Yorkshire aggrieved by loss of key players

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The Independent Online

Sometime in the next few days, the Headingley crowd will heave its collective chest in pride as three, possibly four, Yorkshire players take the field to represent their country against the West Indies. Less obvious, though, except perhaps to teetotallers on the Western Terrace, will be the private representations being made about them by Yorkshire to the England coach Duncan Fletcher.

Sometime in the next few days, the Headingley crowd will heave its collective chest in pride as three, possibly four, Yorkshire players take the field to represent their country against the West Indies. Less obvious, though, except perhaps to teetotallers on the Western Terrace, will be the private representations being made about them by Yorkshire to the England coach Duncan Fletcher.

The county v country debate is never far from the surface in English cricket and Fletcher's decision to rest all England players involved in the winter's Test and one-day series for the climax of the domestic season has angered many. For Yorkshire, second in the Championship, that means losing Darren Gough and Craig White for a competition they last won in 1968.

Gough, a dyed-in-the-wool Tyke, has said in the past that he wants to play for Yorkshire whenever possible, but yesterday he chose to tread carefully. "I'd rather not say 'owt," he said with a glint in his eye that suggested there might be something brewing.

Common sense will hopefully prevail. Gough is a precious asset whose protection is as important as his deployment. If Yorkshire are in with a real chance of winning the Championship they should have his services. If not he should be allowed to put his feet up. The same goes for White.

Privately, the White Rose county are seething over having to fight for what they see as their players' services, particularly after central contracts were voted in, a move many counties still regard as a gesture of goodwill towards the national side. Given that heaven and earth also had to be moved for the clubs to pass a two-divisional championship you can see how the absence of Test players demeans county cricket and destroys everything clubs such as Yorkshire are trying to achieve.

You can see their point but with the England and Wales Cricket Board holding the purse strings there is little they can do in the short-term except appeal to Fletcher's better nature. Two seasons as Glamorgan's coach means that he will at least have empathy with Yorkshire's demands, if not sympathy.

Like Lady Thatcher in her Tory pomp, Fletcher will probably not be for turning. England are involved in a one-day tournament in early October. After that, tours to Pakistan and Sri Lanka beckon, with a six-week break over Christmas separating the two. As a coach who believes rest is a crucial part to preparation, Fletcher will want his players to be fresh.

If central contracts are to persist, striking a fair balance is the challenge that faces the parties concerned. Another Test host county, in response to claims by the Sussex chairman, Donald Trangmar, that the counties are about to revolt believes that the ECB hierarchy has a secret agenda to trim the domestic structure down to 14 counties - something yesterday denied by Tim Lamb, the chief executive of ECB.

The county contends that Test players must play in the domestic game. "As a catalyst, we must have international cricketers playing in the county game, otherwise there is no point in playing it. To do that we will have to reduce the county fixtures and work around the international programme," said the senior administrator of another northern county.

One county seemingly determined to have their Test players available as often as possible is Hampshire, who yesterday withdrew Alan Mullally from the England squad. Mullally, who played for his county on Monday, apparently strained his thigh, though no mention was made of such an injury in press reports.

Far more likely is that, having bowled his socks off for Hampshire over the last fortnight, Mullally is in dire need of a rest. So instead of joining England and being a net bowler for two days - as implied by the chairman of selectors David Graveney when the squad was first selected - it would not be surprising if Hampshire have asked him to find a niggle and pull out. If that were the case it would be the first occasion a county has rested a player from England duty.

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