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Stokes 'comfortable' with prospect of England players turning down central contracts

"If a person makes a decision because they think it's not only best for themselves but also the future and security of their family, then it's very hard to disagree with that"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Ben Stokes joined up with England after reversing his ODI retirement, Cardiff, September 7, 2023

As Test captain, Ben Stokes is part of Team England Player Partnership (TEPP)  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Ben Stokes described himself as "very comfortable" with the idea that England men's players could turn down central contracts in order to maximise their earning potential in franchise leagues, after Mark Wood hinted he could miss the Test tour to India next year to fulfil a lucrative contract to play in the ILT20 in the UAE.
England's central contracts are up for renewal next month, with ECB chief executive Richard Gould pledging earlier this year that the system would be overhauled. He described contracting as "an existential issue" and suggested that match fees would have to be increased to ensure that England can regularly field full-strength sides.
The ECB are also expected to offer some players multi-year deals to tie them down for a longer period than the usual 12 months, though the board does not have an unlimited supply of money and some of the recommendations from the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) report will prove expensive.
Wood - who turns 34 in January - told the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday that he would have to "wait and see" what he was offered before deciding whether to tour India for five Tests or play the full season of the ILT20 for Dubai Capitals, though clarified that turning down a central contract is "not on my radar at the minute".
"I want to play for England as long as I can, but it just depends on what they say, what they want me to do, and how they view the structure going forwards," Wood said. "Playing both [the ILT20 and the India Tests] is not a viable option for England… I will wait and see what happens with the upcoming central contracts and then make a decision from there."
Stokes is part of Team England Player Partnership (TEPP), the body that looks after the interests of England men's players, in his capacity as Test captain, and said that he had no choice but to be "understanding" if players decided to make sure of "the opportunities that are presented now".
Speaking ahead of his return to ODI cricket against New Zealand on Friday, Stokes said: "We know now that the whole landscape of cricket is changing. That is great for the individuals who are still within the game but also the guys who are coming through. The opportunities that are presented now for cricketers are amazing, and it's great for the sport.
"The more opportunities that come, the more people will be attracted to the sport and trying to make a career out of it. Everyone's at a different point in their life, not just in their career, where other things have to be thought about by the individual. If a person makes a decision because they think it's not only best for themselves but also the future and security of their family then it's very hard to disagree with that.
"We've got to understand, and I've got to understand as a captain, that there might be some decisions players make and I'm very comfortable and aware that something like that might happen. But it's up to the individual and I think having a good and clear understanding that the landscape of cricket is changing in front of our eyes very quickly makes things like this a bit more easy to understand, if players were to choose to do something like that."
Regarding Wood, he told the BBC: "Someone who bowls 95mph, it would be very hard not to say, 'yeah come and play this game... I understand why you are doing that, with the opportunity it gives you and your life after cricket.' It's tough not to. I think it's going to happen more and more, if I am honest with you. Those opportunities weren't available to people five or 10 years ago.
"[We] need to think about the long-term effect it will have on our sport. It's only going to be good for the game, that more people are attracted to play the game. We want people playing cricket. Participation levels have gone up on the back of this summer. You want people watching the sport."
The ILT20 is due to take place between January 19 and February 18, clashing directly with the first three Tests of England's tour to India. Joe Root and Chris Woakes are among the other England Test regulars under contract for the tournament.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98