Discontent in English cricket June 10, 2009

Players may strike over ECB reform plans

George Dobell

The ECB is facing a serious backlash from professional players over radical plans to reform domestic cricket. Such is the level of concern that strike action has been mooted, with the ECB coming under increasing pressure to abandon the scheme.

The disagreement concerns incentive payments designed to encourage counties to field two players under 22 and three more under 26 in Friends Provident and County Championship cricket.

From 2010, counties will be rewarded around £80,000 if they maximise the incentive opportunity. Those payments will rise year-by-year and are expected to be worth £200,000 per county, per year by 2013. Those are sums that many clubs will be unable to ignore and several have already committed to embracing the scheme to its full potential.

That, however, could well limit the opportunities for more experienced players. The ECB already pay incentives for counties fielding English-qualified players, but cap those payments at a maximum of nine per side in order to allow room for two non-qualified players, be they overseas or Kolpak registrations. That leaves only four places per side for England players aged over 26.

As a consequence, county players are deeply concerned. Many of them feel the plans will dilute the quality of county cricket and threaten their livelihoods. While Vikram Solanki, the chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association, has made no threats, he does make it clear that there are serious reservations over the issue.

"There are good cricketing reasons to suggest this will not help English cricket," Solanki told Cricinfo. "Merit should be the only criteria for selection. Unless that's the case, the quality of English cricket will be diluted.

"It seems artificial to force this upon counties. If young players are good enough, they will play anyway. But if you force them in too early, you may damage their development and cause resentment in the dressing room. We've seen the damaging effect of quotas elsewhere.

"Young players can learn a great deal by being around experienced players. When I started, I batted inbetween Graeme Hick and Tom Moody. Fine, they'd make it in any system. But I also learned from the likes of David Leatherdale and Stuart Lampitt. That was hugely valuable for me and I've no doubt that any young player will learn from playing with and against experienced professionals.

"This system will make it much harder for late developers, too. We've seen the likes of Michael Hussey and Marcus North come into Test cricket in their late 20s and do well, but this system will make that much harder for English players.

"I don't doubt that the intentions behind this are honourable, but the ECB are trying to solve a problem that will no longer exist. One of their motives is to reduce the number of players in county cricket who are not qualified for England. But the work permit situation changed this winter which makes it vastly more difficult for non-qualified players.

"The other concern is that this will increase the divide between the richer counties and the rest. While the clubs with Test grounds might be able to ignore the incentives, the smaller ones can't. It's likely to artificially inflate young players' wages, discourage them from going to university but then, potentially, leave them in a very difficult position in their mid-20s if things don't work out.

"It is felt by the PCA that there was a lack of consultation," Solanki continued. "There is a concern among players that these plans will not benefit cricket in anyway - in fact they're likely to harm the game - and there will also be implications for cricketers of a certain age.

"We want to express those views and voice our members' concerns. At this stage I don't know what can be done, but we do need to canvas the opinions of our members and see what they think. Then, at least, we can have discussions with the ECB."

There will be some mitigating features for the smaller counties. A salary cap will be introduced from the start of next season, with no club allowed to spend more than £1.85m per squad, per year. That figure is still some way in excess of the amount paid by most clubs, however, so will come as scant consolation.

George Dobell is chief writer of Spin magazine

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on June 10, 2009, 18:04 GMT

    Clickinfo's point below is a logical non sequita "We moan that English cricket is not competetive enough" true " 'They' moan it is being unfair to aging trundlers" Who are these "they" ? If an "aging trundler" is not an asset to the side - and not better than a younger player - he doesn't get picked. If it's marginal, the younger player is almost always preferred. If it is not marginal then the older, better player plays. That is simple and fair. It IS a competative sport, to pick players on anything other than ability is not competative.

    Youngsters may want life handed to them on a plate. Tough, work hard, drive yourself,be a real asset ordo something else. I would hate to play in any team where I knew a better player sat out just for my benefit.

    English cricket is so focused on the future (at least where the next Ashes tests are concerned) that they totally neglect the "now".

    Ageism is against employment laws no matter what the profession. This could get letigious

  • Michael on June 10, 2009, 16:16 GMT

    Having just read this article I can only say that the pro knows the game best and that this silly scheme may look good to some,but will really do nothing but harm in the long run.As Solanki says young players who are good enough will play anyway. The fetish for extreme yoputh will be replaced tomorrow or the next by another fetish idea just as daft and ephemeral-probably by the self same people who'd bring in this sort legiislation. Ageism is rife as it is and yet experience is often just what is required. As far I can see the best pros in most walks of life are those who have served a proper and defined apprenticeship. After all would you trust a doctor of 25 more than one of 45? People are far better off having the likes of Ramprakash or Crawley or Chappel in their side than out of it.

  • Nicholas on June 10, 2009, 14:52 GMT

    Lancashire's 20/20 game at Liverpool next week is sold out. 5,000 tickets went in 2 days. The public are queuing up to see Freddy Flintoff; VVS Laxman: Glen Chapple and Mal Loye. The are not (no disrespect intended) queuing up to see Oliver Newby and Tom Smith !

  • Stanley on June 10, 2009, 14:04 GMT

    Also, if anyone is interested, Jonathan Agnew will be talking to Solanki about his comments at the innings interval during the SECOND game of today (India vs Ireland)

  • Stanley on June 10, 2009, 13:37 GMT

    I completely agree with Solanki's concerns expressed here. Many counties (Middlesex, Sussex to name a few off the top of my head) are already very good at mixing experience with up-and-coming local talent without needing any incentives. I feel that introducing any form of quota system is wrong and breeds resentment at the very least, and could likely lower the quality of domestic cricket. I really feel places should be based completely on merit, take the example of the Yorkshire v Sussex match that finished yesterday in the most exciting draw of the season. Look at the line ups of both sides and you'll already see an exciting mix of young, local players and senior pros. There have to be better ways of bringing through youngsters that don't involve quotas...

  • Pete on June 10, 2009, 13:03 GMT

    Clickinfo - surely it should be based on talent and not age. If you're good enough, you should be old enough. Asian countries have never been afraid of playing youngsters for the national team, let alone domestic sides. By all means encourage more players eligible for England, but surely not using age as the criteria!

  • Harriet on June 10, 2009, 12:00 GMT

    English cricket is hugely ageist as it is. Our debutants fail because they are shoved in at the top level, out of their depth before they are ready.

    Remember the Aussie team of 2006-2007? The best team about in the last twenty years, containing only one player under 30 and five of the world's best (Langer, Hayden, McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist) OVER 35.

    Of course, who could expect the ECB to come up with an idea that would be good for English cricket.

  • Darshak on June 10, 2009, 11:04 GMT

    Intersting and very good idea. Why don't we try it with the ECB board first. let's get some youngster on the board who would bring some sensible thinking.

    Team selection should always be on Merit. As Vikram says, if the young ones are talented then they will be selected.

  • E on June 10, 2009, 10:53 GMT

    We can't win. We moan that English cricket is not competitive enough, and then when they try to bring in more young talent, they moan that it is being unfair to the ageing trundlers. You have to prune to encourage new growth.

  • Paul on June 10, 2009, 10:05 GMT

    Well done Vikram. The point about neglecting education is true.

    Ageism by the back door is not to be encouraged. Batsmen seem to peak in their late 20's, (28-32). However, these players, at their peak, under this system, will be a cash burden to their clubs. Same with spinners. In fact It's the same with some fast bowlers.

    How many times have we seen good prospects in their early 20's fail. (What happened to Nicky Peng, before that David Sales, poor Mark Lathwell, the list is endless)

    Ageism is not to be encouraged. Quotas based on anything but talent are devisive, artifical and potentialy open to litigation.

    Not a good idea ECB, not a good idea at all.

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