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Staffordshire league hands out mammoth points deductions in player registration saga which could end up in court

SAM MORSHEAD: In a case which will spark a much wider debate about the complexities of player registration, Burslem have been penalised 71 points after being told they had incorrectly registered former Glamorgan allrounder Jim Allenby

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Jim Allenby, right, was registered by Burslem as a category 1 player this season

A Staffordshire cricketing controversy has left one club contemplating legal action against its league following a huge points deduction.

In a case which will spark a much wider debate about the complexities of player registration, Burslem, of the North Staffs and South Cheshire Premier League, have been penalised 71 points after being told they had incorrectly registered former Somerset, Leicestershire and Glamorgan allrounder Jim Allenby at the start of the season.

Allenby, who was born in Australia but is a British citizen and UK resident, signed for the club in November last year and was confirmed as Burslem’s primary paid player in April.

However, last month Burslem became aware that they were the subject of an NSSCPL investigation into ineligible players, a process which came to a head at a hearing at Leycett Cricket Club on Tuesday when they were informed of the substantial sanctions being made against them.

The ruling came down that Allenby, despite being qualified to play international cricket for England and having played county cricket as a domestic player for more than a decade, should have been registered as an overseas player. Subsequently, Burslem are to be stripped of all the points they accumulated while both Allenby and a registered category 3 overseas - Pakistani Kamran Ghulam - played together in the same team.

The judgement has left Burslem facing relegation and the case itself potentially bound for court, with animosity between club and league growing amid accusations of conflicts of interest.

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Allenby was born in Australia but is a British citizen and is qualified to play for England

The complex issue hinges on the wording of ECB player registration guidelines, and the different criteria used to define overseas players in county and club cricket.

In the NSSCPL, one category 3 overseas player is permitted to play for each club in each match.

While under ECB rules regarding the eligibility of professionals in the county game, Allenby classes as a domestic player, lower down the cricketing pyramid different qualification criteria apply.

Because Allenby was born in Australia, for him to be considered a category 1 player he must, in addition to being a British citizen, have spent at least 210 days in the country over the course of the 12 months up until March 31.

During last winter, the 35-year-old travelled to Australia to coach and play for Claremont Nedlands in Western Australia. As a result, he failed to complete the mandatory period on these shores, spending 180 days outside of the UK.

Allenby is understood to have been presented with precise times and dates of his exit from and entry back into the UK by league officials at a recent hearing. When asked how they came by the information, he was told that investigators had used the stats database of ESPNcricinfo to figure out his movements.

Ultimately, Allenby’s extended stay out of the country over the winter is what has led to the NSSCPL finding grounds to penalise Burslem, who plan to appeal - a process for which a fee is payable to the league.

In theory, the guidelines mean any British citizen born outside of the UK who spends the winter months out of the country, for work or recreational purposes and regardless of their ability, could be forced to register as a category 3 overseas player.

It is not clear how widespread the NSSCPL’s ineligible player investigation goes, though another club in the same division as Burslem, Elworth, faced a hearing on Thursday regarding two players - Rajiv Kumar and Adnan Ghaus. They too were informed that, despite both players being British passport holders and UK residents, they did not qualify as category 1 players and that they can also expect a sizeable points penalty.

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The wording on the Play Cricket registration portal's definitions of player categories has come under scrutiny

In its verdict in the Burslem case, the NSSCPL regulatory board, following consultation with a solicitor, accepted that the club’s oversight was inadvertent but it stressed that “under League Rule 36(m)... the responsibility for ensuring that any player is correctly registered is the Clubs [sic]”.

The two-page verdict document pointed towards a flow chart, readily available for download from the league’s website, which illustrates the process of player registration.

The schematic, produced by the ECB, does clearly state the criteria required for players to be category 1 eligible.

However, the information offered to administrators on the Play Cricket website’s registration portal, used by clubs across the country, differs.

There, below a click-down menu which club secretaries must use to register new players, a category 1 is more ambiguously outlined as “a player qualified to play for England under the current ECB regulations”. Allenby is qualified to play for England.

When asked by The Cricketer about these discrepancies, an ECB spokesperson said the description on the Play Cricket portal is a “brief heading to make things simple when registering a player and does not supersede the generic regulations or league rules”.

The ECB say that the tricky subject of player registrations is under constant review. Before and at the end of each summer, discussions take place with the Home Office and the specific qualification criteria for each category is thoroughly assessed. Another review will take place at the end of the 2018 summer and an update to the rules is expected by the end of October.

The governing body say that the specifications for overseas players within the professional game and the largely amateur club circuit are different because, while ICC directives and EU law can impact the county game, lower down the ladder the ECB is trying to create a consistent set of rules with which teams can become familiar.

The ECB have been made aware of the Burslem ruling. The club wrote to national participation manager, Paul Bedford, who has subsequently held conversations with Burslem officials.

The organisation is understood to have sought legal advice on the matter, and has been told that it is acceptable for the professional and semi-professional league systems to take different approaches when it comes to the eligibility and classification of its players.

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Burslem and Elworth are set to drop into the relegation zone following 71 and 235-point deductions

Recent events have caused friction between the club and the league, exacerbated by the fact that the NSSCPL chairman Brian Lawton’s own team, Whitmore sat bottom of the table prior to recent action being taken.

As a result of the points deductions, pending the outcome of the appeal, Whitmore will jump out of the relegation places.

Burslem, who had been on 208 points and sat in eighth position in the 12-team division, will slip to second-bottom of the table on 137 points, 37 points off safety with five games of the season remaining.

Elworth, meanwhile, are understood to be facing a 235-point deduction, leaving them with just nine for the season and facing certain relegation. They too plan to appeal.

Intriguingly, one of the two Elworth players under investigation, Kumar, spent five seasons at Whitmore between 2012 and 2016 without his eligibility being called into question.

That added context, as well as the timing of the investigation, has upset Burslem. They feel aggrieved that, after they signed Allenby to plenty of local fanfare in November and confirmed him as their primary player on April 18, it took until mid-July for the issue to be flagged, and only after former league manager Keith Tunnicliffe had stood down from the role for health reasons. He was replaced on an interim basis by Lawton.

When contacted by The Cricketer, Lawton declined a request to be interviewed.

In a short statement via email, he wrote: “As an appeal is pending along with the prospect of future litigation, it would be inappropriate for myself or any other member of the executive committee to comment at this stage.”

A Burslem statement read: “We would ask why when given several opportunities to the NSSCPL Manager didn’t make Burslem CC aware that we may of mistakenly registered Jim incorrectly and therefore refuse the signing of the Cat 3 Player.

“Burslem CC now find themselves facing a 71-point deduction pending appeal....this is the total points gained whilst fielding both Jim and Kamran.

“We await the NSSCPL to finalise a date for the Right to Appeal and look forward to fighting this injustice.”

The Cricketer has contacted Elworth for comment.

A statement on the club's Facebook page read in part: “Our stance is that Yasir Ali is correctly registered as the overseas category 3 player for Elworth, and the fact that Adnan and Rajiv hold UK passports, have British citizenship and residence in the UK, leads us to contend that they should NOT be designated as overseas players, and are correctly registered as category 1."

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