County news August 31, 2008

Universities stripped of first-class status

Cricinfo staff

The long tradition of county batsmen inflating their averages against the Universities, and bowlers bagging a few cheap hauls, will come to an end with ECB plans to remove UCCE matches from the fixture list from 2010, the Sunday Telegraph has reported.

University matches have been taking placing since 1827 when it began with Oxford and Cambridge, and in recent years has expanded with Durham and Loughborough also playing first-class games against the counties. But the standards have slipped, with Oxford and Cambridge producing fewer players than in previous generations, and the restructuring of the county game has brought the chance to make the change.

Universities have occasionally managed surprise defeats against county opposition, but none have reached the level that the Combined University side managed in 1989 when they reached the quarter-finals of the Benson and Hedges Cup. That team included Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton.

Steve James, who scored six hundreds for Cambridge University in the late 1980s and early 90s, welcomed the decision to strip the matches from first-class status. "For too long the matches against counties have been both embarrassment and farce," he wrote in his Sunday Telegraph column. "Some batsmen greedily inflate their averages; others donate wickets deliberately after sufficient practice has been had."