Boards reaffirm commitment to Associates
The ICC and ECB have reaffirmed their support for the mandatory release of Associate players from county cricket to take part in international matches and the priority of FTP events.
This followed discussions and correspondence between the ICC president, David Morgan, and the new CEO, Haroon Lorgat, with Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, and ECB chief executive David Collier.
"The full commitment of the ECB to work with counties to support the ICC Board's mandatory release policy for Associate players is great news and very welcome," Morgan said. "It will help to ensure that when the top Associates have ODIs against Full Members or compete in next month's ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in Belfast they have their top players available.
"In terms of the ICC WT20 Qualifier, that will make sure the best teams reach next year's event, rather than the teams with the most top players available on that weekend in August, something that will then have a knock-on effect of enhancing next year's event.
"And with all county-contracted players available for a ODI against Full Members it will make the Associate side that much more competitive, making for a worthwhile experience for that Full Member as well as a great career-enhancing one for all the Associate players, even those playing regular county cricket.
Those comments were endorsed by Clarke. "The ECB recognises that nation versus nation is the lifeblood of cricket and its integrity must be protected at all costs. One way of protecting that integrity is by ensuring that the top Associate players currently playing county cricket are available for their countries in all their mandatory commitments with Full Members and in prestigious events such as the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. The ICC further recognises that this must also embrace and enforce the priority of all FTP events and ECB welcomes that position.
"Whilst we recognise the individual choice of players we will continue to proactively remind counties of their mandatory obligations in this regard and this will help to ensure our strong sport grows ever stronger."
Despite the encouraging words, this is actually unlikely to make any difference to the availability of players. Those that have missed matches recently have not been prevented from playing by their counties but have actually chosen to give priority to their full-time employers rather than turn out for their countries.
While the boards can do all they can to urge their best players to be available, the increasing number of games played by them allied to the pressure on individuals to perform for their counties means that availability will always be hit and miss.
It is likely that most county-contracted players will be freed to play in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers as this is a high-profile competition. But when it comes to one-off ODIs or other lower-key competitions, county is always likely to win through over country.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa