Sport England's threat to withdraw millions of pounds of funding from cricket should the game fail to revolutionise the structure of county cricket by March 2004 was greeted with surprise by David Morgan, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.
"The March ultimatum is complete news to me," Morgan said, while watching England lose to Sri Lanka by an innings and 215 runs in Colombo. "Tim Lamb [the ECB chief executive] and I had a breakfast meeting with Patrick Carter and Roger Draper, the chairman and chief executive of Sport England, which was very amicable. We talked about the things we were doing and about the ECB being an organisation that has reform high up on its list of objectives. They concluded from our meeting that come the early part of next year we would be even more fit for purpose than we are currently."
Cricket is one of Sport England's top 10 priority sports and receives approximately £6m of funding each year, but it appears they are becoming frustrated with the way the game is run. They would like to see the ECB streamline itself. This, they believe, would end the culture which prevents change because of vested interest and allow the right decisions for the future of the game to be made.
Cricket has been put under greater pressure to sort itself out after England's success in the Rugby World Cup and Sport England feels the structure of the domestic game is one of the main reasons why England fail to beat Australia or compete in World Cups.
"The threat of losing Sport England's money worries me," Morgan said. "But I don't think it is a serious threat because I genuinely believe they are happy with the direction in which we are moving."
Draper is said to be impressed with the manifesto put forward by the Cricket Reform Group, who met the ECB for the first time in November. "There are many things that I agree with the CRG on," Morgan said. "I agree with slimmer county staffs. Why do many counties employ 28 players when Sussex have won the championship with a staff of 18?"
Morgan intends to have a meeting with the chairman of Sport England in the New Year to pick up on points made by its chief executive.
* Morappakkam Gopalan, the world's oldest surviving Test player, died in Madras yesterday. Records had his date of birth as 6 June 1909, but he said in an interview two years ago that his school had mistakenly listed him as three years younger than his true age. He took one wicket and scored 18 runs in his only Test, the second game of the 1933-34 home series against England in Calcutta.Reuse content