Jack Bannister on the hope that Lottery funding ultimately betters England's team...
England cricket received a substantial financial boost - a much-needed fillip from National Lottery funding, as the national team flew out of Heathrow yesterday.
The party departed literally on a wing and metaphorically on a prayer about their coming 22 days of international cricket in India compressed into sixand-a-half weeks starting on March 1. Excessive heat, spin-friendly pitches and the absence of Ashley Giles will pose almost insuperable obstacles.
Money first. The England and Wales Cricket Board somehow managed to convince Sport England - dispensers of Lottery funding for grassroots development of cricket from all backgrounds and all levels - that their streamlining of the board to 12 members was a sufficient modernisation of its management structures.
The arrangement by Sport England to provide £10.7 million in the next three years, starting in April this year, follows an input of £103 million since 1994 made available to more than 3,000 projects.
The problem has been the apportioning of that money, ranging from the ECB National Cricket Centre in Loughborough to smaller amounts to other clubs.
But there is considerable disquiet about how relatively small monies have dribbled through to the lower levels in the last few years, so what will the difference be in the next three years?
Firstly, an extra £2.38 million per year has been committed by Sport England to a Community Club Development Programme which invests in local cricket club development projects and another £1 million per year goes to the Cricket Foundation's "Chance to Shine" initiative.
Apart from trying to re-establish cricket in state schools - arguably the most important idea of all - this money also carries a performance-related sum to the counties in respect of various England teenage teams which, for instance, will reward Warwickshire with at least £5,000 for their two representatives in the England Under-19 team, Nick James and Moeen Ali.
Former England and Warwickshire player Tom Cartwright is heavily involved with similar junior coaching in Wales but claims he is disadvantaged because Wales has no national junior team and the teenage cricketers' parents have to fund all travel and accommodation when their children play in national tournaments.
The latest announcement from Sport England's Roger Draper effectively means a total of more than £7 million per year.
Fortunately, the entire Lottery windfall is ringfenced from the 18 county clubs' general funds which, for most clubs, has turned into a melting pot from which too much money flows into the hands of overseas cricketers and various others who are not qualified for England.
Warwickshire can claim to be exempt from that charge, with their latest set of accounts showing a decrease in players' salaries from £1,048,263 to £970,853, which the club says is due to "more judicious use of overseas players."
The Lottery funding is ring-fenced from first-class cricket and will be divided among the 38 county Boards - the 18 counties, plus 19 Minor Counties and Wales. But, the first-class counties have to justify their share being spent at grass roots level - it cannot be siphoned off for any other reason.
So much for ECB finance but what about the top of the pyramid, the England touring party? Not since the last Ashes series in Australia have the selectors been in such a pickle.
In the last two years, they set out for West Indies and South Africa with a party which promised - and delivered - so much more than this patched-up side which is short of only one injured player, Giles.
The Warwickshire spinner is such a pivotal part of a bowling attack that suddenly looks fallible. It could just be that Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flint-off, Simon Jones and Giles gelled against Australia last summer in a one-off manner they can never reproduce.
Giles did not perform in the first Test at Lord's and England were hammered.
He bowled reasonably well in the next Test on his home ground, where thrilling batting from Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss was boosted by Flintoff's magnificent all-round game.
Old Trafford was most notable for the final acceptance by Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher of Jones as a fully-fledged part of the attack.
Jones underlined his importance in the first innings at Trent Bridge but then went bust and England decided to make do and mend with Paul Collingwood at The Oval, thus consigning James Anderson to one-day cricket only.
Thence to Pakistan where injuries and paternity leave halted two years' momentum - by far the most important factor in success. Lose that and immmediate fragmentation follows, as England found before Christmas.
No Jones, Flintoff developed a second successive ankle injury due to being over-bowled, Strauss broke his tour and Vaughan and Giles broke down. Not even the huge promise of Liam Plunkett could stem the Pakistan tide and England lost both Test and one-day series.
An even tougher tour awaits, with Vaughan's only chances of saving the series - his winning chances are minimal - depending entirely on one of his three spinners able to play a full part.
Not just to take the odd wicket - Shaun Udal has in played three Tests, Monty Panesar and Ian Blackwell none - but to shore up one end to help out the four fast bowl-ers. That quartet will have to bowl in hotter conditions than ever and Jones and Flintoff must not be over-bowled so soon after major ankle problems brought on by a lot of bowling.
The batsmen will be plagued, as they never were in Pakistan, by high-class spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. A middle order of Kevin Pietersen, Flintoff and Geraint Jones have naturally aggressive methods which are too one-dimensional to succeed on pitches likely to dust and turn.
England need a minor cricketing miracle to avoid defeat in the three back-to-back Tests and the seven one-day internationals.