England's Test cricketers are to be offered bonus payments of up to £2m a year in an attempt to check the cash-driven shift towards Twenty20 as cricket's predominant format.
The move follows the announcement of another massive jackpot for the shorter version of the game when the first Champions League takes place in October, with a £2.5m prize for the winning team.
That tournament will feature the top two sides from the Indian Premier League plus two each from the English, Australian and South African domestic competitions. England's Twenty20 Cup begins on Wednesday, with the £42,000 first prize for the winners of the final at the Rose Bowl now looking dwarfed.
The England captain, Michael Vaughan, last night expressed disquiet about the effect the Twenty20 cash explosion might have on Test cricket, fearing that the change of emphasis might have a detrimental impact on the development of Test players.
But the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, said that Vaughan's concerns were already being addressed and that win bonuses available to his Test team were being increased from the current maximum of around £800,000-a-year to £2m with immediate effect.
"It is impossible to prevent the enormous commercial success of Twenty20, indeed we want to encourage it," Clarke said. "But we need to ensure that if we have people who are pure Test specialists they are properly rewarded.
"You need only to look at the fact that we had 16,000 at Trent Bridge to see England win to know that this is a country that values Test cricket highly."
Vaughan is concerned that the incentive of winning £2.5m from the Champions League will persuade counties to concentrate on developing Twenty20 players instead of four-day cricketers, with negative consequences for Test cricket.
"It is exciting but my only fear is that it will become the ultimate competition because there is such a carrot at the end of it," Vaughan said. "Teams and counties might start developing their Twenty20 team rather than their four-day team."
But Clarke said he believed lucrative rewards for Twenty20 competitions could benefit the game if handled carefully.
"There is no desire to devalue the nature of the county championship, which remains the competition all players want to win," he said. "It is the firm view of the board that county cricket is a critical developmental element for Test cricket.
"It is a path we have to go down with care but I very much hope there will be an opportunity not for just international cricketers but for county players to make good rewards and that will show young boys that cricket can be a financially attractive career."
The Champions League event, which will take place in India or the Middle East this year but is likely to be based in England in future years, has been announced despite there being many potentially contentious issues to be resolved.
A number of players may qualify for the finals with more than one team. Michael Hussey, for example, is a member of Chennai Super Kings in the IPL and of Western Australia, who have also qualified, while Morne Morkel, who plays for Rajasthan Royals and South African side Titans, could also go through with Yorkshire. Who has first call on their services has yet to be determined.
Full details will not be finalised until the annual conference of the ICC in Dubai on 29 June but some points will have to be clarified before then. Of immediate consequence for counties is the question of whether the selection for the domestic competition of players who have appeared in the rebel Indian Cricket League might lead them to be barred from taking part in the Champions League.
The IPL chairman, Lalit Modi, yesterday restated his claim that teams fielding ICL players would not be eligible. English county players who participated in the ICL before April 2008 have been told there would be no retrospective penalties, but others, such as Lancashire's Stuart Law and Johan van der Wath of Northamptonshire, have taken part subsequently.
Unclear of whether potential bans would apply to teams or players, counties were last night seeking clarification of their position, though Clarke was a little cryptic about the matter.
"Cricket Australia have been charged with drawing up rules and regulations for the competition and when ourselves and the other boards have reached a conclusion we will advise the counties," he said.
"How counties pick their sides on Wednesday is entirely a matter for them but the board have made the position very clear to them."
Money makes game's new world go around
How counties and players could benefit from cricket's Twenty20 cash bonanza
Twenty20 cricket offers counties the potential for rewards that outstrip any sums available previously. This year's Twenty20 Cup winners will pocket £42,000 for winning the final at the Rose Bowl on 26 July. The runners-up receive £21,000 with £10,000 each for the losing semi-finalists and £5,000 for each beaten quarter-finalist. Yet the winner of the first Champions League will pocket £2.5m, with further substantial prizes for the runners-up and teams finishing third and fourth.
Such a prize would transform an average English county club, many of whom rely on their share of Test match proceeds from the England and Wales Cricket Board – currently around £1.4m per year – for survival.
The biggest domestic prize is £100,000 for winning the county championship. The Friends Provident Trophy winners take £43,000, while the Pro-40 winners collect £44,000.
Cricketers remain the poor relations of professional footballers. While a regular international player might make £350,000-£400,000 per year, the average senior county professional can expect between £60,000 and £70,000.
Twenty20 offers participants much greater rewards. England players will expect to be paid at least £350,000 each for taking part in the Stanford £10m challenge match against West Indies in November, while Kevin Pietersen could land a contract worth £2m for playing in the Indian Premier League.