ECB acts to head off new contract dispute

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The Independent Online

Officials from the England and Wales Cricket Board were due to meet players' representatives last night in a desperate attempt to prevent a contracts dispute threatening their early-season preparations.

The 12 England contracted players are due to assemble in Cheshire on 3-4 April for a series of fitness tests before this summer's Test and one-day series against Zimbabwe and West Indies.

It emerged yesterday that none of the players have signed the new ECB contracts, which will earn them around £70,000, in a similar scenario to the conflict which prefaced last summer's World Cup challenge.

The dispute is over the loss of their county bonus, which would be no more than £3,000 even in a successful side, because few of the contracted players will be featuring for their county this season.

The players are also concerned about "image rights", which would give the players a share of the profits if the ECB agreed any future deals with media or Internet companies.

"A meeting is taking place to address these issues, and we are hopeful that the matter will be satisfactorily resolved," Andrew Walpole, the ECB's media relations officer, said. "We remain optimistic that the contracts will be signed before they become effective on 1 April."

Last year's dispute, when the 14 members of England's World Cup squad refused to sign the contract which took them through Sharjah and into the summer tournament, was resolved only at the last minute.

That distraction was later blamed for England's failure to progress beyond the opening stage of the tournament.