English test cricket has been hit for six by Cornhill's decision to drop its sponsorship of the game at the end of 2001's season.

Cornhill's corporate backing of England Test matches has been one of the longest sports sponsorships in history, pumping an estimated £28 million into the game over the past 23 years.

But, over the duration of Cornhill's sponsorship, England has slid from a Test-winning side to the wooden spoon nation of international cricket.

Cornhill denies England's prolonged bad form was behind its decision, which was announced on December 22.

However, the insurer is the fourth corporate sponsor to pull out of English cricket in less than a year. It follows the desertion of Britannic Assurance, Axa Equity and Law and Texaco.

Geoff Mayhew, Cornhill sponsorship manager, said the decision was based solely on business as opposed to emotional grounds.

It simply felt promoting a corporate image was no longer appropriate for today's segmented insurance marketplace.

"Cornhill is now trading as a series of distinct companies that have very specific markets such as Cornhill Engineering and Allianz Cornhill International. Corporate sponsorship is no longer enough to reflect these varied interests," Mayhew said.

He added that thanks to its promotion of English Test cricket, Cornhill has become a household name.

Cornhill has one year remaining on its latest three-year sponsorship contract with the England and Wales Cricket Board (EWCB), worth £9 million overall.

Terry Blake, EWCB spokesman, said it was disappointed at Cornhill's decision. "We are naturally very sorry that Cornhill has decided to leave us after the next season after a lengthy and friendly association but this does present a tremendous opportunity for another organisation to reap the same rewards as Cornhill."

Test cricket's governing body has yet to find another sponsor, although it expects to announce a backer later this month for a one-day series between England, West Indies and Zimbabwe this year.