ECB extended an offer that few players could decline.


ECB extended an offer that few players could decline.

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I was under the impression that a higher number of individuals might not have considered the multi-year aspect,” confesses Rob Key.

A game-changing proposal from a team that emerged just a year ago has set in motion the most significant overhaul in England’s central contracts system since its inception 23 years ago.

Dubai Capitals, who only made their debut in the UAE’s ILT20 in January, entered the spotlight by offering Mark Wood a £400,000 deal that risked his participation in a Test tour to India. This prompted the ECB to take immediate action. Over the past six months, there had been discussions about revising England’s contracts, in response to the rapid surge in players’ earning potential through overseas franchises. The advent of two new IPL-backed leagues, the ILT20 and SA20 in South Africa, at the beginning of the year marked a turning point, with most of England’s top players signing on.

The white-ball tour to Bangladesh in March was another catalyst for change. Some players turned down call-ups to honor their PSL deals, compelling the ECB to reconsider their approach. Originally, they had contemplated raising match and tour fees, believing that retainers provided sufficient incentives. The notion was that players with retainers wouldn’t favor franchise cricket over central contracts. However, everything changed when Mark Wood secured a substantial deal in the UAE with Capitals, owned by GMR Group, co-owners of IPL team Delhi Capitals.

Rob Key, the ECB’s managing director of men’s cricket, explained, “Originally, we thought that increasing match fees was the way to go. We felt that retainers gave enough incentive… all the time they had the retainer, players wouldn’t choose franchise cricket over a central contract. And then that changed a little bit when Woody was offered a big deal out in the UAE to play in the ILT20. Then we thought: ‘Hang on, we might need to think about this and make sure that we can offer enough incentive for our best players to sign central contracts.’ And we got a little bit more money put into the pot.”

The solution, according to the ECB, was to secure players with multi-year central contracts, thus preventing the impending risk of year-round contracts where players would represent all of an IPL franchise’s global affiliates. To date, no England player has received such an offer, but the ECB anticipates they are on the horizon.

Rob Key added, “You don’t know what the future holds with franchise cricket. You don’t know when the first year-long deal for an English cricketer is going to be offered from a franchise, where they say to someone: ‘Right, you come and play for us.’ And then I’m making phone calls to say: ‘Oh, by the way, can we have that player for an England series?

This marks the inaugural occasion where we haven’t needed to test players’ resolve, but instead, we can openly ask: ‘Where would you like to contribute?’ Remarkably, they have all opted to represent England and commit to playing whenever they are chosen.

Conversations with English players commenced more than a month ago. After extensive discussions involving the ECB, the Team England Player Partnership (TEPP), and the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA), decisions were finalized while the World Cup squad was in Dharamsala, just before their victory over Bangladesh.

Six players were presented with three-year contracts, and Harry Brook, Joe Root, and Wood all agreed to them. Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler opted for two-year agreements, while Ben Stokes, England’s Test captain, took a calculated risk with a one-year contract, banking on the potential increase in the value of central contracts when new terms are negotiated next year.

In total, 18 players committed to contracts lasting a minimum of two years, with an additional eight players signing one-year deals. The contract values ranged from approximately £130,000 at the lower end to around £800,000 at the top tier. Furthermore, three more players inked pace-bowling development contracts, providing a supplementary income to their county salaries, totaling nearly £70,000.

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Key expressed, “For the first time, we’ve been able to invite players to choose where they want to be, and it’s heartening to see them all commit to playing for England when selected, rather than calling their bluff.”

This development pleasantly surprised Key, who remarked, “I thought some might not opt for the multi-year aspect, but it’s a testament to the players that they’re willing to dedicate themselves to English cricket, especially when there are more opportunities available than ever before.”

Key acknowledges the growing prominence of established franchise leagues, such as Major League Cricket, even when they overlap with the English summer season. He believes that England must collaborate with these leagues rather than compete directly.

He elaborated, “The number of competitions in our summer is increasing, and it’s crucial to find a middle ground. Franchise cricket doesn’t have to lose for us to succeed, because it won’t. The future lies in striking a balance.”

“We must ensure that our top players participate in international matches. I envision a future where our best talents represent England, rather than heading off to play in franchise cricket.”

Key’s optimism is that the new contracts will guarantee the continuity of this commitment.


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