It is a matter of concern

CRICKET is sure a funny game and this has never been better displayed than this year's English county championship.

BOB SIMPSON

Murray Goodwin's good batting got Sussex the necessary bonus points needed for the county championship.-MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES

CRICKET is sure a funny game and this has never been better displayed than this year's English county championship. Sussex won its first ever county championship in a 100 or 150 years depending on which paper you read and Lancashire the runner-up hasn't won the county title in the last 65 years.

Exactly just what it says about both counties is difficult to say. Sussex has always been the poor relation of cricket in the south and Lancashire has been the biggest in size, any way, in the north.

What it does say clearly though, in the first season where more than one overseas player has been allowed is that if both overseas players have a great year their team will challenge for the championship.

This has clearly been the case with both Sussex and Lancashire.

Former Pakistan leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed has had a brilliant season with 103 wickets and the second overseas player, former Zimbabwe opening batsman Murray Goodwin, has had a good season culminating with a brilliant unbeaten 300 plus which ensured his team, Sussex, would get the necessary bonus points needed for the county championship.

Lancashire had two proven overseas players in West Indian batsman Carl Hooper and Australian Stuart Law. Both have been star-performers in county cricket for many, many years and did their new county proud in 2003.

Just what, allowing an extra overseas player, will do for English cricket concerns me greatly. Straight away it stops 18 people from playing who are qualified to represent England.

In addition it enforces the pressure on the imported players to perform and also unfortunately allows too many English county players to hang off the shirt tails of the overseas players.

This reliance on imported players and locals not accepting their responsibilities have been obvious for many years and is detrimental to English cricket. County cricket when all teams used to play in our division was hard yakka with an enormous work load. It has been, I believe, reduced too much and to the detriment of the overall standard of the game.

Carl Hooper did Lancashire proud with his star-performance.-MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES

Lancashire's inability to win a county championship for 65 years is an inditement of just how poorly cricket has been run in that county. At one time it had the best and most local leagues in England. Lancashire had wonderful well supported clubs who attracted the best players in the world to its ranks.

It was a great breeding ground for young players, but now the standards in the leagues are poor.

This is emphasised by just how few Lanchashire youths are playing for their country.

Regularly only six players born and brought up in Lanchashire are guaranteed a regular first eleven spot. They include three veterans, Warren Hegg, Peter Martin and Glen Chappell plus two Test players all-rounder Andrew Flintoff and fast bowler James Anderson. Just one batsman Mark Chilton is local.

Interestingly, apart from Hooper and Law who are both in their mid 30's, the other batsmen both recently signed from Leicester were Ian Sutcliffe and Mal Loye from Northampton.

Lord only knows what the young batsmen in club cricket think about this.

It is certainly a kick in the back for them, but perhaps they are used to being treated this way by the county.

It didn't take me long to appreciate when I went to Lancashire in 2001 on a two-year contract, that the committee was very much a club within a club, with committee members more concerned looking after their position and doing all in their powers to ensure players from their own areas were retained.

The second XI in particular was full of these players. Most had been there for many years and really had no chance of obtaining a permanent first XI position.

It was bad for the club and bad for the players who should have been let go to seek a position in another profession.

Little wonder Lancashire has only one young batsman with this attitude prevailing.

While there is some local junior development going on this vital area of producing players, it just doesn't have enough money spent on it or the right people involved.

There must be, naturally talented players in such a big playing county as Lanchashire.

If the local leagues are struggling then the county clubs have the responsibility of doing something about it.

Just how clubbish is the committee was clearly illustrated at the beginning of the 2003 season.

Paul Allott, a former player and now Sky commentator, put himself up for reselection to the committee.

Allott and rightly so was the main person blamed for John Crawley, the current Lanchashire captain leaving the club.

The members took umbrage to this by voting Allott out of the committee. He actually received the least number of votes of all the nominees.

This clear indication of their feelings towards Allott didn't seem to register with the chairman Jack Simmons and the Club Committee for Allott was immediately elected by them to retain his position on the cricket committee.

I do wonder and worry about the future of the red rose county.