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The international careers of Monty Panesar and Steve Harmison are at the crossroads after both were overlooked by the ECB for a central contract. Panesar is now rated behind Adil Rashid, who received an incremental contract for 2009-10, while Graeme Onions and Tim Bresnan were favoured ahead of Harmison on the 18-man list.
The omission of Panesar is short of surprising, given Rashid's solid returns for Yorkshire and the England one-day teams this year and Panesar's own declining fortunes. Panesar has claimed just 14 wickets at 85.00 in the County Championship for Northamptonshire this season, and was largely ineffective in his sole Ashes outing at Sophia Gardens.
Harmison, though, has more cause to feel aggrieved. His 46 wickets at 19.91 have been instrumental in Durham's surge to the championship crown this season, and his performances against the Australians at Headingley and The Oval were spirited. Reports earlier in the season suggested Harmison was considering retiring from international cricket, and it remains to be see what impact, if any, his omission from England's central contract list will have on that decision.
"I am sure he is disappointed not to have one but Steve could still play a role for us in our stock of fast bowlers," said England's team director Andy Flower. "He could go to South Africa with the Test team, and play a very significant role. He has talked about retirement recently and that is a decision only he can make. When I spoke to him he was still quite keen to play but still had not made a decison. I would love him to carry on.
"Central contracts don't decide selection - performances do. I would like him to be available for England. He's still a very fine fast bowler and he's got a lot to offer. There's no reason why he cannot be a permanent fixture in our bowling unit."
Aside from Panesar and Harmison, the trio of Samit Patel, Tim Ambrose and the retired Michael Vaughan also lost their contracts for 2009-10, while Andrew Flintoff received an incremental deal as he embarks on a limited-overs career. Onions, Matt Prior and Graeme Swann were awarded full 12-month contracts for the first time, and Rashid and Jonathan Trott were among those to secure incremental deals.
The move to award Ian Bell a full contract is of significant interest, coming less than three months after he was overlooked for the Ashes opener in Cardiff. Bell was recalled for the Edgbaston Test after Kevin Pietersen underwent series-ending Achilles surgery, and posted two half-centuries in five innings, including a vital first innings 72 at The Oval. He now appears to have possession of the No. 3 position in the immediate term, with contenders Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and Trott receiving incremental contracts.
"Bell's situation is he played in the last Test match, he batted No. 3 for us, he played a very important role in us winning that last Test match," Flower said. "England have invested a lot in Ian Bell; he's played 49 Test matches, he's got a lot of experience and he's still relatively young. I hope that he's still got a lot to offer English cricket in the future, but only he can determine how well he does. That comes from within. But I look forward to seeing him being a very successful international batsman."
Players awarded full 12-month contracts are divided into three salary brackets, the highest of which is believed to be worth around £250,000. Those on incremental deals are understood to receive a base salary of £40,000 and can top-up their earnings with match payments.
Flintoff's ECB earnings, therefore, will largely be determined by the success and speed of his recovery from knee surgery. The all-rounder, who retired from Test cricket after the Ashes series, could be sidelined for nine months as he attempts to return to fitness and fulfill his ambition of representing England in the limited overs formats.
"The decision to award an incremental contract to Andrew reflects our view that he will still have an important role to play in our one-day side going forward and we wish him well with his rehabilitation from injury. As we saw in this summer's Ashes Test series, he remains a world-class talent," said Geoff Miller, England's national selector.
"Likewise, the award of incremental contracts to Tim Bresnan, Adil Rashid and Jonathan Trott for the first time is in recognition of the excellent start they have all made to their international careers and their potential to develop still further as cricketers over the next 12 months."
Full contracts James Anderson, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook, Graham Onions, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Ryan Sidebottom, Andrew Strauss and Graeme Swann
Incremental contracts Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Andrew Flintoff, Adil Rashid, Owais Shah, Jonathan Trott and Luke Wright