Cricketers from abroad who want to play for local teams in Britain are being stopped by new rules designed to flush out terrorists and illegal immigrants. Until now, overseas players simply had to visit their local British Embassy or High Commission to satisfy officials they were entitled to a temporary UK work permit. They would produce their passport and evidence of an intention to go home again by showing a return air ticket. The process took a matter of days.

But now, under strict new rules laid down by the UK Border Agency, scores of foreign players have been unable to come to Britain in time for the new season. Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green said last night: ‘We are now in the ridiculous position where the Government can’t keep out the people we don’t want in the country, and won’t let in the people we do want. ‘The chaos in the immigration system is never ending.’

The new rules require foreign players to qualify for a temporary work visa through a new points system. They must prove they have earned at least £20,000 a year, have no criminal record and possess sufficient funds to support themselves in the UK. They must be sponsored by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and supply fingerprints to verify their identity.

The cricketers, mostly professionals in their own country, must then be interviewed by British consular officials.

Many town and village teams pay overseas professionals to turn out for them, with some of the most successful clubs able to pay their star imports thousands of pounds a game. The clubs – who are allowed to field one foreign professional each – are up in arms.

Australian professional Ryan Broad, 27, a right-hand batsman and medium-pace bowler known as ‘Dagger’, was due in the UK over a week ago to play for Bacup Cricket Club in the Lancashire League. But Broad, who is an opening batsman for Queensland, is still waiting for his application to be cleared.

Bacup’s captain Peter Killelea said: ‘Throughout the country this cricket season, many clubs will be forced to at least start the season without their chosen professional or even to do without them completely. ‘This will have devastating effects on their already precarious financial positions. I actually imagine many cricket clubs may fail to reach the end of the season.’

Thornaby Cricket Club in Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland, was expecting Khurram Shezhad, a 25-year-old Pakistani batsman and right-hand spin bowler, to arrive last month to play for its first team and coach youngsters. He is still awaiting permission and will have missed five matches with Thornaby by next week. James Carter, Thornaby’s chairman, said: ‘It is hugely frustrating.’

A Border Agency spokesman said: ‘These checks are a crucial part of securing the border. They have already detected at least 5,000 false identities. We complete most applications within a week.’ [A PROMPT British bureaucracy?? Don’t believe it]