ECB bends rules for semi-final

Jon Culley
Saturday 11 January 2014 03:25
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Yorkshire and Surrey will play their rain-hit Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy semi-final tomorrow after persuading the England and Wales Cricket Board to override the competition rules. After appalling weather in Leeds washed out play on both reserve days as well as Wednesday's scheduled date, the match should have been settled last night with a "bowl-out", in which teams of five bowlers aim two deliveries each at an unguarded set of stumps.

But with neither side keen to see a place in the Lord's final decided by such a method, the ECB ended an extraordinary day of arguments and consultation by agreeing to a postponement, although only after obtaining the blessing of the England coach Duncan Fletcher.

"The ECB were reluctant at first because of a precedent being set but after weighing up the circumstances they agreed," umpire John Hampshire said.

The ECB chief executive Tim Lamb confirmed the hesitancy, saying: "We had misgivings about playing the game on another day but with four weeks before the final we felt we could afford flexibility on this occasion."

Lamb added that Fletcher had been consulted because England play the second Test against India at Trent Bridge next Thursday and contracted players would not normally play on the weekend before a Test. Yorkshire, who have Matthew Hoggard and Michael Vaughan on England contracts, and Surrey, whose wicketkeeper Alec Stewart was given a contract last week, insisted their international players all be available.

"Both teams were happy to agree to play on Sunday, with the proviso that their England players remained available to take part, as they were on the original date," Hampshire added.

"The idea of a postponement was put forward by the umpires in the end," he said. "We thought a match of this importance was too big to be decided by a bowl-out.

"There was talk of moving to another venue but the suggestion of putting the game off until Sunday was formulated out of discussions in the dressing rooms." It was clear that these discussions had to overcome some disagreement between the captains. Yorkshire's Darren Lehmann had vetoed the suggestion that the match be played outside the county.

Surrey confirmed that they were in favour of an idea, raised on Thursday evening, that the teams decamp to Taunton, where the other semi-final, between Kent and Somerset, had been played in perfect conditions and where the weather forecast for yesterday was favourable.

Lehmann said last night: "I was not happy for the game to be moved because we wanted to play at Headingley and I think the solution that has been reached is a good one. No one really wants a bowl-out and with two traditionally big teams like these meeting in a semi-final it needs to be decided by proper cricketing means." Surrey were less happy, however. They must travel back to Yorkshire this evening after returning south for today's Norwich Union League match in Croydon against Northamptonshire, while Yorkshire host Nottinghamshire.

Surrey's coach Keith Medlycott said: "We would have been happy to switch to another venue. If you saw the game at Taunton on Thursday, conditions were ideal. Having said that, though, we can understand Yorkshire not wanting to give up home advantage.

"Maybe this is an argument for staging semi-finals at neutral venues, as they do in football.

"It means we have a tight schedule and we will be tired after travelling backwards and forwards to London in 24 hours. But that is the slot that has been allocated and we will have to get on with it."

Yorkshire face the further headache of having to install temporary floodlights for Monday's day-night Norwich Union League game against Durham while the semi-final is in progress. But their chief executive Chris Hassell felt the inconvenience was a price worth paying. "The overriding thought was that the game should be settled in a proper way and after taking advice from many people, including the BBC weather forecasters, we reached a decision in which we think cricket is the winner," he said.

Other counties, however, will be entitled to ask why regulations exist if the ECB allows them to be torn up in this way.

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