Counties call crisis meeting to address T20 drain

Alex Hales made 46 on his return to the PSL PCB/PSL

County cricket's leading coaches will gather at Edgbaston next week in a crisis meeting to consider how to fight back against the lure of sundry worldwide Twenty20 leagues to the top limited-overs players in the country.

The growing feeling within the counties is that they are paying reliable, long-term contracts to players - many of whom they have developed since childhood - who then rarely take the field.

As cricket has no transfer system, or worldwide compensation agreement, the complaint is that English counties are running extensive coaching networks and nurturing players from an early age without adequate rewards for their efforts.

A record number of England players are taking part in this season's IPL, causing them to miss virtually half the Championship season, but at least when it comes to India's T20 competition the counties can anticipate some levels of compensation.

One proposal on the agenda is that county players contracted for an entire year must pass on a percentage of their earnings from winter tournaments like the Bangladesh Premier League, Australia's Big Bash and the Pakistan Super League - so putting those tournaments on roughly the same level as the IPL.

Others contend that overseas T20 leagues should pay loan fees, similar to the methodology used in football. If they can reach common accord, many counties believe they can prevent players switching from county to county in search of a softer deal.

Former England coaches Ashley Giles and Peter Moores are expected at the meeting, as well as ex-England internationals such as Alec Stewart and Paul Allott.

Representatives from 15 county clubs are confirmed to attend and such is the level of anxiety about county cricket's plight that the only surprise is that three counties don't see fit to be there.

A prime fear is that more players will follow the example of Alex Hales and Adil Rashid in seeking a white-ball only future, which might suit England's needs as they plan for the 2019 World Cup on home soil but could, if the habit became widespread, put the survival of England's first-class game at risk.

But the growing sense of dismay goes deeper than that. Equally disturbing for the counties are the players who will profess their loyalty in all forms of the game, but who then top up their salaries with several close-season T20 leagues, and as a result are either injured, fatigued or must undertake enforced rest periods imposed by England, during the county season.

Players, for their part, contend that an impossible overcrowded fixture list, with international and club cricket battling for supremacy, leaves them with the sort of divided loyalties that they would rather not face as they seek to maximise their earnings.

Yorkshire's director of cricket, Martyn Moxon, will chair the meeting on April 10, which will seek solutions at a time when the ECB seems merely content to let cricket's shifting sands move in whatever direction they wish.

Moxon, who has developed into one of the county game's more serious thinkers, is well placed to pass on concerns, also being on the ECB's cricket committee, and well respected by the ECB chairman Colin Graves.

Central to their concerns are the white-ball only contracts introduced by the managing director of England cricket, Andrew Strauss. These were introduced in September 2016 as a supplement to county contracts - roughly doubling their pay - but the counties now feel that England are getting their one-day specialists on the cheap.

The situation is more equable in Test cricket where the ECB contracts the player exclusively - although even that makes it difficult for a county to make financial plans when a player suddenly loses that contract and is added to the county payroll.

The ECB claims it wishes to protect the 18-team county system - the most successful professional club league in world cricket despite predictions of its demise for more than half a century - but the harsh fact is that counties barely see some of their top white-ball players in spite of most of them earning salaries above GBP100,000 a year.

That situation is seen as unsustainable. Parasitical T20 leagues can ultimately destroy the host. The counties are seeking something more symbiotic - a form of mutual advantage - and, as the cricketing calendar seems to be the harshest form of economic free-for-all, they believe that time is running out to achieve it.