The ECB’s announcement of 40 new full-time domestic professional contracts is great news for the game in England and beyond.
In England, it means that for the first time there will be a cadre of professional players beyond the England squad. It has been noticeable recently how much the England players have pulled away from “The Rest” in terms of fielding skills and fitness in particular – not because the rest have got worse, but because the contracted players have become true elite athletes, as the benefits of 4 years of professionalism have begun to show. Professional contracts for some of The Rest will allow them to start to catch up again.
It is also good news for the game more widely, with concerns that the Australians are playing the sport on a different level to everyone else thanks to the depth of their professional structures. As these changes start to work-through, and as “The 40” become 60 or 80 in years to come, England will hopefully be in a position to challenge Australia, as well as raising the bar more generally across the top-tier nations.
The ECB have said that The 40 will be selected centrally, though presumably there will be some local input at least on an informal level; so this raises the question of who these contracts should go to.
Make no mistake – it will be contentious! During the discussion phase, there was a debate about whether the available budget should be used to pay everyone a little “semi-professional” money, or pay a few players enough to go fully professional. The latter won-out, but this means there will be Haves and Have Nots… and the Have Nots won’t necessarily be happy about it – there will be jealousies and bitterness and some of the Have Nots may well decide to quit the elite game as a result.
But leaving these questions aside, there are essentially two options now for The 40 – we either fund the best players on current form; or we pay those with the most potential to play for England one day in the future.
One of the arguments for abolishing county cricket, and establishing the eight new “Centres of Excellence” teams, was that county cricket didn’t provide a high standard of competition; so on this logic, you have to pay the best players to ensure the quality is raised – especially as those players are probably the most likely to walk away if they don’t get contracts. (“Why should I open the batting or the bowling, and carry the team, when X down the order is getting paid, and I’m getting nothing?”)
On the other hand, the purpose of these contracts is to build the England team of the future, so perhaps there is no point in paying players, however good they are right now, if they will likely never be pulling on an England shirt? CRICKETher understands that these contracts will not be going to students, but if all the contracts have gone to the current best, players coming out of university will still end up facing the same choice that Katie Levick did however-many years ago – cricket or… well… eat!
Hopefully the answer is a happy medium. Unfortunately, we are likely to lose some players as a result of this process – there are certainly a handful of big-ish names who would have to take pay-cuts to go pro on the salaries we are talking about, which they probably can’t afford to do; and we’ve also spoken to players who just don’t want to be professionals, even regardless of the money. But if we can use the budget to keep the likes of Aylish Cranstone and Marie Kelly in the game, through their twenties into their thirties, and give some of our most promising youngsters like Rhianna Southby and Sarah Glenn a platform to build towards the dream of one day playing for England, we might just get the best of both worlds.