Cricket: Overseas players face long-term uncertainty: BBC keeps Tests but BSkyB takes one-day internationals

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IN time-honoured fashion, the brewing controversy over county imports reached a typically fudged conclusion yesterday when the Test and County Cricket Board declared a moratorium on the signing of overseas players to new contracts beyond 1996.

The stated reason for this was the failure of Lancashire, the prime movers, to lodge a formal proposal. This oversight prevented any substantive discussion, the upshot being that no decision will be made until the club chairmen reconvene in December. For the moment, none the less, Lancashire, caught cold after signing Wasim Akram to a five-year contract then losing him to Pakistan's tour of Sri Lanka, have got their wish.

In the meantime, while existing contracts will be honoured - such as the one designed to keep Carl Hooper at Kent until 1997 - new deals exceeding two years' duration will not be permitted.

Not that this is likely to present much of a problem in terms of ongoing negotiations. With 13 of this season's 18 imports being of Caribbean extraction, most of the counties are seeking short-term cover for next summer's tour by the West Indies. On that score Northamptonshire were frustrated on two counts yesterday, being turned down by both Shane Warne and Dion Nash.

Lancashire, or any other county of a similar disposition, have until the end of September to make a formal proposal. If Lancashire are so adamant on this issue, runs the obvious counter-argument, they should simply desist from signing anyone in future, rather than attempt to impose a blanket ban.

The general feeling among the counties, however, is that the status quo should be preserved, ie one registration per club. At yesterday's meeting, nevertheless, concern was expressed at the financial commitment - the total annual outlay is around pounds 700,000 - while Surrey, somewhat hypocritically, voiced their displeasure at being used as a finishing school in the case of Cameron Cuffy. Conversely, emphasised the board's chief executive, A C Smith, 'the right sort of chap has an important and benign influence on the other players in the side'.

The TCCB's talent for inertia, of course, does not extend to money, hence the pounds 60m, four-year television contract gleefully announced yesterday. Relief that Test match coverage will remain in the hands of the BBC - for all its recent faux pas - may be put into perspective by the know

ledge that there were no rival bids. Those who decline to nail a wok to the outside of their homes will be less pleased to discover that Sky are to assume live transmission of the Texaco Trophy one-day internationals.

With income from this source now trebled in comparison with the three-year deal that expires next month, the intention, avowed Brian Downing, the chairman of the TCCB marketing committee, was to invest a proportion in grass roots development. The board's Executive Committee has been assigned the task of recommending the extent of that proportion.

Graham Gooch has recovered from a hamstring injury and confirmed his fitness for the final Test at The Oval.

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