Cross-sport venturing, Bigger Bash and Yorkshire bred

Middlesex’s increased emphasis on fitness this winter has seen their entire first-team squad put through a gruelling schedule devised by local mixed martial arts devotee Giorgio Andrews. MMA – or cagefighting as it is more popularly known – is having quite an impact on cricketers’ stamina these days through its intense drills. Ian Bell, the only man to play all 22 matches for England on the Ashes tour, endured a punishing regime on the way back from injury last summer, which included regular sparring with Barrington Patterson, an 18st former Super Heavyweight cagefighter and world kickboxing champion. Bell reckons those grappling and punching sessions were integral to strengthening his mental resolve during the Ashes. Not sure the MCC members who drop in to watch matches at Lord’s will buy that as the reason for Middlesex having a successful 2011, though.

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More cross-sport venturing has aided Graeme Swann’s recovery from his recent back injury. Swann, who returned from Australia with a knee niggle and back spasms, has had the latter problem addressed by Nottingham Forest’s chiropractor Vaughan Cooper. Thankfully it appears to have had the desired effect, with Swann supremely confident of making England’s opening World Cup fixture against the Netherlands on February 22.

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England’s Ashes-winning players could be the major beneficiaries in Australia’s revamped Big Bash next winter. Cricket Australia is embracing a franchise system for Twenty20 cricket from 2011-12 with the six state sides giving way to an eight-team city competition. Victoria and New South Wales have both been granted two franchise licenses for the re-launch, which is anticipated to be a brassier version of the current BB. With local talent thinned due to the greater number of teams, securing quality overseas signings will be at the forefront of plans to make the tournament a high-class spectacle. And that opens up significant opportunities for England players, as England are the only major cricket power not involved in an international series in December, when the matches begin. In fact, with the away series against Pakistan, which will probably be contested in an Emirate, not scheduled until late January, Englishmen might be the most attractive option. Incidentally, the solitary overseas player to participate in this year’s final was leg-spinner Adil Rashid, a member of the South Australia Redbacks that thrashed New South Wales by eight wickets.

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There is a distinct possibility that Rashid’s Yorkshire will turn the clock back two decades this summer by fielding a homegrown XI in a County Championship fixture. Not since 1992 has the White Rose county been represented by 11 men born within the county boundaries, as was their previous proud tradition. But Jacques Rudolph’s departure and austerity measures preventing imports being signed this summer have increased the likelihood of a throwback to yesteryear. Southern African-born duo Gerard Brophy and Gary Ballance are the only potential spoilers on the staff and neither are shoo-ins.

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