Central contracts need an overhaul

This is the second part of our manifesto to save English red-ball cricket. Michael Vaughan launched the manifesto on Wednesday with his piece of him calling for five-day County Championship matches and an expanded top tier.

Central contracts serve two purposes. They give a board control over their players but are also a sign of priorities.

When Andrew Strauss set about changing white ball cricket as the “poor relation” to the Test game in 2015 one of his first policies was to shake up central contracts.

The system that had been in place since 2000 was updated. In 2016 players were awarded white or red ball deals, or both to a select few who played all formats. It tripled the pay for some one-day specialists and made it clear that they were no longer seen as second-class citizens. Three years later England won the World Cup.

Like all good ideas, it had a shelf life and unintended consequences, promoting white ball ahead of red. Last year the separate deals were deemed outdated and instead graded contracts were awarded with a 60 percent weighting financially to playing Test cricket and 20 per cent to each one-day format. In total 20 deals worth between £200,000-£800,000 (with match fees and win bonuses on top) were given out.

But the changes did not go far enough. Reversing England Test fortunes will take years and the central contract system can play a big part.

Now it is time to look again and prioritize those players with long Test careers by rewarding them with multi-year central contracts while also widening the number of red-ball deals for younger players with low retainers and higher match fees and win bonuses.

Ben Stokes, Joe Root and any players with a rare gift, those who bowl 90 mph or above, should be given multi-year deals to tie them to England and give the board total control over their white-ball opportunities.

Stokes should be the next Test captain with a remit to lead England into the next Ashes series at home in 2023. Why tie him to a one-year, 12-month deal like everybody else? He is clearly still going to be a vital Test player in two, three or four years’ time.

Why not offer him a two or three-year deal, at the highest pay grade, with the understanding England always comes first and any franchise appearances are allowed when they benefit the national team.

Stokes was badly injured on IPL duty last year, suffering a severe broken finger that led to his mental health spiraling downwards. Stokes is not playing IPL this year but intends to go back, risking further injury for England, who end up picking up the cost with medical bills and paying an injured player a full salary when he is not available.

Root may have stepped down as Test captain but is instrumental to the team’s future performances. Root has never played IPL but came very close to entering the auction in January. Now freed of the captaincy he may feel it is time to spread his wings and give the T20 circuit a crack before it is too late.

If he was on a multi-year central contract England could prevent that from happening if they deemed it against the best interests of the Test side.

Mark Wood signed up for the IPL and was bought for £735,000 by the Lucknow Super Giants and only injury to his elbow has prevented him from going to India. Imagine if Wood had picked up that injury playing IPL and faced a long Test layoff because of it? What a waste for England.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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