sunday League should, on paper, provide a better standard of cricket; each match will be played over 50, rather than 40 overs, there will be no restrictions on run-ups and the fielding regulations will follow World Cup lines, no more than two fielders outside the circle for the first 15 overs, virtually ensuring an eventful start. A white ball and a black sightscreen is a somehwat pointless innovation originally devised for floodlit cricket.

The other major sponsors remain conservative over whites but the Benson and Hedges Cup has abandoned the zonal system, giving players a less hectic beginning to the season. County treasurers are less happy at the thought of being out of the competition without the recipts from a home match. The NatWest Trophy is unchanged in context but has a new competitor, Wales, who, unfortunately, will have to dispose of Sussex and possibly Hampshire before they have a chance of eliminating Glamorgan. The winners will receive pounds 30,000.

The other major change for 1993 is the four-day match schedule for the Britannic Assurance Championship. For the first time since 1868 there will be only one Roses match this summer although the Tykes, mortified at the thought of losing all that cash, have arranged a 'friendly' for Headingley.

While more than a few traditions will be upset, the four-day competition will mean that the Championship should settle down into a fairer contest, each county playing each other the once and, over four days, the better team should win. The three- day game on covered pitches had too often become a farce.

There are changes, too, to the playing regulations: the first batting bonus point arrives at 200, not 150, with further points at 250, 300 and 350; the number of overs available for batting and bowling points has been increased from 100 to 120 but the new ball will remain available after 100. The beamer is banned; any ball that would have passed a batsman at shoulder height, standing upright, will be called a no-ball and a no-ball will now cost two runs, instead of one.

There are changes, too, in the prize- money for the first full four-day season. An increase of 31 per cent in the total available means that the champions will receive pounds 47,500, the runners- up pounds 23,750 and the third-placed county pounds 13,750. The winners of each game will receive pounds 600.

Changes also for the spectators. The modified rain-check system means that a spectator paying for international cricket in advance will receive a full refund if there are fewer than 10 overs bowled during the day and a 50 per cent refund if there are between 10 and 25 overs bowled.

BBC televison keeps its grip on first-class cricket and will also televise some Sunday games. The major Sunday broadcaster, BSkyB, had not reached agreement with the TCCB up to Easter but the Board is confident the Pajama Game will have a strong presence on screen.

Lancashire announced yesterday that the first Texaco one-day international against Australia on 19 May is a sell-out at an Old Trafford ground where, with the addition of a new two- tier, pounds 800,000 stand, the capacity has risen to 21,500. Cricket manager David Hughes, welcoming a four-day Britannic Championship, predicted: 'We can probably win it. The extra day, given the quality of our team and the Manchester weather, may be the difference between winning and drawing matches.' Lancashire also appeared for the first time in their cherry-red Sunday League kit, their captain, Neil Fairbrother, observing: 'The boys are highly delighted with it, although they accept that under the new rules it will mean that Sunday is another long hard day.'

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