Hussain denies rift over contracts

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The Independent Online

Nasser Hussain took his England squad to Manchester United yesterday, but it was for inspiration and a kick-about with the reserves, rather than a chance to compare salaries with David Beckham and Co. In any case, Hussain and his team-mates have still not signed their central contracts with the England and Wales Cricket Board, though they now have until Thursday to sign on the dotted line.

Speaking before he donned his football boots, Hussain said he did not consider the third and - according to the Board's statement, at least - final draft of the contract, to be an ultimatum.

"I can't speak on behalf of everyone as we only received the latest draft this morning," said Hussain on the final afternoon of England's three-day training camp.

"It's a long and complicated document [over 50 pages with sections on paternity leave, wives on tour, etc] and it needs to be read, digested and discussed with players' agents and lawyers.

"However, I must stress that there is no animosity between us and the ECB and they have not rushed us at all. In fact, come Friday, when the season starts, I think we'll be able to get on with the cricket."

Hussain, who is a Leeds United fan, may not have been wearing his team's strip, but he certainly donned his Public Relations cap for the press conference. Once again, the England captain stressed that any delay had nothing to do with money and more to do with getting the clauses concerning "Image rights" sorted out for the future.

Hussain added: "It's mainly over a few sentences which we need to get right now, mainly for the players like Chris Schofield, who will still be involved five years down the line. No-one knows how the internet will take off."

That was a comment clearly alluding to a four-year deal the ECB is thought to be on the cusp of signing with Channel 4. For the Board's part, the language used in their printed statement was paternalistic and faintly bullying, like a Victorian schoolmaster who had lost patience with a wretched child. "Since discussions first began," it read, "the ECB has sought to accommodate the players' wishes in a number of areas and believes that the contract contains substantial benefits over the past and compares very favourably with contracts in other countries."

The benefits it speaks of must all be in the fine print rather then the nuts and bolts, for, now that players have agreed to forego their county bonuses, many will actually be worse off over the summer than before.

Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton, for instance, who have both been offered a £45,000 England contract, would, under the old system, have been on £6,000 per Test. This summer there are seven Tests, which would amount to £42,000 excluding county bonuses which, in Stewart's case last season, would have topped the £10,000 mark.

Similarly if Chris Schofield, thought to be on the lowest contract band of £20,000, plays in all Tests, he too will be out of pocket.

On the face of it the contracts appear to offer little more than security and peace of mind. Even the sensible central tenet, the right to pick and choose their county commitments in consultation with the coach Duncan Fletcher, will be costing the players, who will now essentially pay for the privilege to be rested.

In a moderately paid and relatively short profession, more of substance should have been offered by the ECB and it would not be a huge surprise if some players miss Thursday's deadline. Mind you, if Messrs Atherton, Andrew Flintoff and Schofield are among them, a day fielding for Lancashire against Cambridge University in the chill winds at Fenners this weekend should ensure a speedy signature or two.

* The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced that England will stage the Costcutter Under-15 World Cricket Challenge this summer. England will take on India, Pakistan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands and the West Indies in a two-group limited overs format, with the semi-finals to be held at Chelmsford and Hove. The final will be played at Lord's on 10 August and will be televised live by Sky Sports.