Early chance to catch up on Sri Lanka

Derek Pringle considers the new-look Benson and Hedges Cup, starting today
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The start of today's round of Benson and Hedges zonal matches sees the introduction of a new format that mirrors the one used in the recent World Cup. If the chairman of selectors, Ray Illingworth, really wants to show that he is not the cricketing fossil many suspect, the hunt for England's Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka's explosive pinch hitter, must start too.

Trimmed to 50 overs per side, and with fielding restrictions in place for the first 15 overs - when only two fielders are allowed outside the 30 yard circle - the new-look competition ought to enliven tactics and, especially in the wake of Sri Lanka's bold approach, offer fresh challenges to batsmen and bowlers alike.

By winning the World Cup, Sri Lanka showed just what can be achieved by batsmen prepared to keep taking risks. Their performance gave many the impression that this was a new form of the one-day game when in fact it has been played by England in Australia ever since 1982, and the Sunday League flirted with its charms a few seasons ago.

In fact, almost a decade before his ambition to be a selector Ian Botham carved himself a niche as a peerless pinch hitter for England, when he flayed many an opening bowler during the Perth Challenge and World Series of 1986-87. With this summer's six one-day internationals being played under the same rules, the experiments must start soon.

What the latest changes have done is to revolutionise the start of an innings, which conventionally - at least in England - was used to build a solid foundation for the frenzied thrash of the final 10 overs. What the more audacious sides have done is turn the game on its head, making exceptional scores of 270 or more seem commonplace by bookending the innings with ferocious hitting.

What Illingworth and his selectors must do is encourage batsmen like Alistair Brown and Adam Hollioke of Surrey, who play Hampshire at the Oval, to use the formidable striking skills up the order and use them for England. It is a role in which Nottinghamshire's Paul Johnson has regularly excelled, and one which judging by his continued non-selection for his country, one of which the selectors have been terminally unaware.

However, whether or not the same kind of scores are possible on English pitches, which are not quite so dismissive of seam bowlers as their India and Pakistan counterparts, remains to be seen, although the limitation to five fielders on the leg-side, will hinder the attempts of off-spin bowlers to keep the runs down by firing the ball at leg-stump.

A fired-up Phillip DeFreitas is what Derbyshire hope they will see against Durham at Chesterfield. The World Cup all-rounder missed the opening first- class fixture at Fenner's following an elbow operation but is now fit to form a three-pronged pace attack alongside his England colleagues Devon Malcolm and Dominic Cork.

England hopeful Richard Johnson is included in the Middlesex side to face Somerset at Lord's after recovering from a shoulder strain.

Worcestershire's former England paceman Phil Newport is likely to miss the whole of the county's zonal programme because of a back injury sustained during a pre-season tour of Barbados.

Lancashire will give fitness tests to their World Cup pair Peter Martin and Neil Fairbrother before beginning their defence of the Cup against the Minor Counties at Old Trafford.

Martin hurt his right shoulder in the 40-over friendly against Yorkshire on Sunday, while Fairbrother is two games into a comeback from his latest hamstring injury.

The New Zealander Chris Cairns has been included in Nottinghamshire's squad for their game against Yorkshire, even though it could stir up trouble with his national officials. The all-rounder pulled out of New Zealand's tour of the West Indies because of a side strain. He is keen to play as a specialist batsman.