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Tuesday, April 13, 1999 Published at 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK

Phoenix and Lightning: Cricket's bid to rise from the ashes

Crusaders will battle the Outlaws at Lord's this week

When the Foxes square up against the Hawks later this week to do battle who will be watching?

Will it be shouting ice-hockey fans, banging the plastic perimeter wall? Or will it be followers of a little-known blood sport, perhaps, urging on their birds of prey? Or could it be elderly chaps in blazers, dozing to the sound of gentle applause, before they wake for a cucumber sandwich?

Of course, it's the old chaps. But however hard they might claim it's just not cricket, they are wrong. With the start of the cricket season, this is the face of the modern game. It's just a face that's had some surgical enhancement.

[ image: Old Trafford under floodlights - more of this to come]
Old Trafford under floodlights - more of this to come
Where once there was Leicestershire and Hampshire, for Saturday's opening match in the new national one-day league, there will be Foxes and Hawks.

And where once cricket's great rivals, Lancashire and Yorkshire, faced each other, from this season on it will be Lightning taking on Phoenix.

Eagles will play Royals, Bears will face up to Gladiators, Dynamos are to be pitted against Sabres. And there probably won't be a cucumber sandwich in sight

[ image: Spitfires to be seen again around Kent]
Spitfires to be seen again around Kent
It is hoped the new names will help boost ailing attendances at one day matches. Numbers have been falling for years, and many people would think no wonder.

It's a very different matter sitting in a vibrant stand with thousands of others on a sunny day watching the world's best cricketers do battle than parking yourself in a deserted, windy ground to cheer on an unenthusiastic second XI.

How different things could be, the game's administrators mused. Premier League football draws tens of thousands, as does that quintessentially un-English game ice-hockey. Why should cricket be so unfashionable?

Cricket boss Lord MacLaurin explains the change
With former Tesco boss Lord MacLaurin at the helm of English cricket, a raft of reforms has been introduced to the game, including new championships, bigger prize money, more floodlit games, and - in Lord MacLaurin's words - "an added emphasis on colour and spectacle".

[ image:  ]
Central to this is that stalwart 1990s response to anything: rebranding. New names, new image. Even the England cricket team itself has a new name - Team England.

Kent County Cricket Club was the one team to hold back, but it too has bowed to peer pressure and has announced that henceforth its one-day team shall be known as the Kent Spitfires.

Or course many people are not too happy. Yorkshire firebrand (though obviously not a phoenix) Fred Trueman didn't mince his words, saying it was Americanising the game. "Absolutely stupid," he said, as if unleashing an unplayable delivery.

Tim de Lisle, editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, however, plays a textbook forward defensive, saying: "I think these are steps in the right direction, but that's as far as I'm prepared to go.

[ image:  ]
"I'm not as scornful of it as some people are. Something needs to be done to get people watching county cricket. Attendances for four-day games are absolutely dire. They're a bit better for the one-day matches, but they're not massive."

He said when Surrey called their one-day team the Surrey Lions a couple of seasons ago, it had added about 10% to their attendance.

"If this pulls in 10% more young people, then who cares if a few of the older viewers don't like it."

And Yorkshire Phoenix supporters can at least console themselves that their name seizes the zeitgeist - Leeds-born Spice Girl Melanie Gulzar named her daughter Phoenix Chi two months ago. How many other sides can honour their own native Spice Girl like this?

(Minor Counties watch out - Posh Spice was born in Hertfordshire.)

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