Players must show they deserve their rewards, 1986

A financial revolution

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Packer issue, it accelerated changes in English first-class cricket, some of which were already in the pipeline, so rapidly that within a decade there has taken place the biggest financial revolution in the history of the game. Starting from the top, the Test match payments to players and umpires have increased roughly sevenfold, and even at the bottom end of the scale, the successful introduction of a minimum wage in 1979 has more or less tripled county players' salaries. For players with the affluent clubs it may have done even more, and for very few has it done any less.

At the beginning of the 1977 season, an England player received £74 for a one-day international, £210 for five-day Test match, and around £3,000 for an overseas tour. Add to that a county salary of £3,500, and a top regular England player in a year containing six home Test matches could earn directly from his skills a maximum of £4,500 from Test cricket and £8,000 in all, the equivalent of, say, £20,000 today.

Comparative figures for last year were £500 for a one-day international, £1,500 for a five-day Test, a touring fee of at least £12,000, and a county salary of only marginally less. That adds up to nearly £35,000, and extra awards available from Cornhill, Texaco and the domestic sponsors mean that the top half-dozen England players earned in 1985 around £40,000 from actually playing cricket. Other spin-offs, including individual sponsorship and advertising contracts, as well as the loan of a car, vary according to the individual.

Nor have umpires been left behind, the ratio increase in their big-match fees being similar to that of the players. Ten years ago the fee for standing in a one-day international was £68 and in a full Test match £173. The corresponding figures are now £400 and £1,200 respectively, and a study of the difference in basic salaries available in 1977 and 1986 explains why there is now an umpires' waiting list, compared with a decade ago, when, annually, there was the threat of a shortage. By last year their annual basic salary had moved from £1,740 to £7,300, with a likely increase of around five per cent for 1986. For a top Test match umpire, standing in two Test matches and a one-day international, the marked improvement in the game's finances has brought an increase in annual salary from £2,154 to £10,460. Again, obviously, the improvement is less in real terms, after inflation has been evaluated, but it still marks a considerable upgrading, and the salary is for only about 90 days' work. Also, like the players, umpires live for most of the summer off an overnight expense figure, from which they would not make a loss, and they have their meals provided during matches. The seven-month close-season affords other earning opportunities, either through businesses they have established at the end of their playing careers, the majority of umpires being ex-players, or through other employment including coaching at home or overseas.

As a result of this increased remuneration, there is now a reserve list of three umpires in addition to the full list of 24, and there was no shortage of applicants last winter even for the reserve list. Another point is that the average age of the arbiters has been dramatically reduced in the last few years: only one umpire is now near the retiring age of 65, and with one exception the remainder are under 55.

And what about the average county player? Here, too, there has been a considerable improvement; but before the comparative figures are given for now and 1979, the progress towards the reluctant acceptance of a minimum wage by the clubs should be explained. The year of its introduction was 1979, and the arguments against it were many. No two clubs paid the same salaries, or even by the same method. Widely differing loyalty bonuses and appearance fees were paid, with expenses particularly variable. Another argument was that few clubs could afford the big increase in their overall wage bill: this would be inevitable, particularly for the younger players. There was also the implied threat that reductions in county staffs would have to be made with so much extra money to be found. The argument for the introduction of a minimum scale was that in 1977 one reserve county wicket-keeper received £400.

Another consideration in favour of minimum scale was that it would lessen the chances of wealthier clubs luring away the more promising youngsters from other clubs. By persuading those clubs to generate more income and pay higher wages, fears of increased movement by players between clubs would accordingly be reduced. The counties finally agreed to dip their toes into the water in 1979, but only on a voluntary basis for the first year. Experience showed that some clubs were already meeting or exceeding the agreed target figure of £4,500 as a minimum wage. Others had shortfalls to meet of varying amounts, in one case £18,000.

Tribute must be paid to the late Edmund King of Warwickshire, who walked the tightrope between allaying the fears of the players that the voluntary scheme might be abused by the clubs, and those of the clubs who feared that a minimum wages was the thin end of a wedge which would eventually push the weaker counties out of existence. Thanks to Mr King's efforts, an annual platform of negotiation was established which has benefited everyone. The players have moved from a non-mandatory £4,500, inclusive of sponsors' awards and bonuses, to £7,665, exclusive of those monies. This effectively means that in 1986 an ordinary capped player (in his third year of being capped, because there are two annual steps between the awarding of a cap and the progression to the full minimum wage) will receive a minimum of £8,000, with at least five counties paying more than that, in one case considerably more.

The Test and County Cricket Board also fund a Group Retirement Scheme for players, in which fourteen clubs participate. Leicestershire, Kent and Nottinghamshire provide alternative schemes. Of a player's annual cricket earnings, 5¼ per cent go into this fund, which will amount this year to at least another tax-free £400 for each of them.

Uncapped players are treated according to age up to 23. Over that they receive a minimum of £4,250, plus, for a lot of them, rewards for length of service. In addition, a mandatory minimum payment will be made this year to uncapped players of £10 for each day played in the first team, whether in one-day matches or Championship games.

Many argue that despite this improvement the gap between the Test star and the bread-and-butter county cricketer is too wide to be explained satisfactorily by the argument that extra skills merit extra rewards. Indeed, because senior England players in the early eighties agreed with this, there have been only nominal increases in Test fees in the last four years.

The result of this wage explosion is that the overall county wage bill in 1978 of £700,000 has risen to at least £2,000,000. Yet the argument that such an increase would bring about a reduction in the size of county staffs has been rebutted by an increase in the number of registered and contracted players from 300 eight years ago to a current 350. It is also irrefutable that the introduction of a regularised minimum scale has made the game financially more attractive to youngsters as a profession. The other fear, held by some clubs, that cricket would follow soccer into bankruptcy is unfounded because, unlike the winter game where players make their wage demands individually and with little concern for football's financial structure, nogotiators for the Cricketers' Association, being aware of the TCCB's overall annual income, know what can and cannot be afforded.

But how have the counties found so much extra money? A greater awareness of the need to maximise the use of their facilities all the year round would not alone have sufficed. There has been, as well, a remarkable increase in the income from sponsorship generated at Board level. At the beginning of the 1977 season, the TCCB's Marketing Committee had contracts worth £476,000. In 1985 these totalled £2,321,000. Therein lies one of the satisfactory effects of the Packer revolution. Although such a process was already slowly evolving in English cricket, it was undoubtedly accelerated.

Umpires' complaints that, with so much extra money to be won, their job is being made nearly intolerable have to be tempered by the commensurate increase in their own rewards. But on-field behaviour does seem to have declined marginally, accompanied by more attempts to pressurise umpires. With money comes power and responsibility, and the players must make a conscious effort to prevent the first-class game from travelling even the shortest step down the wrong path, as would seem to have happened in Australia. There, the extra rewards have driven players and umpires apart. First-class cricket in England provides the only full-time professional circuit in the world, and in that it is unique. In its standards of on-field behaviour it is also unique, and to see that that continues to be so is the responsibility of everyone, particularly the players. Having got the rewards they asked for, they must show that they deserve them.

© John Wisden & Co