The Hundred has officially been postponed following yesterday's ECB board meeting. Ever since the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown became apparent, it had looked highly unlikely that a new competition could be launched this year, with prospects of fans attending games minimal, travel bans limiting the availability of overseas players and coaches, and many staff involved in planning at host venues furloughed by their respective counties.
The ECB has repeatedly stated its intention to stage the competition next summer, stressing in a press release that "refocused efforts will now look forward to 2021". As things stand, there remain questions to answer regarding contracts, Kolpak players, and the tournament's long-term future...
The contracts players signed after October's draft were composed of two parts: a player appearance contract and an employment contract. Players have received a small percentage - around 5% - of their overall fee to date, and were due to receive a total of 20% of their fees before the tournament's planned launch in mid-July.
ESPNcricinfo understands that players are yet to be told the final sum they will receive this year, but the fact the competition has been postponed this far in advance will likely reduce it, as that money was due to be paid pro rata based on date.
That means that while some of the top earners in the men's competition could still be paid around £15,000 without playing a game, the ECB will save the majority of the £9 million it was due to pay in player wages this year (£8m to men's squads, £1m to women's). A further £1.7 million had been put aside for the salaries of coaches and support staff, the majority of which will be saved.
Some players, including Tymal Mills and Harry Gurney, had taken out insurance on their contracts, but are unlikely to receive a full payout since most policies only cover injuries and rely on the tournament being played.
The PCA is working collaboratively with the ECB to iron out the details, and conversations will take place on Thursday afternoon between PCA representatives and some senior players involved in the Hundred to discuss the situation.
"Those discussions are under way," Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, told the BBC. "The contracts contemplate situations like this - obviously not the exact situation, but we do have the ability to have those discussions through what is written down in the contracts."
Under the tournament's existing retention regulations, seen by ESPNcricinfo, each team would be able to retain up to ten players from its 15-man squad, at a salary band negotiated with the player. The most likely solution is for something similar to that system to be used, with a smaller draft taking place at some point this winter.
Possible alternatives might include a complete re-draft or an attempt to leave the squads as they are, but neither approach seems likely to work in practice.
The first option would render last October's draft futile, and its legality would be in question given it would seemingly breach the regulations underpinning player contracts.
The latter is likely to be impossible due to the fact that several teams have signed Kolpak players in non-overseas slots, and the expectation that the loophole will close when the UK leaves the European Union at the end of the year means they will have to be classified as overseas players in the 2021 edition. For example, Welsh Fire's squad contains at least four non-overseas players - Colin Ingram, Ravi Rampaul, Simon Harmer and Leus du Plooy - who are unlikely to qualify as 'locals' next year.
That obstacle may yet be avoided if the UK government seeks an extension to the transition period - the deadline for that eventuality is June 30 - but sticking with something similar to the planned model seems to be the most likely solution. While the PCA has publicly backed increasing the number of overseas player permitted in the County Championship and the One-Day Cup from one to two, it has not suggested the same move in the T20 Blast or the Hundred, reasoning that it would reduce the number of opportunities for local players too much.
If the planned retention rules are used, teams may be willing to let some of their overseas stars go in the expectation that a different set of players will be available next summer, when the Future Tours Programme (FTP) is currently emptier - although existing gaps in the calendar may well be filled with postponed series.
"If we can get other international players who were not available this year to make the Hundred even stronger for next year through a mini draft then we can attract a new audience to come and watch cricket," Moeen Ali, Birmingham Phoenix's captain, said on Wednesday.
"We have a commitment to deliver the Hundred in the way we set out to deliver it this year," Harrison said. "We will be having discussions with players who have been selected through the draft - there are decisions to be made about that."
It is understood that some teams have already begun to discuss likely retention strategies, and further conversations among support staff are likely over the coming weeks and months once the picture becomes clearer. Several coaches spoke about wanting to build a squad that would lay the foundations of success over multiple seasons rather than just targeting the 2020 edition at last year's draft.
There will undoubtedly be some players that miss out in the short term. For example, Dane Vilas was signed for £125,000 by Manchester Originals as a local player in October's draft, but is significantly less likely to secure a contract if he finds himself competing for one against overseas talent. Players like Liam Plunkett (35) and Ryan ten Doeschate (39) might find age counts against them going into 2021, while young domestic players looking at a substantial payday like Tom Abell and Phil Salt (both £100,000 buys for the Originals) will miss out on what represents a life-changing sum of money for this year at least.
Perhaps more pressingly, the tournament's postponement could leave women's cricketers without a central contract in the lurch. Several players expected to become professional this summer despite not having an England contract, through a combination of one of the 40 available contracts at the new regional hubs, and a Hundred deal. While the ECB's £20 million investment into the women's game over the next two years has been ring-fenced, those players face a significant short-term setback.
2021 and beyond
The tournament's many critics have suggested that this is the perfect time to shelve it for good. The circumstances are not dissimilar to those in which the 'P20' competition, initially planned as a rival to the IPL involving teams from overseas, was shelved in 2009, with the global financial crisis and resulting recession meaning launching a new, lucrative competition became unpalatable.
But the Hundred is significantly further down the line in terms of planning: it forms a central part of the ECB's strategy for both the men's and women's game, and the ink has dried on sponsorship deals and broadcast contracts. And while the costs of the competition's first season are substantial (not far short of £60 million) that figure includes the £1.3m payments to each county that will be even more vital to their survival following a year without income.
That means that the ECB holds the cards over the tournament's future and is relatively unlikely to face demands for change. Harrison confirmed in a media release that "the Hundred will go ahead in 2021 when we are safely able to deliver everything we intended to help grow the game" and said that there would be "an even greater need for the Hundred" following the Covid-19 crisis and the financial disruption it has already caused English cricket.
This week, a report from advisory firm Oakwell Sports suggested opening the competition up to private investment and moving to a franchise model in order to make significant savings. Although the ECB are unlikely to want to cede control over the teams, Harrison conceded that the current circumstances would require them to be open-minded about investment.
Asked by Sky Sports if the postponement represented an opportunity to look at a different business model, Harrison said: "Yes, it does, and maybe coronavirus and the financial impact of coronavirus forces us into a place where we have to look at some of those opportunities. But that is something we will do with the game, and certainly not something that we'll jump into because we are broadly in a very strong position as a game. And I'm very confident that we can, in partnership with the game, build our way out of this."
Instead, the onus will be on cutting costs where possible. For example, the significant sum allocated to coaches' wages might be considered a luxury the tournament cannot afford. The same is true of the £5.8 million allocated for 'event delivery' and £1.5 million for 'admin', while paying men's players with white-ball central contracts up to £125,000 each seems like a significant expense which could be avoided via an allocation system similar to that used for those on red-ball contracts.