England miss the ICC's party

Stephen Brenkley finds world cricket week has passed this country by
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The Independent Online

The ICC Cricket Week 2000 started yesterday. It is designed to pursue that usual objective, so beloved of the International Cricket Council: globalisation of the game. To this estimable end, television programmes will be shown throughout the world celebrating the game and its heritage.

A tournament for emerging nations including Scotland, Ireland, Kenya, Denmark and Holland will be played in Zimbabwe. This will depend on political conditions in the capital, Harare, but yesterday the ICC were intent on proceeding.

The week will culminate in a one-day match in Dhaka between an Asian XI led by Wasim Akram and an All Star Rest of the World XI which was to have been captained by Brian Lara, but will now have Mark Waugh at the helm, and in which England's representatives are Andrew Caddick and, somewhat surprisingly, Phil Tufnell.

The United Nations, no less, is officially backing the event and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan, who was, he said, an avid player when young, has sent a message of support.

While the attempt at conquering the world is underway and England's elite players are still jibbing at their contracts, the playing contribution to Cricket Week in this country will involve matches between Somerset and Oxford University at Taunton and Cambridge University and Lancashire at Fenner's. It is that time of year again, the start of the English cricket season.

In truth, it is not that time of year again, since the season will start earlier than ever, 7 April. For those who find it a laughing matter that the two universities should still be deemed worthy of launching the first-class season - and the paper strength of the two squads seems bound to provoke cries of "you cannot be serious" - it might be worth remembering that the Varsity Match, first played in 1827, is the oldest first-class contest.

The England and Wales Cricket Board, as is their wont, have been active. At their pre-season launch last Thursday, where neither Cricket Week nor the universities rated a mention, they displayed to the world a new form of the game known as Inter Cricket.

The name is nothing to do with Inter Milan or with convincing youngsters that they should be "inter" cricket, though the hope is that it might. Inter Cricket, which can be played indoors or outdoors with a minimum of six players a side, is a hybrid elder brother to Kwik Cricket. It uses a soft but seamed ball weighing the regulation 4.5oz and it swings and turns. Or the intention is that the 12 and 13 year olds who use it will swing and turn it.

Inter Cricket looks fun and skilful, it involves all who play and while it is unlikely ever to throw up any future internationals, all of whom should be playing the real, enduring thing at that age, it could easily stoke a passion. "Get them young," said Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the ECB, sounding as fervent as a Jesuit priest.

Both Lamb and the ECB chairman, Lord MacLaurin, defended the delay in the signing of central contracts and the impending two divisional County Championship. The chairman of Durham, Bill Midgeley, and the secretary of Glamorgan, Mike Fatkin, were wheeled on to affirm how vibrant the game is in their counties.

Lamb spoke of the scheme to sell Test match tickets at half price to under 16s (though it occurred that this might still be way too high if Zimbabwe do not adjust quickly to conditions) and of encouraging Asian cricket lovers. Lord MacLaurin stoutly defended the counties' rights to play as much cricket as they wanted, which is precisely what they are doing now the Benson and Hedges Cup has returned.

One other change this season: all those under 18 must wear helmets to bat and when they keep wicket standing up to the stumps. "It's a litigious world," said Lamb. Yesterday on Sky Sports 3 a programme called The Spirit of Cricket was being shown to coincide with Cricket Week 2000 and it will be on Channel 4 on Saturday.

It depicts several "inspirational stories illustrating the power of cricket to change lives." Not one of them, at this, the start of the English season, involves helmets.