BY MARTIN JOHNSON
England's professional cricketers are demanding more money and a bigger say in the running of the domestic game - which is one of their braver resolutions given that there is one obvious way to raise both wages and playing standards. Weed out all those who should be playing as amateurs in any event, and tell them to go out and get a job they are passably good at.
David Graveney, the players' union representative, has delivered a 1,000- word memo to Lord's for consideration at next week's Test and County Cricket Board's spring meeting. The major gripe is wages, and the players are asking that their recently rejected claim for a rise in the minimum annual salary from £14,500 to £20,000 be given another hearing.
It is not difficult to sympathise with the players, whose share of professional cricket's annual loot roughly equates to the cloakroom attendant's tips at the Dorchester, but at domestic level it is equally clear that there are too many of them getting paid under false pretences. Counties should be forced to limit their staffs to a maximum of 18, instead of the current nonsensical system of overloading them with nondescript players.
This would allow a bigger share for those players worth keeping, and as well as getting something closer to the £20,000 they are asking for, county players should also be given a bigger incentive for making it to the top level than is currently on offer.
England's Test players are also poorly paid by comparison with the money they generate. Michael Atherton, the England captain, would have earned around £30,000 from the Ashes tour, and can expect less than that for this summer's six- Test series against the West Indies. However, the TCCB will make around £8m from the series simply through the gate, and, quite apart from all the sponsorship and advertising money, the Board recently signed a five-year television deal worth £60m.
This, though, does not get reflected in the players' pay packets. Instead, vast chunks of money are thrown at the counties, who then use it to prop up a domestic system that not only loses money hand over fist, but is also the major reason for normally placid people kicking the cat or demolishing the TV set at the mere mention of England's cricket team. Raising millions of pounds a year on the back of a side with England's record is one of the great marketing exercises, the equivalent of selling refrigerators to Eskimos.
One of the reasons that the TCCB has got away with paying its players so poorly down the years is also one of the major reasons for lower playing standards. It is called the benefit system, and involves ordinary players being allowed to hang on for far too long in order to pick up a tax-free windfall at the end of 10 years.
In terms of the better players, the benefit system is also a temptation to become a travelling mercenary. Counties used to award them on a discretionary basis in return for long service. Now they are negotiated by agents as part of transfer packages, and it will be a miracle if the pitch is not finally queered in terms of the Inland Revenue taking a keener interest. Allan Lamb, for example, raised well over six figures, tax free, from his 1988 benefit with Northamptonshire, and yet after only six more years he has been granted a testimonial.
The better pensions and insurance plans which the players are also asking for would be far more logical than an arbitrary benefit system, and the players are also demanding consultation on pitches, domestic structure and the national lack of practice and coaching facilities. They'll be lucky. On all previous evidence, "player requests" usually gets a shorter innings than "any other business''.
n Dennis Amiss, the Warwickshire chief executive, has confirmed that the England A manager, Phil Neale, is a leading candidate for the club's director of coaching post. But Amiss said 40-year-old Neale was "just one of three or four very good candidates" to be interviewed.Reuse content