When the central contract was introduced it was viewed as a panacea. Given the general accord it was slightly surprising that there was no publicity film showing players and administrators walking off into the sunset arm in arm.
The relationship has never been quite as cosy as that but around the world the nature of contracts lent stability to the international game. England were late in coming to the party but contracts which link players directly to the national board of the team they represent have changed the nature of the game and have made the best players rightly wealthy. It is not the obscene wealth enjoyed by footballers but the assurance that they are being given a fair share of the spoils generated by their efforts (as is the case, whether it is to be condoned, in football).
Apart from considerations of what games were important the notion of contracts also lessened the threat of match-fixing. But Andrew Flintoff's bold refusal of a one-year deal offered him by the England and Wales Cricket Board has given rise to visions of the freelance cricketer, going to where he is likely to be happier and most generously rewarded. The vision which follows is of international teams becoming a second thought, initially to players, then spectators.
Caveats were being dispersed to all parts yesterday rather like England's players in the one-day series in which they, but not Flintoff, are engaged. Flintoff, it was averred, was a one-off case who had earned the right to refuse the second-tier deal because he had devoted 11 years to England.
Additionally, Flintoff's camp reinforced the point that he intends to make himself available for every England limited-overs match once he recovers from knee surgery (that will be the tour of Bangladesh next year at the earliest but don't bank on it). There was also, it was confidently stated, no chance of other England cricketers joining Fred in seeking the good Twenty20 life round the world. Flintoff had been offered an increment contract worth a measly £30,000, not a central contract worth at least £150,000, which nobody would decline.
While it might be said that Flintoff wants to have his cake and eat it – or in his case to have his pint and drink it – it is not simply about him or English cricketers. Those in the corridors of power know that Flintoff could be a trailblazer for players in countries where board contracts are not nearly so lucrative – places like West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, all of them integral components of cricket's family.
So paltry are their rewards for playing international cricket that it is easy to promulgate the notion of their players departing the scene as soon as they have made an impression. Even in countries where the rewards are greater accomplished players will leave three or four years before their time to take full advantage of the stupendous pay packets being offered – exclusively for now but probably not for long – in the Indian Premier League.
If the players are not engaged then the television companies and the fans who foot the bills would eventually turn away. All this is not going to happen tomorrow but it is possible the day after tomorrow.
In Johannesburg in a fortnight, the International Cricket Council's executive board will meet and separately the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations will hold their annual conference. Both amount to summits which could and should change history and they must come together to find an accommodation for both international cricket and franchise Twenty20 cricket. Fred Flintoff may not have known what he was starting.Reuse content