Atherton and Willis in call for radical reform

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The Independent Online

Three months after expressing their dissatisfaction with the structure and quality of cricket in England, the Cricket Reform Group has announced its manifesto.

The group's objectiveis to make England the leading force in world cricket. In order to achieve this, the CRG - containing the former England captains Michael Atherton and Bob Willis, alongside Michael Parkinson, Nigel Wray and David Willis - wants to change the structure of the game radically.

At the top of their list is a three-division County Championship with the 18 counties split into groups of six, and a maximum of 14 professionals per county. The 10 first-class games played by each county would not clash with Tests and there would be a six-week period in the middle of summer where England and the counties play only one-day cricket. The number of centrally contracted England players wouldincrease to 24.

Minor counties would be absorbed by more powerful neighbours - Berkshire with Surrey for example - and these new areas would form the boundaries of recreational cricket premier leagues. The CRG wants the money saved from changes in the game to be used as a carrot to persuade the amateur game to adopt these plans. Each of the 180 clubs who gain premier league status would receive around £50,000 a year and their sides would contain many released ex-professionals.

"We're going to lobby government, the TV companies and the sponsors to try to make them see that our plans are far better for the game than the current ones in situ," said Willis.

"There needs to be a stepping stone between the current first-class system and the Test match team which has worked so well in rugby with the Zurich Premiership. We would also like to have far more interaction between the professional and recreational game. People would not have to be full-time professional cricketers to have a stab at first-class cricket."