pounds 200,000 for Ashes victory

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The Independent Online
A BONUS FUND of more than pounds 200,000 is on offer for England if they can bring back the Ashes this winter. England sponsors Vodafone have announced a performance bonus total of exactly pounds 200,000, mirroring the system in operation last summer against South Africa. The money will be divided among the team if they regain the Ashes from Australia in the series that starts in Brisbane today.

There will also be a pounds 3,000 individual Vodafone prize each for England's best bowler, batsman and fielder this winter - to be judged by the press.

Wisden, the cricket reference book, launched its first Australian edition yesterday with a surprise by naming Belinda Clark as Australian Cricketer of the Year.

Clark, who has captained the national women's team for the past five years, won the award ahead of the entire Australian men's team. Her recent achievements included winning the Ashes and the World Cup, in which she was player of the series, and setting a world record score of 229 not out in a one-day international.

"Clarke led Australia to a World Cup final win in Calcutta, scored a double century, and led the team on a successful campaign in England," Wisden noted. "She was the dominant player in Australia. Under her leadership the present Australian team has taken women's cricket to an altogether new level."

The England manager, Graham Gooch, said how Glenn McGrath's eve-of-Test comments about throwing down "a few looseners" to test Michael Atherton's bad back have fuelled the former England captain's desire to make an impression.

"Athers had a good net workout and looked very good to me," Gooch said. "He is as keen as anybody to get out there and get started, especially after what Glenn McGrath said. When anyone writes you down it gives you another incentive, so we'll be quite happy if the Australians carry on doing it."

But, apart from the sparring which inevitably accompanies run-ups to the Ashes, Gooch is pleased with England's progress. "We realise the importance of starting well here and also in Perth," he said. "On the last two tours we haven't got going until halfway through the tour and that's too late. We have steadily improved."

England had a late scare when Mark Ramprakash was hit on the funny bone by a short-pitched delivery from Dean Headley in the nets, but he quickly recovered to complete his morning work-out.