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Analysis

ECB made an offer, and most players couldn't refuse

"I thought more people might not have taken the multi-year element of it," admits Rob Key

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
24-Oct-2023
Harry Brook receives his first Test cap from Joe Root, England vs South Africa, 3rd Test, Kia Oval, September 8, 2022

Harry Brook and Joe Root are among the players to have accepted three-year deals  •  Getty Images

A lucrative offer made by a team that did not exist 12 months ago was the trigger for the most significant change in England's central-contracts system since they came into existence 23 years ago.
Dubai Capitals only played their first match, at the UAE's ILT20, in January, but when they agreed a £400,000 deal with Mark Wood which risked him missing a Test tour to India, the ECB sprang into action. Changes to England contracts have been mooted for the last six months as a response to the rapid growth in the players' earning potential with overseas franchises. The launch of two new, IPL-backed leagues - the ILT20 and the SA20 in South Africa - at the start of the year was a watershed moment, with most of England's leading players signing contracts.
England's white-ball tour to Bangladesh in March, which saw a handful of players turn down call-ups so they could honour their PSL deals, was another significant prompt for action. Having initially planned to increase match and tour fees, the ECB changed course when Wood signed with Capitals - who are owned by GMR Group, IPL team Delhi Capitals' co-owners.
"Originally, we thought that [increasing] match fees was the way to go," Rob Key, the ECB's managing director of men's cricket, explained in Bengaluru on Tuesday. "We felt that retainers gave enough incentive… all the time they had the retainer, players wouldn't choose franchise cricket over a central contract.
"And then that changed a little bit when Woody was offered a big deal out in the UAE to play in the ILT20. Then we thought: 'Hang on, we might need to think about this and make sure that we can offer enough incentive for our best players to sign central contracts.' And we got a little bit more money put into the pot."
The answer, as the ECB saw it, was to tie players to multi-year central contracts, thereby staving off the looming threat of year-round contracts which would see players represent all of an IPL franchise's global affiliates. As far as Key is aware, no England player has received such an offer, but the ECB believe they are imminent.
"You don't know what the future holds with franchise cricket," Key said. "You don't know when the first year-long deal for an English cricketer is going to be offered from a franchise, where they say to someone: 'Right, you come and play for us.' And then I'm making phone calls to say: 'Oh, by the way, can we have that player for an England series?'"
"It's the first time we've been able to, not call the bluff of players, but actually say: 'Come on then, where do you want to be?' And actually, they've all chosen to play for England - to commit to play for England as and when selected"
Rob Key
Discussions with England players started over a month ago and, after lengthy negotiations between the ECB, the Team England Player Partnership (TEPP) and the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), decisions were made while their World Cup squad were in Dharamsala ahead of their win over Bangladesh.
Six players were offered three-year contracts: Harry Brook, Joe Root and Wood all signed them; Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler opted for two-year deals instead; while Ben Stokes, England's Test captain, agreed a single-year contract, a calculated gamble on the value of central contracts increasing when new terms are agreed next year.
In total, 18 players committed to at least two years, while a further eight signed on for one year. The value of those contracts varies from a lower bound of roughly £130,000 to a top bracket of around £800,000. Three more players signed pace-bowling development contracts, which act as a top-up on county salaries worth nearly £70,000.
Significantly, every player who was offered a deal signed on.
Key said: "It's the first time we've been able to, not call the bluff of players, but actually say: 'Come on then, where do you want to be?' And actually, they've all chosen to play for England - to commit to play for England as and when selected."
It came as a pleasant surprise to Key. "I thought more people might not have taken the multi-year element of it," he said. "That's been a credit to the players, that they are prepared to commit to English cricket, when for the first time ever, they have so many more opportunities."
Key is also resigned to the further growth of established franchise leagues - not least Major League Cricket, which clashes directly with the English summer - and he believes that England have no choice but to work alongside them.
"The [number of] competitions in our summer is going to become more and more," he said. "Franchise cricket doesn't have to lose for us to win - because, by the way, it won't. This middle ground is the future…
"We need to make sure our best players are playing in this game. I don't want a world where you see your best players going off and playing franchise cricket; I want to see them playing for England."
Key's hope is that this batch of contracts will ensure that they continue to do so.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98