Setback for ECB as another sponsor pulls out

The England and Wales Cricket Board expects to unveil a new sponsor for the County Championship before Christmas after PPP Healthcare yesterday announced that it is withdrawing from its contract after two years "for commercial reasons".

The England and Wales Cricket Board expects to unveil a new sponsor for the County Championship before Christmas after PPP Healthcare yesterday announced that it is withdrawing from its contract after two years "for commercial reasons".

The health company released a statement which read: "Our contract with the ECB was developed in a way that would enable us to review our participation after two years. For commercial reasons, we have decided to exercise our option and withdraw.

"Our decision has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with cricket, the state of the game in this country or the way it is organised by the ECB. We have had a very good working relationship with the ECB and derived many benefits from the sponsorship and wish them well in attracting a new sponsor."

The unexpected news has left the ECB without sponsors for three major competitions, after the NatWest Bank opted not to renew its contract to support the domestic limited-overs knock-out competition and the Cornhill insurance group decided against putting its name to any future Test series in this country.

The ECB must also line up a replacement for Benson and Hedges, its secondary limited-overs sponsors, because the tobacco company will be banned from sponsoring any event should Government legislation be pushed through Parliament.

However, the ECB director of corporate affairs John Read, refused to accept that the game is now in crisis and added that talks are under way with a number of organisations in an attempt to fill the gaps.

"We do not feel there is any problem making this sport attractive," he said. "We understand why PPP healthcare have withdrawn from their sponsorship."

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