Transfer game by another name

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online
One of the most feared of all potential changes in English cricket is the introduction of a transfer market. The splitting of the County Championship into two divisions, it is said by those lovers of tradition, would lead inevitably to such trading.

This disregards not only the declaration by the European Court of Justice that, in football, the charging of fees for players is illegal, a ruling which presumably applies to other sports. It also ignores the present state of play which demonstrates that a market already exists.

While it is hardly a free-for-all, except in the sense that no money changes hands, players move about as never before. Of those registered this season, some 67 have previously played for other counties. Nine of them, including four England internationals, have played for two other sides. The quartet is Chris Lewis (Leicestershire, Notts and now Surrey); Phillip DeFreitas (Leics, Lancashire, Derbyshire); Peter Such (Notts, Leics, Essex); Bill Athey (Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Sussex).

There has been a marked upsurge in movement in the past decade. For the 20 years before that the numbers barely altered. In 1966, 29 players had been elsewhere, including seven of Leicestershire's team. By 1976 the number had reduced to 26 but by 1986 it had increased to 32. The enormous growth in re-registration has been prompted both by less stringent regulations and the willingness on the part of counties to give players a second chance. Bowlers, particularly, are in such short supply that the failure to make it at one place is almost a guarantee that there will be an oppportunity down the road.

The main restriction on transfers now - and one, it occurs, that if tested in court may not stand up for much longer than India's batting at Edgbaston - concerns List One players. A List One player is one who is under contract or who has been offered a contract in writing by his present employers but does not wish to accept it. To prevent too much unfettered movement no county may sign more than two List One players in five years.

Some counties give up more players than others. This applies as much to Yorkshire now as it did during their halcyon days. Nine players once in the Broad Acres, including the likes of Paul Grayson, who got a century for Essex on Thursday, and Stuart Milburn, who is opening the bowling for Hampshire this season, are performing elsewhere. Only Middlesex, 10 of whose former employees are with other counties, have let more depart.

Of the England team at Edgbaston, four have played for more than one county. Nick Knight, Ronnie Irani and Lewis are the obvious ones. Alan Mullally of Leicestershire had one wicketless game for Hampshire in 1988.

As for Tim Lamb, chief executive designate of the TCCB, who may have to refine the present system, he played 36 matches for Middlesex before being transferred to - sorry, being re-registered by - Northants.

In the brave new world of the England team sophistication of approach and attention to detail will be paramount. Physiotherapists, dieticians and fitness gurus will be de rigueur under the breath of fresh air that is David Lloyd.

Enter a man likely to be equally crucial to continuing success, the team's sounds mixer. Manchester radio presenter, sporting aficionado and Lancashire fan Andy Peebles, once of Radio 1, has assembled the music designed to inspire the chaps, which embraces the usual suspects like "Pomp and Circumstance". Lloyd is already urging him to work on updated versions. Churchillian speeches have not been ruled out.

The selection of Alan Mullally gives Leicestershire their first England Test player since Chris Lewis in 1991. Similarly, Min Patel is the first Kent player to be capped since Martin McCague at Brisbane in late 1994, an occasion both he and they may prefer to forget.

The counties which have now gone longest without providing an England Test player are Durham, Glamorgan and Somerset. Ian Botham of Durham played against Pakistan in 1992, Matthew Maynard of Glamorgan played in the first Test of the West Indies tour in 1994, Andrew Caddick of Somerset played in four of the five matches in that series.

Somerset, perhaps through Caddick again, may be first to rectify their position. Other sides unlikely to be losing players to Test calls soon are Hampshire (last representative, Robin Smith), Sussex (Alan Wells) and Northants (Paul Taylor).

In some quarters the Whyte & Mackay Rankings are frowned upon for being computer-led and thus an artificial guide to form. But they generate interest and provide heaps of prize money. Mind you, it may be a bit difficult to trust the figures when, in their latest announcement, W & M got the award contenders' names wrong, referring to Karl Spiring (he's Reuben, see One Man Stand) and Nigel Aymes (he's Adrian).

One-man stand

Reuben Spring , of Worcestershire, scored 144 and 82 in only his third Championship match at 21 and confessed to disappointment. "There was a bit of bat chucking down in the dressing room when I was run out in the second innings and I was a bit down because the lads told me that scoring two hundreds in a match might happen only once in my career," said the son of former Bristol City, Liverpool, Luton and Hereford footballer, Peter. "But I'm in form and very ambitious."

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