Cricket: Players agree to World Cup deal

ENGLAND'S PLAYERS have averted a possibly damaging contract dispute ahead of this summer's World Cup by accepting revised terms offered by Lord's for the forthcoming tournament.

Negotiations between the England and Wales Cricket Board and the 15-man squad, which both sides had hoped to have completed before their recent Coca-Cola Cup campaign in Sharjah, had become worryingly protracted and distracting. But, after being given a deadline of 26 April to sign the new contract, which would earn them around pounds 45,000 per man should they become the first host country to win the World Cup, or risk being replaced in the final squad, the players have now signalled their intention to sign the contract.

"All the lads have now agreed to sign their contracts and we're looking forward to playing in the tournament and to hopefully achieving success," the England captain, Alec Stewart, said.

The main stumbling block during the negotiations, which had a disruptive influence on morale during their time in Sharjah and the week-long training camp in Lahore, had been the structure of payment during the seven-week tournament. The players wanted a change to the disparity between being selected for the squad and playing in the World Cup, extra security in case of injury before the tournament began, and the difference between the basic fee and the bonus money brought closer together.

Those amendments to the original contract were agreed by the Board, although the players' hopes of matching the pounds 1m promised to their rugby union counterparts for their World Cup were thwarted by the ECB chief executive Tim Lamb's insistence that no more money would be on offer. The fund will be made up of around pounds 200,000 from the team sponsors Vodafone, pounds 187,500 tournament prize money and the remainder coming from the ECB's coffers - which are limited by its failure to attract only four of the anticipated eight World Cup sponsors.

Although Lamb estimated English cricket would benefit by around pounds 12m from the tournament, he underlined the ECB's responsibility to the grass roots of the sport and insisted the game would not over-stretch itself financially to suit the players. He said: "I'm pleased we've resolved the outstanding points in the contract. I'm sure everyone will now want to focus completely on the World Cup campaign."