It means that senior England players will play a minimal part in their counties' Championship and one-day matches - and even then only with the permission of the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The move, which has long been resisted by the counties, was agreed at a meeting at Lord's, although compensation figures to the individual counties for the loss of their players is yet to be agreed. The First Class Forum, comprising the 18 first class counties and the MCC, agreed that an additional pounds 1m would be added to next year's budget to cover the cost of the contracts and payment to the counties. The contracts are likely to be announced after the winter tour to South Africa and Zimbabwe and will run from March to September 2000 although a limited number of players may be granted 12-month deals.
There are unlikely to be more than 16 contracts issued, but it should prevent a breakdown in communications between county and country similar to the Alex Tudor saga before the second Test at Lord's, when he was sent for a scan by Surrey without England's knowledge and was forced to withdraw from the Test.
Tim Lamb, the England and Wales Cricket Board's chief executive, said: "We believe the introduction of central contracts is essential if England are to develop a settled squad of international players capable of performing well consistently."
Lamb and other members of the hierarchy were yesterday standing firm behind the England side with Lamb saying: "There are an awful lot of good things going on in the game. The game is in very good health overall, there are more young people playing the game than ever before and we have success at under-19 level."
The team sponsors, the mobile phone company Vodafone, also pledged their continuing support.
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