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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
What is Pro40?
By Mark Mitchener

Pro 40
English domestic cricket has a new competition - the NatWest Pro40, dubbed Twenty20's "big brother".

But how will it differ from the other one-day competitions, what do the players feel about the change of format and what are the aims of the tournament?

BBC Sport was at the opening game, between Essex and Northamptonshire at Chelmsford, to find out all about the new kid on the block.

England's Darren Gough, India star Sourav Ganguly and Northants skipper David Sales give their verdict, along with Tom Harrison, marketing manager for the England and wales Cricket Board.

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

Darren Gough
I think 40 overs is what the players prefer

Darren Gough
Is the NatWest Pro40 anything to do with the NatWest Trophy?

No - Pro40 replaces the domestic one-day league competition, which last year was called the Totesport League and has previously been the National League and the Sunday League.

Essex are technically its defending champions after winning Division One last season.

The major change from last year is that matches have been reduced from 45 overs back to 40 and the tournament only takes place in the second half of the season.

The NatWest Trophy (1981-2000) became the C&G Trophy in 2001 and underwent a major change in format this year.

Darren Gough:
I think people prefer a one-day game where there's not so much drag in the middle. I think 40 overs is what the players prefer, and they're looking forward to going back to it.

Tom Harrison:
Twenty20 has been a global phenomenon, but we're desperate to give the Twenty20 audience the chance to migrate to our other formats.

I REMEMBER THE SEVENTIES

If they're only playing 40 overs, won't it just be like the old John Player League from the 1970s and 1980s, when the likes of Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge entertained the crowds (and BBC2 viewers) on a Sunday afternoon?

Yes, and no. The Sunday League started in 1969 and was a 40-over competition until 1998, barring a one-year experiment with 50 overs in 1993. It was 45 overs per side from 1998-2005.

Like the Sunday League each bowler will be limited to eight overs but there is no restriction keeping bowlers' run-ups under 15 yards, as there used to be.

The success of the Twenty20 Cup over the last three years will have also ensured that more big-hitting will be on show.

Darren Gough:
I used to have to run in off eight paces in the old days, but I really enjoyed it. It's good to have a change from the 50-over competition, as the players are getting tired by this stage.

Sourav Ganguly:
The Twenty20 has been a huge success here, and I'm sure this competition will be too.

Tom Harrison:
It'll be unrecognisable from the old John Player League, which was very popular, but the game's moved on since then.

IN WITH THE IN CROWD

David Sales
Teams are going to look to be a bit aggressive up front

David Sales
Will there still be fielding restrictions?

Yes. Fielding restrictions have applied for the first 15 overs in recent years - and will remain in place for the first 15 in Pro40, despite the reduction of overs.

For the first 15 overs, only two fielders are permitted outside the 30-yard fielding circle, while there must be a minimum of two stationary close catchers within 15 yards.

From overs 16-40, there must still be a minimum of four fielders within the 30-yard circle - and there must be no more than five men on the leg side at any time in the innings.

David Sales:
With the fielding restrictions, I think there's going to be a lot of big scores in this competition if the wickets are good, as teams are going to look to be a bit aggressive up front.

Darren Gough:
In 50-over [international] cricket, there is that drag in the middle, which is why they've tried to bring in the powerplay - but why not make it 40 overs, and have people play their shots all the way through?

PAR FOR THE COURSE

Sourav Ganguly
Players can get used to one format of the game, rather than playing Twenty20 one day and Pro40 the next

Sourav Ganguly
What is a good score in 40-over cricket?

No-one is entirely sure as the 40-over game has not been played in England with 15-over fielding restrictions before.

Essex set the standard with a total of 280-6 in the season-opener.

The highest total in the history of the competition was Somerset's 377-9 (in 45 overs) aginst Sussex in 2003.

Twenty20 has also raised expectations of bigger scores - Somerset hold the record there, too, with their 250-3 against Gloucestershire last month.

Sourav Ganguly:
One-day cricket is fast - I think five-day cricket is still the most challenging, but there's still going to be some good cricket played.

David Sales:
As a captain, Twenty20 is a bit mad and everyone knows what they're going to do anyway, but this game will be different as it's shorter than the C&G but still has fielding restrictions. If you want to get big totals, one or two of your batsmen have got to get in and get big scores.

Tom Harrison:
In the old Sunday League, a good score might have been 180-200, but I think we'll see some more dramatic cricket played.

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

How many games will each county play? And how many teams are promoted and relegated?

The 18 first-class counties are arranged into two divisions of nine teams. Unlike the past few years, Scotland are not taking part.

Each team plays the other eight counties in its division once - with four home games and four away games. Teams receive two points for a win, and one for a tie or a "no result".

At the end of the season, the bottom two teams in Division One are automatically relegated, and the top two in Division Two are promoted.

There is then a play-off, with the team finishing seventh in Division One visiting the third-placed team from Division Two. The winner will play in Division One in 2007.

Tom Harrison:
People can understand a competition when it's played over eight games like this. We've got a three-week start before the new football season begins, and an opportunity to put cricket on the back pages.

EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAY

Supporters play on the outfield between innings
Families are a crucial audience for us

Tom Harrison
ECB marketing manager
When will these games be played?

They all come pretty thick and fast, with the 72 divisional games taking place over seven weeks, between 18 July and 17 September. The play-off is on 24 September.

The good news for fans is that unlike in previous years, matches follow a fairly regular pattern - rather than being spread all over the week.

Twenty-six of the group games are on weekdays - and all but four of those are live on Sky TV. Three games - all televised - are on Saturday afternoons. But the majority of games - 43 in total - are on Sunday afternoons.

Play begins at 1345 BST (1245 in September) - while floodlit games, both on weekdays and weekends, start at 1640 BST.

Sourav Ganguly:
Any sort of one-day cricket will attract crowds, and playing more on Sundays is going to attract the families. It will also help the players that they can get used to one format of the game, rather than playing Twenty20 one day and Pro40 the next.

Tom Harrison:
Families are a crucial audience for us - we need to show how adaptable cricket can be over different formats. It means we can let more people get to the floodlit games after work, but for the Sunday games you can have the kids in bed by half-past eight.

ANY OTHER BUSINESS

Anything else I need to know?

  • Any side failing to bowl its overs within two hours 50 minutes of the start of the innings will see their opponents awarded penalty runs.

  • If any match is affected by the weather, the Duckworth/Lewis method will be used to calculate revised totals.

  • There are no new gimmicks within the game - no powerplays or supersubs, as recently tested in one-day internationals.

  • Centrally-contracted England players' involvement is likely to be limited - and will be at national coach Duncan Fletcher's discretion.

    Tom Harrison:
    It's great that now, when you go to a Twenty20 match, it's the cricket that's attracting people - nobody leaves their seats and no-one's worried about the bouncy castles and all that.



  • SEE ALSO
    Essex begin Pro40 with easy win
    18 Jul 06 |  Counties
    Gough hits out at England snubs
    18 Jul 06 |  England
    NatWest sponsorship boosts Pro40
    22 May 06 |  Counties
    Pro40 D1 Fixtures
    11 Apr 05 |  Results Fixtures Tables
    Pro40 D2 Fixtures
    11 Apr 05 |  Results Fixtures Tables


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