A recent letter from the ICC to member countries provides important new guidance on the rules for player eligibility.

Signed by both David Richardson, the General Manager – Cricket, and Matthew Kennedy, the Development Officer, and issued at the end of March, the letter does not represent a change in the regulations approved by the ICC Annual Conference in 2006, but it does offer an interpretation which will work in favour of the Associate countries.

The 2006 document prohibits a player from representing one country if he has ‘represented another ICC Member at Under 19 level or above – in an ICC sanctioned match (e.g. in a Test match, ODI, ICC Global or regional event – in the immediately preceding four years'.

Clear enough on the face of it, this restriction contains two ambiguities: how broad is ‘ICC sanctioned', and what is the effect of that ‘e.g.'?

The new ‘clarification' is aimed at removing these uncertainties, by making it clear that it will only include the national Under 19 teams in the Under 19 World Cup ‘or any direct qualifying competition for same' and the full national side in Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals.

In other words, it does not include under-19 matches played outside the framework of the World Cup, or any national sides outside the full first XI, such as A teams and the like.

The ruling means that players like Denmark's Kent seamer Amjad Khan and Essex's Dutch allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate could play for an England A team (packaged these days as the England Lions) without affecting their eligibility to play for their Associate countries.

It also means that A-tour matches played by Ed Joyce since he last represented England don't count, so that if he does not play for one of the full sides again, he could be eligible to play for Ireland again on 5 April 2011.

But even being picked as twelfth man for a full England side would mean that the four-year requalification period would have to begin again.

ICC European Development Manager Richard Holdsworth welcomes the clarification.

‘It removes a significant area of uncertainty', he said this week, ‘and gives top Associates players every opportunity in furthering their careers.'

The clarification should help the top Associates retain the services of their leading players, but it does not, of course, touch the other issue: the reluctance of the English counties in particular to release their Associates players for international fixtures, even when they are supposed to do so under ICC guidelines.

But there are indications that this issue, too, is shortly to be revisited, while the prospect of a more liberal funding regime for the High Performance Program countries should also help to alleviate the problem.