Snow flurries send new season into the pavilion

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The Independent Online

The opening day of the 2005 cricket season ended farcically when snow sent the players of the MCC and Warwickshire scurrying from the Lord's field and back into the warmth of a refurbished pavilion.

The opening day of the 2005 cricket season ended farcically when snow sent the players of the MCC and Warwickshire scurrying from the Lord's field and back into the warmth of a refurbished pavilion. Members of cricket's most famous club had gathered at 10am to watch Tom Graveney, the MCC President, officially reopen the Pavilion after its £8.2m face-lift, but by the end of a depressing day it was the newly installed central heating, and not the comfy leather chairs, that they were most grateful for.

Some hardy souls waited until the players walked on to the field at five o'clock, but before a ball could be bowled snow began to fall and play was abandoned for the day.

Just what the England and Wales Cricket board is attempting to achieve by organising games of cricket at this time of the year is difficult to comprehend. County cricketers complain that they play too much cricket in a season, even though the current fixture list gives them 20 more days to rest and perfect their skills than their counterparts 10 years ago.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, was not at the ground to watch an MCC side containing nine players who represented England A during the winter take on the county champions. But Fletcher will be pleased with the new powers he looks set to be given by the ECB, which will allow him to organise summer training camps for up to 25 of England's best cricketers. In the past the counties have been uncooperative towards him but as part of the ECB's new strategic plan he will have the power to get what he wants.

The ECB deserves criticism for the ridiculously early start to the season, but credit should be given for the way in which it is attempting to encourage counties to employ home-grown talent rather than cheap imports. This summer there will be more than 70 cricketers playing county cricket who are not qualified to play for the national side, and each year the number grows.

During the close season the ECB stated that it would hold back £50,000 of the £1.3m it hands out annually to the counties. By the end of 2007 this will have increased to 25 per cent.

European law prevents the ECB from discriminating against counties who choose to employ overseas cricketers qualified to work in England even though they are not qualified to play for Michael Vaughan's side. So in an effort to beat the system the ECB will offer financial incentives to counties in the hope this will tempt them to put England's cause ahead of their own.

A sum of approximately £20,000 will be awarded from the central fund to counties for each international player they produce, and further monies will be paid for providing the selectors with information about potential England players.

In an attempt to improve the quality of facilities at clubs around the country the ECB has set aside £5m, from which clubs will be able to borrow on an interest-free basis. These proposals, along with those concerning the game's governance, still need to be approved by the counties. An announcement will be made in 10 days' time.

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