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Rob Key: 'Life-changing' franchise deals are hard for non-contracted players to turn down

Bilateral international cricket feeling the squeeze from the growth of T20 tournaments

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Rob Key was appointed as England's managing director last year  •  Getty Images

Rob Key was appointed as England's managing director last year  •  Getty Images

Rob Key has admitted that England players without central contracts are taking "huge" dents to their prospective earnings by turning down franchise deals to play bilateral international series.
An England squad will arrive in Bangladesh this week for a short white-ball tour comprising three ODIs and three T20Is starting on March 1, with several players absent on Test duty in New Zealand or after opting to play in the Pakistan Super League instead.
And Key, England's managing director of men's cricket, said that non-contracted players are being offered "life-changing amounts of money" which significantly outstrip the tour fees and match fees paid by the ECB.
"At the moment, we can't physically get our strongest team to every single game England play," Key told Wisden Cricket Monthly during an extensive interview. "The other thing that's coming - and it's here now, really - is the cost; the difference in what they get paid for England compared to what they're getting offered around the world.
"You're talking $500,000 or $600,000 for a few weeks' work, in some cases. If you're not on a central contract then the difference is huge. There's not a person in the world that would actually sit there and go, 'do you know what, I'm not bothered about that amount of money'. You're talking about life-changing amounts of money.
"These are the next things we're having to negotiate. This is what the game has to try and work out what it's going to do. And I don't, at the moment, know the answer. These things have happened almost overnight. This was always coming, but it wasn't until these two leagues in South Africa and the UAE where the money just went 'voom', went up, that it's now started to be really competitive."
Only a handful of England players without central contracts have earned the sums Key mentioned in recent, non-IPL T20 leagues, but Alex Hales, Sam Billings and Liam Dawson - who has since flown home with an injury - all opted out of the upcoming Bangladesh tour in order to honour their more lucrative PSL contracts.
More than 60 Englishmen have been involved in overseas short-form leagues this winter, with the Abu Dhabi T10, BBL, ILT20, SA20, BPL and PSL all proving popular destinations. Some players - Tom Kohler-Cadmore, for example - played in three different leagues in the space of 10 days.
Elsewhere, Moeen Ali, Billings and Luke Wood were all recruited for the knockout stages of the Bangladesh Premier League at short notice, while ESPNcricinfo understands another England player without a central contract declined a $100,000 offer to play in the final week of the competition.
The ECB have encouraged young players to sign up for franchise leagues in recent years and see the fact that the majority take place during the English winter as a competitive advantage over most Test-playing nations, using them as a development tool.
"We're lucky: our summer doesn't run alongside these things," Key said. "If you're in Australia, your domestic players are going to get taken to these leagues that are running at the same time.
"The global game, the international game, has to have a serious think and get-together about what it's going to do to make sure that there's meaning in the cricket that we play. That's the key: it's not just about money, we need the meaning to be there to make people want to play [international cricket]."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98