Cricket: Stewart doubts two-tier system will lift standards

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The Independent Online
ALEC STEWART yesterday expressed concern about the merits of the proposal for restructuring the County Championship into two divisions, although he stressed the need to provide players with a better platform to make the transition from domestic to international cricket.

The First-Class Forum, comprising the 18 first-class counties and the MCC, will meet today to consider options for restructuring the domestic game before December's winter forum.

Many of the bigger counties believe the two-division format would lead to greater competition and an enhanced product for the England and Wales Cricket Board to sell to prospective television broadcasters.

Stewart, who was meeting the media at The Oval ahead of England's departure on the Ashes tour next week, believes the two-division proposal has its drawbacks.

"Two divisions, in my opinion, would not improve [the game] because you would have the same amount of cricket being played," he said. "If you reduce the number of games then the quality of cricket improves because you have more practice and rest days. If you reduce the number of games then the quality of cricket improves because you would have practice and rest days and each game is more of an occasion."

Stewart is particularly concerned at the failure of many of England's leading cricketers to make the transition into consistent international performers.

"I would like to see the gap between our domestic game and Test cricket made smaller because at the moment it is a huge gap. Our system produces probably the biggest gap in world cricket. If we can make that slightly smaller sooner rather than later then you will find the jump the players have to make is that much easier."

Stewart's opposition to two divisions is not shared by cricket supporters who come out heavily in favour of a two-tier set-up. In a poll, some 68 per cent favoured that structure, with 42 per cent liking the idea of regional cricket.

English cricket's leading counties have formed the Test Match Grounds Consortium to improve the staging of international games. The TMGC, which comprises Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Warwickshire, Yorkshire and the MCC, hopes to agree policies with the ECB for the staging of international cricket and the distribution of revenue.

The former Australian Test batsman Dean Jones has said that he is ready to fly to Pakistan and testify under oath in order to clear his name of match-fixing allegations made by the former Pakistan pace bowler, Sarfraz Nawaz. Sarfraz, appearing before the inquiry into match-fixing in Lahore, said that the Jones was forced to retire from international cricket because of an alleged involvement in bookmaking.