Cricket: Stewart's men state case for more cash

Under-achievers of Sharjah are forced to negotiate from a position of weakness. By Derek Pringle
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT WAS meant to be a trip of resolution for England's World Cup squad, but three straight losses and a row over contracts have turned their Sharjah sojourn into a war of wills between them and their employers, the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Within an hour of winning their final match against Pakistan, Alec Stewart and his squad met behind closed doors with Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the ECB, and David Acfield, a non-executive member of the management board.

The meeting, which went on well into the early hours of the morning, did not pull its verbal punches and players' grievances over the current World Cup contracts were given a good airing.

Despite the passion - Darren Gough apparently gave an Olivier-class performance - it is thought that no more money is to be put on the table. Instead some of the fine detail, such as compulsory travel by team coach and the chance to take some time off to see their families, will be looked at again.

As sweeteners go, it is hardly in the buff-envelope-on-a-draughty-motorway- services class so beloved of old-school football managers, and the sound of 15 pens suddenly inking the dotted line in unison is unlikely. The players will sign, but only grudgingly.

One of the sources of disquiet, it seems, has been the disparity between what players were paid for a one-off tournament in Bangladesh last October (pounds 8,000), and what they are being offered for the first stage of the World Cup (believed to be about pounds 5,000).

The logic, if that is the right term, is that England will play five matches in stage one, as opposed to the single game played in Bangladesh. Taken to its extreme the players argument is that if most other professions charge by the minute, why shouldn't they.

In some ways the spat has united the players though, judging by the performances on the field, it is their employers rather than their opponents, who have borne the brunt. As a general rule sportsmen have no bargaining power without results and when the West Indies downed tools to get a better pay settlement it was before, not after, their disastrous tour of South Africa.

England's cricket here has mainly been shoddy and confused. The poor batting form of Stewart, as well as his stodgy captaincy, has not helped matters. Comfortably outmanoeuvred by his opposite numbers in the first two games, it was only in the final two matches that he showed any flair by keeping men up in run-saving positions.

If that was an improvement, he has two County Championship matches and two National League matches to find some touch before the World Cup squad assemble at Canterbury on 2 May.

On the positive side England must be happy that Graham Thorpe and Neil Fairbrother came through Sharjah without stirring up their old injuries. Both the left-handers scored runs, too, though their final positions in the order, like the batting tactics in the first 15 overs, appear undecided.

England also have a clearer picture of what Andrew Flintoff and Angus Fraser have to offer. Before this trip neither would have been thought of as definite first-choice material. Yet Flintoff's power and exuberance, as well as Fraser's old-fashioned virtues of line and length, have made both compulsory selections. Providing the others can emulate them, and contracts are signed, England may yet prove a force in the World Cup.