Central contract or one-day selection? Which will it be that an England cricketer looks out for first this afternoon when the national selectors announce the players who are to be offered the next batch of 12-month central contracts, along with the limited over squad that will travel to Antigua to play in Sir Allen Stanford's $20m winner-takes-all Twenty20 match before moving on to play seven one-dayers in India.
In the eight-year history of central contracts it was previously a no-brainer. A central contract was the most sought after deal in English cricket, almost guaranteeing your Test selection and an opportunity to take home more than £350,000 a year.
In the past 12 months the cricketing landscape has changed somewhat. The 11 who play in Antigua will receive over £500,000 each for three hours work should they defeat Sir Allen Stanford's All-Star XI on 1 November. In the current world, and with tax removed, it may not be a life-changing sum of money, but victory would afford those involved the chance to partake in a few of life's luxuries.
England are expected to hand out 12 central contracts with the most contentious seemingly being awarded to Michael Vaughan. Offering Vaughan a central contract is an interesting decision by the selectors, a judgement possibly made on sentiment rather than performance. The advice and experience of the highly respected former England captain could play an important role in next summer's Ashes. But his form with the bat does not merit him a place in the current team, from which he asked to be removed following his resignation. In the past year he has scored 578 runs in 12 Tests at an average of just 27.5.
The ECB are expected to offer around half a dozen new performance-related contracts, too. Those selected can look forward to their county contracts being topped up by the ECB. They will receive points for the games they play in a season, too which, when a stipulated amount has been collected, will result in them being awarded a full central contract. Matthew Prior and Owais Shah are prime candidates for this sort of deal. Matthew Hoggard, England's admirable seamer, will be the only previously contracted player to miss out.
It is hard to believe England will make many changes from the squad that recently defeated South Africa 4-0. The 11 who played in each match are sure to go, along with Ravi Bopara, Graeme Swann, Alastair Cook and Ryan Sidebottom, providing he has recovered from the groin/lower back/hip injury that kept him out of the one-day series against South Africa and the remainder of the season.
There has been talk of Twenty20 specialists being added to the squad for the Stanford match, and Hampshire's Dimitri Mascarenhas could be a surprise selection. England seemed to abandon this policy after their ill-fated Twenty20 World Championship campaign in South Africa a year ago. England selected several Twenty20 specialists for the tournament but they were found wanting against the best players in the world, and Essex's Graham Napier seems set to miss out.
Five weeks ago Stephen Harmison was not expected to feature in either of the squads announced today but the appointment of Kevin Pietersen as Vaughan's successor and impressive bowling displays against South Africa have ensured that he will now be at the forefront of all England's pre-Christmas cricket. But before jetting off around the world he has the small matter of a County Championship to win for his beloved Durham.
His county are playing their part in an intriguing finish to the Championship. With three weeks remaining and most teams having two matches to play, 21 points separate eight of the nine sides in the First Division. Durham currently occupy fourth place, 11 points behind Nottinghamshire, the leaders, but with a game in hand. That match starts today in Taunton against Somerset, who lie second, five points off the top spot.
Money men: Possible squads
*Angus Fraser's Stanford Twenty20/India one-day squad: K P Pietersen (capt), J M Anderson, I R Bell, R S Bopara, S C J Broad, P D Collingwood, A N Cook, A Flintoff, S J Harmison, S R Patel, M J Prior, O A Shah, R J Sidebottom, G P Swann, L J Wright.
*Possible central contracts: Anderson, Bell, Broad, Collingwood, Cook, Flintoff, Harmison, M S Panesar, Pietersen, Sidebottom, A J Strauss, M P Vaughan.Reuse content