Cash reward for counties promoting England-qualified players

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The Independent Online

In an attempt to reduce the number of non-English cricketers playing for the counties, the England and Wales Cricket Board will, from 2005, financially reward those clubs who produce England players and regularly play cricketers who are eligible for the national side.

In an attempt to reduce the number of non-English cricketers playing for the counties, the England and Wales Cricket Board will, from 2005, financially reward those clubs who produce England players and regularly play cricketers who are eligible for the national side.

In the past three years there has been a sharp rise in the number of overseas cricketers playing professionally in this country. Indeed, in the summer of 2004 English counties employed 60 overseas players and more than 40 who are allowed to work freely in Britain because of agreements other countries have with EU member states.

Understandably these numbers - representing almost 25 per cent of professionals in England - and the apparent desire of counties to put their own needs ahead of those of the national side are a source of concern for those with more than a passing interest in the well-being of Michael Vaughan's side.

Past attempts to encourage counties to employ England-qualified players have failed and this has encouraged the ECB to push through firmer rules, which it had been afraid to bring in for fear of litigation.

In 2004 each of the 18 first-class counties received £1.35m in an annual hand-out from the ECB. Yet this will change in 2005. At the end of next summer each county will receive £1.3m, with the other £50,000 being put into a centrally controlled fund, an amount that is likely to increase over the coming years.

This will create a fund of £900,000, which will be distributed according to how counties meet criteria set by the ECB to encourage selection of players qualified to play for England.

The First Class Forum, the most powerful committee in English cricket, also agreed to the establishment of an England development squad of up to 25 players. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has for some time wanted central contracts for England's top 25 cricketers. Financial constraints have prevented this happening but this agreement - the group will be announced before the start of the 2005 season - should allow Fletcher to work closely with those near to international selection. Ironically though the FCF have decided to allow counties to employ two overseas players for the 2005 and 2006 season. Work that one out if you can.

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