England handed lucrative contracts to 18 players yesterday and immediately rested two of them. The announcement of the new deals coincided with confirmation of the policy to rotate players to keep them fresh, regardless of their importance or the state of any series.
It also emerged that Andy Flower, the coach, suspects that the Indian Premier League, in which some players can expect to earn considerably more than they would playing international cricket, will be an issue for years to come. This will ensure that the implementation of contracts or even the signing of them is far from straightforward.
Flower and the other three selectors have awarded central contracts to 11 players, one fewer than last year, and increment contracts to seven others. Out from the elite list go Monty Panesar, Stephen Harmison, and Michael Vaughan, who has retired, and in come Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Graham Onions. Andrew Flintoff, retired from Test cricket, was not eligible for a central contract and has been downgraded to the increment list.
The central contracts, of which there are three bands, are worth between £150,000 and £300,000 and the increment contract about £70,000. The names on both lists will make up the winter touring party to South Africa, although that will not be formally finalised until next month.
With England 3-0 down in the NatWest Series against Australia they have also decided to rest two of their most experienced players, Paul Collingwood and James Anderson. Collingwood will miss the next three games and Anderson two, a bold action but an obvious one given the jaded recent form of both men.
"To manage people's workloads is important," said Flower. "I think we will see a lot more rotation. With the schedules I think we have to, otherwise people will burn out."
It is still a big call to omit players who have appeared in 276 one-dayers between them with England struggling so badly. Then there is the elephant in the room, otherwise known as the IPL.
There remains a concern that players will wish to go to the IPL for the money when it might not be considered in England's best interests. It took almost six months of wrangling last year between the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Professional Cricketers' Association and the players did not sign until they had already arrived in the West Indies in late January.
"The IPL might be an issue over the next few years," said Flower. "We all know what the schedules and the workloads are like. Not playing for England and playing in the IPL is a danger and a fairly obvious one and we wouldn't welcome a situation like that at all. But the bottom line for us is that we have to manage some of these guys' workloads. The IPL muddies those waters a bit."
It is quite clear that some players are doing too much and England have left out Collingwood and Anderson with an eye on the Champions Trophy in South Africa later this month. Although it is eminently sensible – and might actually have been done earlier – Flower is prepared to be criticised for leaving out the pair against Australia.
He said: "I can understand that sentiment. However, I think it's an exciting opportunity for a couple of other guys to step into those roles and do them well. I'm looking forward to seeing a few fresh faces."
That probably indicates the selection of Joe Denly who is available after recovering from the sprained knee he suffered during a warm-up football match before the first game of the series. He may open the batting with Andrew Strauss with Ravi Bopara dropping down to three and Matt Prior to four and Owais Shah to five.
But as much as England need runs, they have also been short of wickets from their supposed strike bowlers. Onions is likely to mark his central contract by making his one-day debut. England must go into the match with at least six men who can bowl, four of them specialists.
There will be strong voices in favour of Adil Rashid, who performed so creditably in the first match of the series but given the difficult balance of the side they are unlikely to be heeded.
The depth of England's general one-day difficulties, let alone their plight in this series, was outlined by Flower. "We haven't had a good one-day side since 1992. So we have got to do something about it and that is part of my job. We are about winning games and at the moment our one-day cricket is very ordinary. We are investing a lot of time and thought into why one-day cricket in England isn't as good as it should be, and hasn't been for a long time. And how we are going to build a good one-day side." But not, it is to be feared, yet.
Central contracts: England's players
James Anderson (Lancashire); Ian Bell (Warwickshire); Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire); Paul Collingwood (Durham); Alastair Cook (Essex); *Graham Onions (Durham); Kevin Pietersen (Hampshire); *Matt Prior (Sussex); Ryan Sidebottom (Nottinghamshire); Andrew Strauss (Middlesex); *Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire) *New contracts
Misses out from last year
Michael Vaughan, Monty Panesar and Stephen Harmison.
Ravi Bopara (Essex); Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire); Andrew Flintoff (Lancashire); Adil Rashid (Yorkshire); Owais Shah (Middlesex); Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire); Luke Wright (Sussex)