Super league threat in county game

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The Independent Online
English county cricket could become the latest sport to adopt a super league, unless some of the smaller counties accept the need for change.

A key report on the game's future is due next month, and may propose the establishment of a three-tier county system. The smaller counties would almost certainly reject such a radical plan, but if they do the larger counties, such as Warwickshire, Surrey, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire may consider forming a breakaway league.

When the word "breakaway" is uttered administrators tend to mutter "impossible" but the possibility is not entirely excluded. "It's unlikely," one agreed, "but if we don't move to put the game into a modern shape for the next century someone like Rupert Murdoch might come along, as he has in rugby league, and do it for us. There has to be more money for the players and there has to be sharper competition, attracting greater public interest to justify television coverage, in the Championship."

The larger clubs, which provide 72 per cent of the gross income, are growing increasingly frustrated that they have only 30 per cent of the voting control. With £58.5m to be divided in the next four years from television income from BBC and BSkyB, there is a growing feeling that the smaller counties cannot stand in the way of change for ever.

Professional cricket in England is currently administered by the Test and County Cricket Board, composed of the 18 first-class counties plus MCC and the Minor Counties. That body, while rejecting proposals to split the Championship into two divisions, has agreed to the setting up of an English Cricket Board to govern all domestic cricket.

The Board is one of a number of bodies which has been invited to submit proposals on the future of the domestic game and its report, which , it is hinted, will be explosive.

One suggestion is that it will propose the establishment of the three- tier county system involving two divisions of the professional clubs, the present 18 counties, with all or some of the Minor Counties comprising a Third Division.

Glyn Woodman, Surrey's chief executive and a member of the Board's committee, insisted that it will be both logical and sensible. "We have a unique opportunity to put right the future structure of English cricket, starting at the top of the pyramid where the aim will be to make the England team a world power again.

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