Hart and Milner to support Anderson: Richard Gibson

Manchester City’s England footballers Joe Hart and James Milner have indulged their mutual love of cricket by agreeing to feature in James Anderson’s UK benefit year launch.

The City duo are guests of honour at Old Trafford – cricket’s version rather than the ground of their  Premier League title rivals United – as Lancashire fast bowler Anderson celebrates 10 years with the club in the Point function facility on March 6.

Their presence on a Q and A panel comes at an interesting time for English football – with uncertainty hanging over both who will manage and who will captain their country at Euro 2012.

But goalkeeper Hart and midfielder Milner will be just as interested in the cricket chat on offer. Both represented their counties at junior level – Hart, a left-arm seamer, spent two years with Worcestershire’s academy while Milner was a talented wicketkeeper-batsman who played for Yorkshire schools.

Both still have contact with the amateur game, too. Hart watches 2010 Birmingham League champions Shrewsbury, where he played until joining City, whenever opportunity allows, while Milner still has mates at Leeds club Horsforth.

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Former Ashes winner Geraint Jones’ switch of allegiance to Papua New Guinea can be linked all the way back to his final appearance with England in Australia five years ago.

Kent wicketkeeper Jones, 35, was dropped during the 2006-07 series and then overlooked for the squad for the one-day triangular tournament that followed.

Expecting to be down under for the duration of the tour, he went back to Queensland, where he spent his formative years, for an extended holiday during which he played for his former grade club Beenleigh-Logan, coached by Greg Campbell, uncle of Aussie great Ricky Ponting.

Campbell later became general manager of Papua New Guinea Cricket, and has actively pursued the 85-cap England international since. However, although Jones was approached in the summer of 2009 by PNG’s chief executive Bill Leane – “I met him at Lord’s, and we sat in front of the home changing room, chatting about the possibility,” he recalls – it was not until Ed Joyce reverted back to Irish status for the 2011 World Cup that he gave the matter serious consideration.

Even then, he sought the blessing of both Kent and the England and Wales Cricket Board before signing the forms to be eligible to represent PNG in the ICC World Twenty20 qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates while his county colleagues are on tour in the Caribbean.

“I spoke to Jimmy Adams about missing pre-season and the big positive about the move is that I will be playing competitive cricket,” Jones, born in Kundiawa but raised in Australia’s Sunshine State following his Welsh teacher parents’ emigration and subsequent re-location, said. “I also wanted to be sure that by playing for PNG it wouldn’t affect my status as an English-qualified player.”

It does not. Under the ECB’s profit-related-pay scheme – rewarding counties financially for fielding homegrown players – cricketers from associate countries are treated as locals.

The top two countries from the Twenty20 qualifiers, held between March 13-24, will be part of the main tournament, scheduled for Sri Lanka in September.

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A groin strain jeopardises West Indian outcast Chris Gayle’s plan to feature domestically in seven countries inside a year.

In what would surely be a record number of global engagements, and one perhaps unlikely to be matched, the 32-year-old Gayle is committed to following up stints with Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland Tuskers, Australian franchise Sydney Thunder, Bangladesh Premier League runners-up Barisal Burners and his native Jamaica, since November, by turning out for Dolphins in South Africa, Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League, and Somerset in 20-over cricket this summer.

However, Gayle arrived in Durban with a grade two strain which forced him to miss the first 10 days of the MiWAY T20 Challenge.

The former West Indies captain certainly carries plenty of ammunition as world cricket’s premier gun for hire: he has scored hundreds for every team he has represented this winter, and his seven three-figure scores makes him comfortably the most prolific centurion in Twenty20’s 10-year history.

Neither is his success down to a saturation of appearances. Gayle’s career had spanned only 92 matches when he departed for South Africa while 37 others have featured 100 times or more.

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While on the subject of records, Zimbabwean Brian Vitori came agonisingly close to breaking an ignominious one earlier this winter: the worst bowling analysis in one-day internationals.

Left-armer Vitori got to within eight runs of Australian Mick Lewis’ 10-0-113-0 in South Africa’s world record chase in Johannesburg six years ago with his efforts against New Zealand in Napier, but did not complete his full allocation, so had to settle for being the first bowler to go for 100 inside nine overs instead.

 Follow me on Twitter @richardgibson74

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