National club league planned

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A company whose previous joust with headlines involved the launch of the double-sided bat in 1991 yesterday pre-empted the spring meeting of the Test and County Cricket Board and that body's talk of restructuring English cricket.

Pundits have pinpointed the competitive strength of Australian grade clubs, the level below first class, as the great difference in the respective development of the two countries' young cricketers. The Classic Bat Company, of Bristol, proposes to level the playing field by launching a grade-style league backed by a five-figure sponsorship in 1996.

The Club Cricket League will be played in eight regions, the winners entering a knock-out tournament. Matches will take place, as in Australia, over two days on successive Saturdays. One club, Eastbourne, have already enquired. The managing director of Classic Bats, John Courtney, said the league was being launched in conjunction with the Sports Match Scheme, in which the Government pledges £1 for every £1 raised privately. "This could lead to further restructuring such as the funding of a cricket academy," he said. "All we need now are clubs keen to play two-day cricket and a league administration."

A fellow director, Chris Broad, once of England, added: "The benefits are obvious. Bowlers can set attacking fields. Batsmen need not give their wickets away."

Phil August, Gloucestershire's chief executive, believes that young players unused to a longer game would be helped to make the transition by the new league. "There is a certain merit in the one-day game but limited overs do mean limited cricket," he said.