Cricket: Players prepare for the big freeze

As a select few get ready for an Ashes tour, the game's rank and file must look elsewhere to make ends meet

THE COMING of misty autumn evenings signals, among other things, the end of another English cricket season, a time of sadness and reflection for the game's devotees and the final surrender of the sports pages to the great god, football.

For players bound for foreign shores with the England Test squad and the other representative teams, the bringing down of one curtain merely beckons the raising of another. For the vast majority peddling their talents in the county game, however, the prospect looms of six months in which their principal employer deletes them from the payroll.

Unlike the footballers with whom, for a couple of months at least, they are afforded equal status by the image makers - and breakers - of the national press, cricketers are paid only when they work. And, more to the point, they are paid at rates for a season that some of their better- heeled footballing brothers would expect to apply by the week.

A Test player might earn pounds 40-50,000 - perhaps even more - for his six months, but that category represents a tiny proportion of the workforce. At the other end of the scale a junior professional might pick up as little as pounds 7,000-8,000. The average senior probably collects around pounds 25,000, although this is not necessarily a firm rule: the minimum for a second- year capped player - one who has served an unspecified "apprenticeship" and proved his worth - is much lower, at pounds 20,800.

Hence the need for most bread-and-butter county players, without whom there would be no bedrock to underpin Test cricket, to find gainful employment during the winter. Yet the current situation is considered to be substantially better than that which existed only a few years ago.

"Things have improved," Nottinghamshire's 1998 beneficiary, the 35-year- old Kevin Evans, said. "When the television deal with Sky was negotiated, the Professional Cricketers' Association won a share of the fee for the players, which gave us a pay rise of about pounds 3,000.

"Minimum levels were established, meaning a capped player can at least be sure of what some people would regard as a decent income. Above that it is down to the individual and what he can negotiate for himself. And it depends on where you play because some counties pay better than others."

What constitutes a "decent" income varies, of course, from one individual to another, depending on his circumstances. "We are better paid," Evans' team-mate, Paul Johnson, said. "But at the same time your overheads have risen; you might have moved house and taken on a bigger mortgage. So you need to earn something in the winter to pay the bills."

Johnson has driven lorries and even killed cattle in an abattoir during his 18 years at Trent Bridge. But the range of employment possibilities has shrunk.

"In the past, a committee member might have found a player a job in his company but these days businesses are less able to do such things," Nottinghamshire's chief executive, Mark Arthur, said.

"At Trent Bridge we employ seven or eight players on our cricket in the community scheme and we use contacts overseas - we have established links with New Zealand, for example - to help players find clubs abroad.

"We cannot afford to go Lancashire's way and put people on 12-month contracts but we do our best to help and I'm happy to say none of our staff will need to draw the dole."

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